Dear Friends and Fellow Citizens,
Back in March, I joined with a group of dedicated Sandpoint residents to organize a door-to-door campaign to pass the much-needed levy for Lake Pend Oreille School District #84. Sixty volunteers showed up to knock on nearly 3,000 doors in a single weekend. Reflecting on the big win a few days later, fellow organizer Garrett Strizich and I felt something greater than the joy of victory: We felt the first rumblings of a revival. We sensed a willingness shared by thousands to reclaim a distant legacy that had been all but lost.
In that moment, we resolved to build a grassroots movement for change unlike anything this state has seen in a generation. I hope you’ll keep reading, because we’re going to need your help.
The spirit of our pro-levy volunteers—their willingness to throw themselves into the hard work of building a community—reminded me of a young man of an earlier generation. Many of you are familiar with Cecil Andrus, Idaho’s iconic former governor and celebrated conservationist, a Democrat who was elected and re-elected 4 times and who, at the age of 88, continues to be identified by opinion polls as the most popular figure in Idaho public life.
Before his first run for the state senate, Andrus was a twenty-eight-year-old lumberjack in the rural town of Orofino, struggling with his wife to secure a quality education for their daughters. At the time, the state-funding formula shortchanged rural schools and left residents to provide their own private kindergartens. When local parents took their concerns to the district’s state senator, the senator replied: “That school system was good enough for me. It’s good enough for them.” In his memoirs, Andrus recalls that the senator’s dismissive comment moved him to run for the legislature himself:
To the ears of a twenty-eight-year-old, those were fighting words. By the late 1950s, I and a lot of other veterans of the Korean War or World War II were feeling our oats and weren’t of a mind to lower our expectations. We wanted a better world, including our little part of it. Some of us had been to the far corners of the globe, and we wanted to expand the horizons of our kids…I expected my daughters to at least try college. Whatever they did, inside or outside the ivy walls, I wanted my children to have a better shot than I had.
That year, “Cece” Andrus ran for the state senate and won. Ten years later he was elected governor, and five years after that he brought public kindergarten to Idaho.
During the levy campaign back in March, there was one young man in particular who reminded me of Cecil Andrus. While out campaigning, I knocked on the door of Steve Binnall, a land surveyor who moved to Sandpoint in 2014 with his wife and two young daughters.
As I stood on Steve’s doorstep, he told me the story of his family: They’d moved from Bonners Ferry following the decision of the Boundary County School District to close a budget shortfall by adopting a 4-day school week and by permanently shuttering Evergreen Elementary School, where his older daughter had attended and where he’d hoped to enroll his younger daughter. Steve had grown passionate about preserving and strengthening Sandpoint’s public schools because he’d seen first-hand what school closures do to a community. He’d moved to Sandpoint to give his children a better future.
Sadly, Boundary County’s budget crisis is not uncommon. As was true in the times of the young Cecil Andrus, the Idaho Legislature woefully underfunds our schools. There are 43 Idaho districts that have moved to a 4-day school week. During the years since 2006, inflation-adjusted funding for public education has fallen sharply in 86 Idaho districts, including both school districts in Bonner County.
Something extraordinary happened after my discussion with Steve Binnall. When we parted ways and I returned to our campaign headquarters at Sandpoint Community Hall, I found that Steve had shown up to volunteer. I had knocked on Steve’s door just an hour before, and now he had dropped his plans for the day, picked up a list of addresses, and was ready to go knock on doors himself.
For any number of reasons, it appears that 2017 is the year when Idahoans are deciding that enough is enough. Like Cecil Andrus, they’re deciding that the opportunities for their children should not be limited by the callousness and shortsightedness of the powers that be. They’re beginning to believe we don’t have to settle for 4-day school weeks, shuttered elementary schools, and crumbling school buildings. Our volunteers were willing to campaign their hearts out for the levy, but they were also ready to stand up and demand that we move beyond short-term fixes. During the campaign, we witnessed a growing conviction that we will only address our education crisis by electing new leadership.
We’ve been hearing a lot about the need to oust Heather Scott, our local state representative who wants to privatize public lands, deny healthcare to working families, and dismantle our public schools. But the truth is that if we want real change, we need more than a campaign against one or two state representatives, and we need more than a strong candidate. We need a movement. To put it differently: We don’t need a candidate, we need twenty candidates, 100 neighborhood team leaders, and 1,000 volunteers.
This is what we are proposing: With your help, we will build a grassroots movement to Reclaim Idaho.
We will identify 20 state legislators who have worked against our values and launch a full-fledged campaign to transform the Idaho legislature in November 2018. We will unseat those legislators and elect candidates who believe in strengthening public schools, protecting public lands, and extending healthcare to working families. We will begin by applying proven grassroots organizing techniques in North Idaho where our networks are strong, and then we will take our message and movement to districts across the state.
Where do you come in? This movement will go nowhere without your initiative, and so we hope that you'll take a few quick actions today.
- First, forward this newsletter far and wide.
- Second, mark your calendar for the evening of Thursday, July 20th, when we will officially launch our campaign at the Panida Theater. We will be joined by Sandpoint native and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, who has agreed to return to her hometown to speak about the value of public education.
- Finally and most importantly, send us an email at email@example.com with the subject line "ready for action," and we'll tell you how to become a neighborhood team leader.
eep in mind that you don’t need to be a natural politician or an experienced activist to be a leader in this movement. You just need to be ready for action. If you can’t volunteer but you’d like to help us cover our organizing costs, you can donate here.
We will be sending you a newsletter once every week or two with more updates, but for now let me end with a memory from back in March, late at night following the first day of our door-to-door campaign. Garrett and I sat on our computers at Community Hall, physically exhausted but full of adrenaline, eating stale donuts and planning the next day’s work. Suddenly, Garrett laughed to himself, looked up at me, and said: “This is the best thing I’ve ever done.” I smiled and thought: Me too.
And we were right. But there’s so much more to do. We hope you’ll join this movement.