Ex-Clinton staffer to youth: ‘Run for Something’

Amanda Litman wants young people to turn their fury into action by running for elected office. Photo by David McGraw

BY ZIQI LIN | With a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water in one hand and a cup of Starbucks coffee in the other, Amanda Litman stepped into the New York University classroom, looking just like any other overcaffeinated college student.

“I’m a mess today,” Litman, 27, said sheepishly, adding, “on most days.”

Yet, this former Hillary for America campaign e-mail director is a newly published author and the founder of Run for Something, a political action committee that recruits and prepares potential Democratic candidates under age 35 to run for office.

Driven by anger and exasperation at the 2016 presidential election results, Litman launched a political Web site on Inauguration Day with the goal of teaching young people how to run for office. The site blew up immediately. Within the first week, 1,000 people signed up. Ten months in, 11,000 have registered and her team has raised roughly $500,000.

The PAC provides a four-part program, including community, mentorship, partnership and endorsements for aspiring political candidates.

Litman’s book, “Run for Something: A Real-Talk Guide to Fixing The System” (Simon & Schuster, October 2017) outlines the nuts and bolts of how young progressives can win an election.

Among the candidates who have been part of her program is Christopher Marte, who ran against third-term-seeking incumbent Margaret Chin in the City Council District 1 Democratic primary and general election. Narrowly losing by around 200 votes to Chin in September, Marte ran again as an Independent in the November election but was unsuccessful.

When he first ran for office, Marte said, there was no one to answer the most basic questions. So, having a book geared for young candidates will save them time and money, he said.

“It’s crucial. The task of starting a campaign can seem overwhelming and scary,” Marte offered. “For most people, you don’t even know where to start. Having step-by-step guidelines can dismiss uncertainties.”

Run for Something has also endorsed other local candidates, including Ronnie Cho, who ran in the Democratic primary for City Council District 2, with a focus on providing affordable housing and improving public schools.

According to Litman, Run for Something has endorsed 125 candidates across 20 states, so far. Of these, 72 candidates were up for election in November and 31 won. Candidates that Litman’s organization endorses must be considered progressive — whatever that means in their local community.

“A progressive in New York is different from a progressive in Louisiana,” she noted. The candidates must be pro-L.G.B.T., pro-choice, pro-immigrant and pro-equality, though each candidate’s campaign emphasis may differ based on the state where he or she lives.

Throughout the interview, Litman spoke with surprising candor, her language interlaced with occasional expletives. Her book, written in casual and forthright language, emodies the same honest and forthright approach.

“It matters to speak like a real person because real people need to feel welcomed,” said Litman.

She takes pride in her relatable demeanor and at times colorful speech, sharing that people have told her they liked “her voice.”

“Probably everything you see in a Chuck Schumer tweet is not how I would like to communicate,” she said.

Holding a position in elected office or working in the White House holds no appeal to Litman right now. She is rushing full speed ahead with no plans to slow down, and enjoying it.

“I don’t really want to work in the White House. It’s not fun,” she said. “Campaigns are fun because it is fast-paced, there are high stakes and you get to win and lose. Whereas the government is slow and boring.”

Litman also belongs to the Millennial generation, comfortably fused to digital applications and multiple social-media channels. She communicates with her roughly 2,000-strong team of volunteers and candidates through the collaborative messaging application Slack All Day. She also considers answering e-mails promptly as her “superpower” and gets jittery when she is not clearing her inbox. Above all, Litman said that what she does everyday “doesn’t feel like work.”

“I love what I do,” she said. “It’s like a f—ing joy every day to get to wake up and talk to people who care.”

Raised in Fairfax, Virginia, Litman decided at age 14 that she wanted to work in politics. Though there was not much political discussion across the dinner table, Litman’s religion molded her career decision. She grew up in a Jewish community and deeply religious family.

“Judaism has a really strong commitment to social justice,” she said, “and that was the part I liked.”

Overachievement runs in her household, as her patent-lawyer father graduated university at age 15. Her brother is a travelling DJ at international music festivals. Her mother was the president of a synagogue when Litman was in high school, which may have contributed to her die-hard feminist mentality.

“Of course women should be in charge,” Litman emphasized. “Of course.”

Likewise, she’s now reading the book “I Hear She’s Real Bitch,” which she bought because of the title. It’s by famed Canadian restaurateur Jen Agg, who is seeking to upend the food industry’s patriarchal hierarchy.

“Some people fall into politics,” Litman said. “For me, it was like, ‘This is what I was meant to do.’ ”

She is fascinated by the relationship between government and the people. In her view, government interaction with our lives is all-encompassing, so there is no better way than politics to impact someone directly.

Litman’s ultimate goal is to develop a progressive-leadership pipeline and discover a potential president from its expanding candidate pool. In her Twitter profile picture, she is holding up the last chapter of her book, with the caption, “Stop f—ing complaining and do something.”

She is certainly living by her own words.