05/20/2013 03:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My First Foray into Politics and Bringing You the Power

Some people get into politics because their parents were political, or because their friends got them into it, or maybe they were idealistic in their youth. But some of us became political because we were pushed, and we had to push back.

That's me. And to this day, I wish I'd had more help.

This week Democracy for America launched its new campaign tool, YouPower. It had me thinking back to my very first campaign experience, and how a tool like YouPower would have made my effort to enact change that much more of a success.

In high school, I was, admittedly a nerd. I founded the chess club, captain of the debate team, president of the German club, and got good grades. Okay, I was a huge nerd. As you might expect, I didn't particularly care for the jocks. Especially the hockey jocks -- they were basically the top of the food chain from my perspective. The hockey team asked for a $10,000 dollar scoreboard. Done. The debate club asked for a meager investment from the school (for current event magazines. I'm talking Time and Newsweek -- not exactly a lot to ask). Wasn't going to happen.

So, I started an underground paper. Mostly just to be funny. But over time, the paper featured commentary, satire and editorials. It grew into something more than just a place to vent against the jocks. The paper endured and grew larger over the years, and as we matured as kids, so did the paper.

Then, a few years after it launched, the paper featured an editorial that sharply critiqued my school's principal. When he caught wind of what was going on, he shut the whole paper down and threatened to suspend me. Worse, he implied in a heavy-handed way, that he'd prevent me from getting any recommendations from teachers for college applications. I was crushed; I felt powerless. I knew he was wrong, but felt dejected -- it didn't matter because he had the power. Or did he? I mean, sure, he's the principal. But maybe "power" isn't so simple. Maybe I could figure out a way to shake things up.

So I started a petition. Now, this is the mid 90s. I'm using paper printed from my home printer and a pen and walking up to people -- sometimes strangers -- and telling them my story. I'd ask them if they agreed with the principal, and thought his actions were right. I didn't ask them if they liked my paper or if they'd like to cause some trouble, but just told them how I felt threatened.

And it took off. I had 500 petition signatures in a day. Next thing I knew everybody at the school had signed it, including the cheerleaders and jocks. I realized they weren't the enemy, and they weren't the oppressor. They were victims too. Some of the signers got their parents to join in and started calling the principal. Soon, the local press caught wind -- first the city's newspaper, then the Minnesota Public Radio and then the local TV news started sending cameras. The school soon became a media circus. The pressure was too much, the principal was in for more than he could handle.

I got my paper back. I got my recommendations from teachers for college, and indeed wrote about the experience in my application essays. I got into the colleges I wanted. Tellingly, the principal didn't come back the next year, and was replaced by someone else. This new principal sat me down in my office and tried to tell me how things were going to go with my paper. I told him that I wasn't going to be boxed in and he very well knew that. So I continued publishing, and did so without interference.

And it all started with a hastily drafted low-tech petition.

This first foray into running an effective campaign was ultimately successfully, but it was not without some hiccups, many of which could easily have ultimately derailed the whole effort. Looking back, if we hadn't gotten a few lucky breaks the campaign could have floundered, instead of resulting in us getting our paper back. I wish I knew then all that I know now. I wish I'd had some help and that we as high school kids had a little more support.

That's where a tool like YouPower would have come in real handy. Having access to it certainly would not have left our success up to luck, but rather laid out a clear path to victory.
YouPower starts with an online petition tool, but used to its full potential it can be your "campaign in a box." We work with you to help your petition gain momentum online and off. Once you've gained traction with your petition, we connect you with a dedicated staff of potential field organizers on the ground all across the country, a nationally-respected training program, and a cutting edge communications team committed to helping you succeed. From the petition tool, to getting help with managing the media, this tool would have been an immense help during my first campaign.

What I am most excited about with YouPower is that your campaign doesn't have to be centered around Washington, DC's topic du jour. In fact, it doesn't even rely on other progressive organizations getting around to your issue. It just takes you. You can make it completely your own, even something as small as fighting to keep your underground school newspaper. Maybe this time YouPower can help the aspiring activists win with a clear game plan, not just a few lucky breaks.

I look forward to seeing all of the amazing campaigns activists dream up across the country, and encourage you to get started right away, by creating your campaign at