Telling Our True Stories

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

I went to write a post today on vulnerability, threw it out, and ended up at fierce. I’m in a trench; in the fight. It’s time to tell more of the story.  Not just mine.

Bridges & Strength

What I haven’t been saying out loud – and have been going to some lengths to talk around – is exactly how much of a struggle it’s been to create and grow this new work to “Shift the Country.” It’s sucked a lot. I’ve not wanted to talk about how much. Partly because I want it to look like a legitimate organization. Which: it is. We’re legitimately required to follow election law, which is more than I can say for the current president so far. That’s pretty legitimate. Plus we do have nice branding, so there's that.

I also wanted to be able to grow the Shift the Country work from a solid foundation. I have wanted to make sure that we are building from a place of strength. I had this idea that if I talked about the fight to get here... that somehow… it would be less strong?

What I’ve been missing is that it’s all about strength already. The fight to get this far is nothing short of remarkable, and I’m not saying that to compliment myself.

I’m saying that because every week I am struck by how a tiny bridge shows up that helps me get to the next thing. The next week. The next step. Now: these have mostly been precarious rope bridges, like over deep chasms. What I’d really like to get to is a 12-lane high-speed interstate type of bridge. Wouldn’t we all?

The tiny bridges have helped buy medicine every few weeks, to pay the phone bill, to pay tiny bits of rent, to cover utilities. Tiny bridges have been friends bringing Diet Coke and cat litter by every so often, a surprise grocery store trip. Dinners out here and there with friends and family. Uncomfortable loans. A donation check in the mail just when things were dire; like an angel landing. Being able to show up at family and group gatherings with nothing but gratitude.

Those are facts. Little developments. Those are not the emotions. They are not the missed experiences. Missing the life and seasons everyone has been living while I’ve been holed up (by my choice, I am aware) trying to get this thing to work. Diving deep into research. Organizing it. Writing some sort of coherent plan to bring a bunch of ideas together that hadn’t been assembled that way before. Making big pitches. Making more pitches. Applying for jobs with this pitch. Applying for other jobs. Driving all over the state tracking down presidential candidates to make pitches. Figuring out no one was going to bite. Deciding to make shift happen anyway. Figuring out how. Navigating unknown technical capabilities. Putting together all of the pieces for crowdfunding, and then figuring out it has to done completely differently. Learning election law – a bit. Filing official paperwork. Explaining all of this to a financial institution. Learning how to incorporate a non-profit. Getting a board. Standing up more fundraising pieces. Doing a budget. Connecting systems and content and ideas behind the scenes.

Blah blah blah. It’s a lot of words.

True Story Of A Missing Piece

The truth is that I saw Democrats nationwide do a hell of a lot of work to win in 2018. And so we did. We won the US House. Making an enormous difference this week, when a formal impeachment inquiry has finally been opened.

What I saw in the 2018 election is that the democratic side apparatus does *NOT* know how to win rural America.

In fact – many just write it off. “Historically red district.” “Red state.” “Not competitive.”

So HOW IN THE HELL ARE WE GOING TO START WINNING the Senate *and also* the Electoral College if we just walk away?

How many rural Americans are we also writing off? Not hearing? Not seeing?

A Fight Worth Fighting

Looks like I’m swearing today. You might think if you had a brand-new Super PAC that you wouldn’t go around swearing on FB and blog posts. You also might not write about living on ramen noodles, so there’s that.

I’m in a tough spot financially. It’s bad. Yet I’ve got a lot going for me. Experience. Pale blonde lady privilege. Persistence. Technical know-how. An absurd amount of resilience. Education. A hell of a lot of skillz to put it all together.

I’m in this fight for those who don’t have everything else that I do.

In the 2016 election, I was sent to do canvassing in a rural micro-city in Iowa called Marshalltown. It’s probably the most diverse city in the state, with something like 98 languages spoken. I’ve seen poverty before. I’ve seen it all over the South – in North and South Carolina. Tennessee. Arkansas. Maryland. West Virginia. Virginia. I’ve seen it in huge mega-cities, too, as far as that goes.

I hadn’t seen behind the front door. I will never get the image out of my head of this one home I stopped at. One unit of a dilapidated house. An elderly black gentleman opened the door, and I could see into his world. It’s like nothing I’ve seen outside of movies. Everything so worn that it could have been there for fifty years. Threadbare tapestries as doors. Carpet and walls rendered colorless by wear and time. The air was air of stagnation. I’d seen that look before – in the South. Hope had left long ago.

In that neighborhood for the 2016 election, the democratic party sent us to canvass about one house or apartment unit per block.


How many voters did we pass right by?  Voters who needed their voices to be heard?

One Idea

In 2017, an Iowa newspaper, the Des Moines Register, had a series of community events in micro-cities – including in that same city, Marshalltown. The sessions had a great format, and sessions were well-facilitated. In the city of Fort Dodge, they asked a panel first to talk about “How to Revitalize Our Downtown.” After the panel, they had the audience break up into groups to take a deep dive into real ideas people had about how to make things happen. Some groups did drawings, with ideas for how to build what they showed. Others had action plans, potential resources and sponsors, and next steps.

It was vision. Hope.

But then that was it. Really fantastic sessions and leadership by the newspaper. But no mechanism to follow-up. To make sure this work would stick. Who could do that?

That story and question led to *one* of the tools in the work to Shift the Country – tools for how people take on stuff like that in communities, a look at communities who are doing that sort of thing, how to find the resources for it, how to get people involved, and how to get it to stick over time. How to do neighborhood work; to truly engage and involve people who haven’t seen hope for some time. To find partnerships to do that work effectively. To get stuff like this rolling and *highly visible* by the 2020 election, to help get people engaged. To help people be clear about what their communities need – so they can push for it to all of these federal candidates running for office.

That’s a super quick picture; doesn’t do it justice.

Engage Every Potential Voter

In September 2018, Reyma McCoy McDeid spoke at a voter engagement event about how the democratic party needs to engage *ALL* of the voters. All of them. I’d been waiting for someone to say that out loud. She’s been championing that message in other places too.

I took it to heart.

I spent the winter and spring figuring how we do that in rural America. The Proposal to Shift the Country has 71 pages of tools outlined, and I’ve got folders full of more ideas.

When I say rural America, I think people think this Shift the Country work is all about talking to grouchy, pale farmers. To be fair, there’s some of that.

The bulk of this work is how to engage potentially democratic voters who have been disengaged. And why wouldn’t they? Since when have politicians made a real dent in the day-to-day challenges of Americans who are struggling? The Affordable Care Act is one. What other thing? Recently? Now the politicians in power are tearing it all down – decades of support systems for real people.

Let's Tell The Stories

We need to be out in the towns and cities – telling their stories. Finding real paths forward –together. We need to help people be seen. We need to be giving voice.

We’re starting to collect stories, and find ways to tie them to the Shift the Country research to get them out. We’ve got help with podcasts, too. It would be great to finish developing at least some of the tools – so people can use them. The idea here is to create action and engagement that creates tipping points in social networks both where people live and online. Tipping points that lead to real change. Real shifts.

Let's Make Shift Happen

I’ve got big ideas.

I’ve raised a grand total of $1,015 for the Shift the Country PAC since August 9.

You can’t implement huge big nationwide visions with that kind of cash.

I’m not giving up the big vision.

Here’s the fierce part: I’ll be damned if I’m not going to find a way to make this work. It can be done.

I can’t do it alone. I can’t do it without more funding.

I’m going to continue fundraising, aka begging and pleading for money. I would love to be able to work on this full time, but I will be working to get a job until we can get more funding here. Unless we can pull off a miracle fundraising thing in the next few days. And… you never know. You just never know.

We’re all in this fight for different reasons. There are people crammed into detention facilities at the border who went to some trouble to get to this country for asylum – and for a dream. If we can’t get those detentions stopped before 2020, we’ve got to stop it with the election. People are depending on us.

One 16-year-old girl helped create a movement, also grown via tipping points, that led to a world-wide strike on Friday for climate action. We’re not going to get to ANY climate action if we don’t win both the Senate and the White House. The world is depending on us.

Any one of us can create change. I’m some random unknown person from small town America fixing to lead this major national initiative to #ShiftTheCountry. I’m scrappy. More resilient than I might like to be. I’ve got an edge; it comes from fighting. I may be unknown, but I’m good at finding ways to get national stuff to happen that seems important. Ask me sometime about the incident management forms that every first responder in the US uses. Or about the system used for reports from every major wildfire. We can do big things.

The American dream remains powerful… but it needs work. We need to evolve it. We can do it. We’ve got to keep fighting for it. We can do SO much better.

We can’t do it from the sidelines. We can’t do it doing the same things we’ve always done before. The Shift the Country work is new. It’s innovation and creativity – and team work. How much more American can you get?

So holler if you’re in.

  • We’re collecting donations.
  • We’re collecting photos – show us what the rural areas look like where you live. Or what you’d like to see.
  • We’re collecting stories, too, and vision. If you’ve got a story to share – put it on our Facebook page, or Tweet us @ShiftTheCountry. What federal policy change have republicans made that’s impacted your life? What do you want to see in the community where you live?

We can do big shift. Make shift happen.

It’s time for America to dream big. We’ve got big problems to solve. We’ve got good people to solve them.

So let’s get to work.

Donate here to help us build this shift:


Vanessa Burnett
Founder, President, & Treasurer
Shift the Country PAC

We're campaign fundraising!  It's crowdfunding to make shift happen.  Ths is a fundraising solicitation for the Shift the Country PAC, a federal Super PAC working on the 2020 election from rural America. Not authorized by any party, candidate, or candidate’s committee.

Details on anticipated expenses & fundraising goals are here:  Funding Specifics To Get Shift Started.  Details on the methodology are in the Proposal to Shift the Country.
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