Lunch with the Standard: Amanda Litman

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It was hard to believe that the woman standing in front of me was only 27 years old and already had written a book and single-handedly inspired approximately 10,000 under-35s to run for political office. The short brown bob and maroon dress of the Run For Something founder Amanda Litman greeted me as conversation flowed between her and myself. Litman’s stories were coupled with a free use of candor and expletives- a combination which made me feel as if I’d known her for years.

Litman describes politics as having been ingrained in her life from an early age. Born in Virginia, the proximity to Washington D.C. provided Litman with the opportunity to experience firsthand the political landscape. Litman lit up as she recounted skipping school to attend a “students for Obama rally” on one occasion, and a convention of all the presidential candidates of the Democratic Party on another.

For Litman, participating in local government extended beyond attending conferences and speeches. She volunteered extensively for local political campaigns, such as Tim Kaine for governor of Virginia in 2005, and described how it presented her with inspiration to change the future. “I felt like [the] government had an opportunity to do some good, and if you could influence the people in it, you could make a difference for as many people as possible,” she said.

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In 2006, Litman attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. After hearing Obama’s policies and plans for America’s future throughout the latter of her teenage years, Litman hoped to work on his campaign upon graduation. Following the end of her time at Northwestern, Litman indeed worked on Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign as an outbound e-mail writer.  “If you’ve ever gotten an email from a political campaign,” Litman explained, “those are sent by strategist and operatives like me.”

Litman worked until election day and then immediately transferred to Deputy Email Director of Organizing for Action, the Obamas’ non-profit organization.

Following her work on Organizing for Action, Litman spent time working for Charlie Crist, who was running for governor of Florida in 2014. It was there in Florida when Litman first experienced the impacts of losing a well-fought political campaign. Her previous involvement in campaigns had only resulted in success, making the Crist loss more significant to her overall experience.

Despite the disappointment, Litman felt after the Crist campaign loss, she returned to work after two weeks. Had Litman won the Crist campaign, she assumes she would have stayed on with the Crist administration in Florida. Thus, the loss prompted her to seek out a past mentor for advice and pursue a different avenue of work: the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign.

Beginning in January 2015 as a volunteer, Litman was soon hired as the campaign’s email director. “My team was 19 people and we raised $330 million from 3 million donors. We recruited 500,000 volunteers and we built the list from zero to millions of people over the course of 18 months. It was awesome,” she said.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”true” color=”#00008b” size=”30″]“The only way that [the] government works in America or anywhere else is if good people don’t just step up and vote and volunteer, it is if good people step up and run.” –  Run For Something Founder Amanda Litman  [/perfectpullquote]

Litman likens the campaign experience to joining a club or group of friends who all share similar ethics and opinions. This relationship was what made losing the presidential election especially difficult for Litman, as the outcome of a political campaign can determine a person’s career and the success they have following it. “On a really personal level, it wasn’t just the ramifications for policy, although that was devastating… it was also our personal lives were destroyed,” she said.

Although my interview with Litman occurred almost exactly a year after the day President Donald Trump was elected, the details still remain fresh in her mind. She recalls with detail the way New York City felt after Trump’s election, “The city was desolate, everyone was crying, every person you saw… looked like they’d been crying. It was a collective funeral.”

Litman claims her “coping mechanism has always been work.” Instead of dealing head-on with her frustration post-election, Litman threw herself into her next project. She discovered that there were a number of people hoping to get involved in politics, and they continued to ask Litman what would be the best method. “I didn’t have a clear answer for them. There wasn’t a clear entry point,” she said.

Thus, this inspired her to create Run for Something, a non-governmental organization committed to helping under-35 progressives run for office.

Litman believes that the Democratic Party had made it “hard for young people to run and intentionally set barriers,” leading to 40 percent of state legislative races in 2016 being uncontested. “[The Party] kept picking people and wondered why they weren’t relating to voters,” Litman said. “It’s because [they] picked rich, old, white male lawyers. No wonder why the young Latina woman can’t relate to them… she doesn’t see herself in our candidates.”

Litman feels committed to helping a new wave of politicians run for office. After the election, she noticed that many people were wondering how to fix the Democratic Party. The answer, for Litman, lies in the fresh voices of new candidates running for office. “There’s a lot you can do around the margins for a bad candidate,” she said. “But when you start with a good candidate, everything else is better.”

Supplementing the organization, Litman also wrote a book titled Run For Something. The book includes a foreword by Hillary Clinton and a series of essays by other politicians, including Senator Cory Booker and politician Jason Kander. The book looks to inspire and instruct others on the first steps in running for office. Litman hopes that both the book and the organization will demystify politics. “Politics is about people. It’s about candidates connecting with voters about values. Everything is the details and tactics of how you do that,” she said.

The only book reviews I actually care about.

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Litman hopes her efforts will not only prompt those she reaches directly but also encourage people to motivate their friends or peers to engage in politics. “It’s something you give to someone when you want to nudge them to run for office,” she said. Litman believes that because politics lacks gender and racial diversity, it is important that these demographics are specifically targeted, as “you can’t be what you can’t see.”

“The only way that government works in America or anywhere else is if good people don’t just step up and vote and volunteer, it is if good people step up and run,” she said.  “If you decide not to run, think about who in your life should run and ask them and help them. You could be the one that does the critical conversation that pushes someone to become the next president or prime minister.”

Written by Lead Features Editor Alex Gers

Photos from Amanda Litman’s Instagram account