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Politics is not about perfection. Anyone who has ever faced the choice of a not-so-good Democrat running against a horrendous Republican knows what I’m talking about. In the vernacular, it’s the lesser-evil dilemma, and most people handle it sensibly. You do the best you can at any given moment.

But finding ourselves up against the lesser-evil problem means that we may have missed earlier points of intervention.

Was there a better candidate running in a primary? Primaries are won by many fewer votes than general elections are, and require less money. Backing progressive champions—candidates whom we think of a s Working Families Democrats—in primaries is the single best way to solve this problem. Progressive leaders like Bill de Blasio don’t come out of nowhere.

If there wasn’t a progressive in the primary, could we have recruited a candidate? Running for office is a skill that can be learned and mastered. If we cede the field to the wealthy and those running in service to their agenda, we can never truly win. We need a new generation of progressives to run: civil rights leaders and environmental justice advocates, community organizers and educators. You might even consider running yourself. Some of the best leaders we have are local elected officials—city councillors and school board members and state legislators—who said they’d never want to be a candidate. But when they didn’t see anyone else who really represented them, they stepped up.

What did you do to shape the terrain? Organizers and campaigners of all stripes can set the stage for an election and change the terrain on which the contest is fought. Occupy did it. So have the DREAMers, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the fast food workers. There’s a reason we’re seeing victories on raising the minimum wage in cities and states: a big part has been the bravery of workers walking off their jobs and demanding it. That has created space for candidates to move on the issue.

What did you do to change the rules? Let’s be honest. With a rising tide of big money in politics and voter suppression, none of this is easy. That’s why we need a constant focus on fixing the rules. There are voting rights laws that determine who can participate; districts that determine whom you can vote for; ballot access laws that determine who can run; and, above all, campaign finance laws that determine whose voice gets heard. We can’t afford to ignore any of those fights.

So the next time you are faced with unappealing choices in the voting booth, don’t despair. We can’t walk away or abstain, as that only yields to our enemies. But before pulling the lever for the candidate whose views are closest to yours, however imperfect they may be, you should also pause and resolve to get to work—that night, before you go to sleep—on setting up a better choice for the next election. And the one after that, too.

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A protester at a 2013 rally holds a sign in support of the DREAM Act.

Dan Cantor

dan cantor is the national director of the Working Families Party.



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