It meant freedom. Freedom to reach more voters, freedom of time that I didn’t have to do the fundraising at house parties, and freedom to not be beholden to special interests. It meant that I could run on the values of our community.
The need for an inclusive, representative democracy has never been more stark. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the apex of the Black Lives Matter movement laying bare the inequities in our systems, we need Black, Indigenous, and People of Color leadership at the forefront to ensure that our public health, economic, and community safety responses are meeting the needs of communities that are the most impacted. In Washington state, Black, Indigenous, and other leaders of color like Manka Dhingra, Emily Randall, Girmay Zahilay, and Joe Nguyen have a track record of driving bold progressive policy. Yet leaders of color face headwinds in pursuing elected office almost everywhere they run – a legacy of systemic racism and historical white dominance in politics. Local office is a critical and often neglected element of the state’s political landscape, but it’s where we can launch a generation of leaders, engage local communities, and create grassroots support. Local office is one way leaders gain credibility, exposure, and experience, creating a durable pathway to statewide power.
In 2017, Zak Idan won a council race in Tukwila, becoming the first Somali-American elected in Washington, and one of five Somali-American elected office holders in the entire U.S. Zak’s run electrified Tukwila’s Somali community, where he became the first foreign-born council member in a city that is 40% foreign-born. His total campaign expenditures were under $40,000. What if we could help power the next 10 candidates like Zak to victory and help launch statewide office careers?
First Mile was founded in 2019 to seize this opportunity. Washington Progress Alliance, donor families, and community partners came together, creating a giving circle that makes contributions to candidates of color running for office across Washington state. Donors work together to support a slate of progressive, capable, representative leaders of color recommended by our community partners. In odd-numbered years, we target city council and school board races. In even-numbered years, the focus is on state legislature and county commission candidates. It’s called First Mile because like the "last mile" of a cable or phone network, local races are the "first mile" of our political system, and they comprise a sizeable majority of our electoral offices.
Since its founding, our cross-class, multi-racial donor circle has moved over $300,000 to dozens of progressive candidates of color throughout Washington. In 2019, First Mile candidates were over 40% more likely to win than historical benchmarks would have predicted. We are building a high integrity process that brings resources to the authentic leaders of our communities.
How it Works
- Donors join the circle and identify a target budget they will contribute to First Mile.
- Community partners OneAmerica Votes, Amplify at Sage Leaders, Equal Rights Washington, and Census Alliance Progreso collaborate to develop a slate of great progressive candidates of color to recommend for investment.
- Using members' budgets, we create personalized donation guides with targeted amount recommendations that are calibrated to the specific races, needed support, and overall budget.
- Members give online directly to candidates in a "moneybomb" that concentrates the circle's contributions on the same day for maximum impact.
This is not a PAC and there are no pooled funds. Recommendations for investment are made to members, and members choose their donation level to contribute directly to candidate campaigns.
Frequently Asked Questions
In smaller races with little or no independent expenditures, direct campaign contributions make up the lion’s share of campaign spending. By organizing direct donations, we can have a big impact on races. And by coming together as a circle, we can bring attention to local races statewide that would otherwise be very difficult for any single donor to discover and follow. Finally, bringing donors together energizes us and reinforces our shared values.
In this circle, the donors DON’T choose, and this is a key element of our design. Because many of these campaigns are in communities different from where most of our donors live and because we want to reinforce democratic representation, we work with our community partners at OneAmerica Votes, Amplify at Sage Leaders, Equal Rights Washington, and Census Alliance Progreso. Our partner organizations have grassroots connections and accountable endorsement processes in the communities from which these candidates run. We are a circle that believes in sharing power as well as resources. As donors, instead of trying to hold candidates accountable to our views, we are working to be accountable to progressive candidates who truly represent their communities.
A moneybomb is the way we all give together. On a chosen morning or afternoon, all circle donors give online to First Mile candidates simultaneously. Our candidates get a burst of “good news” all at once that they can bank for the rest of their campaigns. And we can track and measure our collective impacts. We do one moneybomb for the primary and one for the general election.
There is no minimum donation requirement. We welcome all those who believe in our mission and align with our values to join the First Mile giving circle. Members make contributions that are personally meaningful for them, with families budgeting anywhere between $100 to $20,000. We will work to make recommendations for your specific budget that have the most leveraged impact.
The need for an inclusive, representative democracy has never been more stark. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare inequities that have always existed, as systemic barriers to wealth and healthcare have resulted in disproportionate infection and mortality rates among Black and Brown communities. Similarly, the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have again highlighted the ways in which Black people are disproportionately targeted by police, and the legacy of slavery that continues to thrive in our nation’s policing practices.
Our nation’s response to each of these crises has illustrated the lack of voice and representation in political leadership from BIPOC communities. The federal COVID-19 stimulus package promised $2 trillion in relief for impacted communities, yet much of these funds have been spent in benefit of large corporations. Police have been targeting Black and Brown communities for centuries, and we are only now beginning to see a handful of cities take substantive action to curb police violence.
These crises continue to exist because BIPOC communities have been denied inclusive, equitable representation in our democracy. Corporate interests driving modern healthcare policies continue to increase disparities in healthcare. The political influence of police unions and other interests committed to preserving the status quo have dampened municipal action on police violence. There are centuries worth of policies that have set the stage for the lived experiences of BIPOC communities today.
To address these problems, we must build a stronger pathway for BIPOC leaders to represent their communities in elected office. We know that municipal and county leaders play critical roles in determining how to prioritize the health and safety of their constituents—including setting municipal and police budgets. We also know that BIPOC candidates consistently have a harder time raising campaign funds and getting elected than their white counterparts. If we ignore these races, we risk ceding local offices to leaders who will fail to prioritize communities that are most impacted by our nation’s most intractable crisis: the systemic racism that has left massive gaps in the fabric of our democracy. We see these gaps in COVID-19 and the push for police accountability, but to truly address these crises, we need to elect more BIPOC leaders.
In 2019, 50% of First Mile candidates won their races, compared to a 35% win rate for POC in Washington since 2011. For most First Mile candidates, the $2,000 to $10,000 they receive is game-changing, enabling them to hire otherwise unaffordable campaign staff or run a small mail program in the primary. For others, it could be the boost of confidence they needed to carry on in the face of intimidating opposition. But don't just take it from us: watch the First Mile Project 2019 Wrap Up video to hear candidates' firsthand experiences.
Becoming a Member
We welcome all those who believe in our mission and align with our values to join the First Mile giving circle. Members make a financial commitment that is personally meaningful for them, and we will work to make recommendations for your specific budget that have the most leveraged impact. Members will also receive invitations to member-only events to meet candidates and learn more about how to engage in local races. To ask questions about joining First Mile or learn more about membership, please fill out this Interest Form and we will follow up with more information. If you are ready to join First Mile today and make a financial commitment, please fill out this Commitment Form.