How to campaign in a pandemic

“I want to embody the leadership I aspire to attain,” Democratic candidate Marcus Goodwin replied, proudly and confidently, when asked about the state of his At-Large D.C. Council campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marcus K. Dowling

I want to embody the leadership I aspire to attain,” Democratic candidate Marcus Goodwin replied, proudly and confidently, when asked about the state of his At-Large D.C. Council campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This era is a time that truly tests people who want to be servants of the people. I’m stepping up to serve and help people in need.”

Up until June 2nd, D.C. residents — while mailing in their ballot or practicing safe social distancing at polling places — will not only place a vote for an At-Large councilmember, but some congressional representatives, and council members from Wards 2,4,7, and 8. For the District’s 2020 election candidates, political contests like this in times of grave socioeconomic uncertainty create unforeseen obstacles.

However, these impediments have yielded inventive, sustainable solutions that benefit the city’s frighteningly at-risk population. By consistently reaching out to a well-engaged base of potential constituents, some contenders, like Yilin Zhang, a Democratic candidate for the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat, have excelled.

Around mid-March, D.C. started to see more closures due to the pandemic. In the weeks that followed, we suspended door-to-door canvassing. We did not do direct campaigning and did not ask for donations,” says Zhang. “After we started our virtual candidate forums, my team and I focused on exploring more virtual channels. For example, we’ve launched Facebook live broadcasts so that we can continue to reach, engage, and connect with more voters and answer questions. We have also released informational videos,” she adds.

Continuing, Zhang notes the aggressive push to encourage significant citizen engagement that made her a standout. “On our Facebook live broadcasts, we invite guests and have organic conversations,” she said. “[A]nd conversations have the power to be the building blocks to developing and moving forward collaborative solutions. Our focus is on communicating creatively and through multiple channels with the community.”

While yes, online outreach is an obvious necessity, there’s still the notion to consider that many District residents are not digital natives, and thus — though potentially dangerous — require socially-distanced, real-time, person-to-person engagement.

This has fast become a notable trademark of Goodwin’s efforts during the 2020 election cycle. “I’m very good at digital interaction, email, and social media. Even phone calls and text messages,” he told The Bridge. “But I’ve been making a point to be outside and active within the community once a week, mainly volunteering.”

Breaking down the importance of human-to-human, molecular-level campaigning, Goodwin continues, “people still need clothes, people need to eat, they need shelter.”

Both Zhang and Goodwin note a need to remove high-minded notions from the 2020 race and strongly focus on delivering core deliverables that can aid the day-to-day existence of D.C. residents. “It is about involving our residents in policy making,” Zhang said. “I believe everyone should have a voice heard in our democracy, and a council member’s only priority is the community she serves.”

Zhang bottom lines her point with a direct call to action. “I want to aid Ward 2 and the city in developing the infrastructure to find long-term solutions for our residents experiencing homelessness and finding relief for our local, small businesses.”

Goodwin’s platform has similarly simplified. In a manner befitting someone running for an At-Large seat, he sounds more like an ombudsperson seeking to investigate and resolve complaints. “We’re still trying to assess what constituents need, and what kind of help we can provide them.”

He ends with a salient point. “Solving problems by providing access to the proper resources can demonstrate your value as a potential representative of their interests.”

By the June primary, the United States could be faced with 30 percent unemployment. The District could also still be an epicenter of this nation’s COVID-19 contagion. Difficult as these times may seem, it’s with intellect and courage that our hopeful-to-be-elected officials have carried out their campaigns.

The scale of this is unprecedented. Nobody could’ve predicted this. Cities across the world have shut down,” Goodwin notes after pausing to reflect on the events of the last four months. Impressively though, he’s still prepared to soldier into the great unknown, to which the coronavirus-impacted world bears witness, daily. “We’re all still shocked, but we’re living through this new normal.

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