A Wake Up Call for Democrats in New Jersey

“PAIGE – YOU FAILED!”

You know how the fundraising emails go. Apart from the ones I’ve written for candidates because I refuse.

Because even when I “win,” it feels like I lose. When I’ve actually lost nothing, specifically, except for my sanity many years hence.

I’m convinced that the fate of democracy is on my shoulders. And it’s absurd. And I hate it.

I don’t know if it’s just my raging anxiety or if I see things other people don’t see or if I’m just wildly wrong half the time (yes, I am very wrong sometimes as I declared to anyone who asked a year ago that Dr. Oz would be the next sitting Senator from PA and fortunately I was only correct about the primary).

I do know that I’m good at getting people to vote. I know that my place is in this work, and even when the specific campaigns I work on are not winners, I make a difference. And in this particular cycle, I understood the assignment and so did my demographic: get suburban Pennsylvania women to rally the vote for Democrats. We did, and we won. Bigly. But I was barely able to register the win because my brain is permanently frozen in fear.

Here’s the funny thing: When I decided to move to New Jersey one of the pros was living in a decidedly “safe state.” I figured it would be super easy to continue my work in Pennsylvania as I was literally five minutes from the bridge and I wouldn’t have to worry too much about my own backyard. This was one of those times I did not enjoy being extremely wrong.

Six months later I watched an absolute margin massacre in New Jersey and our progressive governor barely eeked out a win while the state legislature lost a whole bunch of seats.

Governor Murphy won by 14 points in 2017. In 2021, he won by 3 points. New Jersey lost six seats in the General Assembly reducing its margin from 52-28 to 46-34. They lost one seat in the state senate, who was the Senate Majority Leader that lost to a right-wing truck driver. And the new redistrict map for 2023 puts Democrats at a further disadvantage. 

“Four years ago, Murphy won his first term by a 14.1-point margin, topping Kim Guadagno by 303,527 votes. Murphy grew his vote total by more than 11% in this year’s race, but Ciattarelli got 40% more votes than Guadagno and flipped three counties red: Atlantic, Cumberland and Gloucester. Ciattarelli nearly matched Gov. Chris Christie’s numbers from his 2013 re-election romp, surpassing Christie’s vote totals in nine of 21 counties. That comes on the heels of Donald Trump getting 281,000 more votes in New Jersey in 2020 than in 2016. Rider University political scientist Micah Rasmussen said a pattern is forming and expectations need to be adjusted accordingly if an extra 300,000 Republicans become regular voters.”

Then, in 2022, Tom Malinowski lost a key congressional seat (NJ-7). And data on the 2022 school board elections shows larger political ramifications for the state. Right Wing candidates won at least 145 seats (likely more who were not clearly endorsed/under the radar and they won more than 60% of their targeted seats. Extremist organizations including Arise NJ, New Jersey Project, Garden State Families, Moms for Liberty, along with elected GOP officials are actively recruiting, training, endorsing, and funding school board candidates, and they are invigorated by their success in 2022.

The NJ right-wing school board takeover group promotes a “start from the bottom and vote up” strategy. And we do the school board races every. single. year. 2023 is a low-turnout election as one of only two states with a legislature election and no “high offices” on the ballot. Then, 2024 puts at high risk a shaky-at-best Senate incumbent (Menendez, who is under federal criminal investigation for the THIRD TIME) – this also bodes poorly for the presidential election

And there’s not exactly a well-organized opposition in New Jersey.

I have been openly critical of New Jersey Democratic groups from the state parties to the grassroots organizations. There’s the bizarre North-South political debacle where party leaders have historically refused to help each other and even actively hurt each other. There is the “ballot line” issue, painfully unique to New Jersey, which makes it nearly impossible for a progressive to win a primary, furthering resentment and disenfranchisement against liberals.

Other “purple states” have fought back with extraordinary GOTV and voter registration initiatives and organizations. It’s been a pleasure to work with Pennsylvania and see the power of Turn PA Blue and New Pennsylvania Project. We do not have that here. Of course, we do have some great organizations doing hard work – but it’s abundantly clear that something is missing.

What we do have is lax county parties, extraordinary corruption, frustrated progressives who argue amongst themselves and often bite off their nose to spite their face (hello cheering for a right-wing truck driver who beat a centrist Democrat), phantom candidates, a zillion disjointed Facebook groups, and a 2023 legislature and school board election that will get a dangerously low amount of attention unless we get it together immediately.

And here I sit, feeling like this is all on my shoulders. Of course, I know I’m not the only one who is aware of this and concerned. It’s just hard to feel like anyone cares when most people only want to talk about the Christmas decorations they got on sale. And I’m not knocking them – I’m jealous! I hate that my brain is full of worms and all I want to talk about is rising antisemitism and the Christofascists who won the school board election in the neighboring county. I DON’T LIKE MYSELF EITHER!

Everyone else on my Pennsylvania team is ecstatic and relaxed and excited for our future work because we also know we have bananas school board races to deal with for the next year there. And I am here for it! I have my connections and ideas and plans and I know we can win back many of these seats. I am thrilled to do the work for democracy wherever that puts me because I know that every state and every seat matters.

I just know that I have to keep a careful eye on my new home. And clearly, I’m not the only one as this tweet got a shit-ton of attention. But I can’t save the world with Twitter – which is probably going to implode by the end of this year anyway. And I can’t save the world myself. And I have to keep reminding myself that I am not in charge of New Jersey. I am not in charge of Democracy! I am not the only one doing the work or paying attention or fighting for change even though sometimes it can feel very lonely and overwhelming.

What I am committed to is using whatever “free time” I have to build on a network of people throughout the state who want to be informed and organize, share information through my channels, and talk about this to anyone who will listen.

My location on Twitter is the Walt Whitman Bridge for a reason. Now two states are stuck with me. I’m loud enough to organize from Pittsburgh to Newark. And when I get tired, and I will (hell I’m exhausted as I am typing this), I have to just remember that I am not alone.

SO WHAT DO WE DO NOW?

Choose one or more organizations doing the work here on the ground and join! We need all hands on deck:

  • Join your chapter of League of Women Voters of New Jersey and get involved in registering new and young voters
  • Join SWEEP NJ, an independent group connecting women across New Jersey to use relational organizing, inspired by Red Wine and Blue
  • Join the New Jersey Coalition for the Protection of Public Education and offer to serve on a committee
  • Sign up with Defense of Democracy, a nonpartisan group advocating for an inclusive public education system which is launching a New Jersey Chapter
  • Sign up with Action Together New Jersey, the largest on-the-ground grassroots organization in New Jersey, and follow their Facebook Group
  • Check out South Jersey Progressive Democrats who fight for a more transparent, Democratic government
  • Find out which Democrats are running for state legislature in your area and sign up for their mailing lists and social media so you can support them
  • Run for something! Emerge NJ trains Democratic women to run and WIN!
  • Latino Action Network and Make the Road New Jersey are both organizations with the goal of uniting New Jersey’s diverse Latino communities and advancing economic and social empowerment, and they engage in powerful GOTV efforts
  • New Jersey Institute for Social Justice works to expand access to the polls and restore the right to vote to people with criminal convictions.
  • New Jersey Citizen Action is a statewide coalition and grassroots organization that fights for social, racial, and economic justice for all – including GOTV efforts.
  • Sign up for emails and social media updates from your county and town Democratic committees. If they aren’t being active enough, push them! Join these organizations and offer your skillsets to help. Maybe they need a better social media presence, an updated Web site, more members on the ground, strategic planning – most organizations would be very happy to put you to work!


Search the Site


Paige’s Books

Spit The Out book cover
The Budget Activist book cover: border=

As Seen In