No Corporate Cash

A political storm is brewing in West Virginia, where a progressive, populist Democrat, Stephen Smith, is running a different kind of campaign for Governor against the Republican incumbent, coal baron Jim Justice. Smith, a 38 year old Harvard graduate and community activist, not only rejects corporate cash and advocates for single payer healthcare, he’s building a statewide grassroots electoral movement called “West Virginia Can’t Wait.”

“What we’re seeing all across the country is that the government is failing our people and both parties are failing our people,” Smith said recently. “Our people are picking up the baton and saying, ‘You know what, we can govern ourselves.'”

West Virginia Populism

Despite Trump’s victory there in 2016, West Virginia has a long, progressive populist history, beginning with its split from Virginia and secession from the Confederacy in 1863, and continuing through the Mine Wars in the early 20th century. Smith explains:

“Some of you think we’re backwards. But it was our teachers and school service personnel who sparked a nationwide strike movement last year. Some of you call our home Trump Country. But more of us opted not to vote in 2016 than voted for the President. A 2017 poll of likely voters revealed that we favor Bernie over Trump, 48 to 46 percent. In West Virginia, we are rejecting a political establishment that rejected us long ago. We’re not foolish. We’re fed up.”

1000 Leaders, Not One

Smith is leading a broad, statewide organizing push–West Virginia Can’t Wait–to encourage a wave of down ballot candidates to run for city council memberships, magistrate judge seats, county commissioners, and delegates. To accomplish this, more than 160 people have been recruited and trained to work as County Captains, each responsible for building their own county volunteer teams.

The plan: 1) organize in the counties, 2) recruit candidates in touch with local needs, 2) run the candidates in local races with cooperation and support from West Virginia Can’t Wait.

Each candidate is required to take a 10 point pledge, beginning with the promise to reject corporate campaign donations. So far,  an estimated 56 candidates have signed on to run in 2020.

Building a Movement

Smith has family in LA, and recently addressed a room of about 30 local activists in Santa Monica (including this writer). He’s a compelling and magnetic speaker. At the end of his talk, he made a fundraising pitch. In ten minutes, he raised $10,000.

West Virginia Can’t Wait has hosted more than 87 town halls and kickoff events in every county in the state. To date, Smith’s campaign has raised more in donations than Gov Justice, who is the wealthiest man in West Virginia.

“You don’t get what you want in politics by being smart or making good arguments,” Smith has said. “We get what we want when we unite and build enough power to take it. Never in American history has a single person or politician won the sort of change we need and deserve. It has always required a movement, not a savior. That’s what we are building in West Virginia.”

More on West Virginia Can’t Wait:

Campaign Video (4 minutes; highly recommended)

Smith for WV Website

How Can California Help West Virginia? (Down with Tyranny)

Powered by the People (Intercept)