Editors' Note: Guest blogger Nick Shalosky is Secretary of the South Carolina Stonewall Democrats. He is the first openly-gay elected official in South Carolina. At the age of 21, Shalosky was elected with 22 votes to the Charleston County District 20 Constituent School Board with a write-in campaign primarily organized through Facebook. He is a junior at the College of Charleston.
If you're on Facebook, I'm going to take a shot and guess that you've recently been tagged in a note titled "25 Things You May Not Know About Me."
Its a pretty safe guess. Whether you're reading about the time your cousin broke her arm at Bible camp, or your best friend's inability to digest dairy, you've probably seen some version of that note pop up on your Facebook page. The "25 Things" thing attempts to inform a person's friends about 25 items they might not have previously have known about them. Its popularity has made it the most prolific sensation since the Snuggie (the as-seen-on-tv blanket "with sleeves!"). Its everywhere.
Instead of bombarding you with the other 25 items, here's one thing you may not know about me: unlike the Snuggie, I've found a practical use for Facebook. It got me elected.
How Facebook Got Me Elected
I used Facebook to become the first openly-gay elected official in South Carolina. At 21, I'm now the youngest member of the Charleston County Constituent School Board (and the only one under the age of 40).
I almost didn't get elected. Two weeks before the election this November, I didn't even know that I was going to be a candidate. However, as I was early voting, I saw that no one had filed for my local school board seat. Education is important to me (I'm still in college), so with the lack of participation in the school board race, I decided to put my name in as a write-in candidate.
Within two weeks, I had organized enough support to get elected to public office. I texted friends, sent a few emails, and talked with some local bloggers. But, I primarily organized by setting up a Facebook event page, inviting local voters to join, and following up with them to make sure that they knew my name and wrote it in on the appropriate ballot line on Election Day.
Facebook provided me with an avenue to quickly organize after jumping into the race with only two weeks before Election Day. Such rapid mobilization might not have been possible only two years ago. But, with a Facebook page and a knowledge of online organizing, I secured my winning margin without spending a penny.
My political science professor was quoted in our local paper as saying that my model of organizing was "an indication of the direction of future campaigns." I wish I could say that the way I campaigned was a tremendous foresight into a new direction of campaigning, but it was really just a necessity. As Secretary of the South Carolina Stonewall Democrats, I was already preoccupied with getting out the vote for dozens of other Democrats. That left little room for my own campaign (I actually spent Election Day volunteering for another candidate), but it also left me with an opportunity to try something different.
Organizing Differently in South Carolina
Stonewall Democrats has a tradition of organizing differently in South Carolina with great results. As with my campaign, we identified a need (better policy from our candidates and party) and looked for unique ways to maximize our impact ahead of Election Day.
We began organizing here nearly two years ahead of the crucial South Carolina presidential primary. And like the "25 Things" survey, we were everywhere.
Stonewall Democrats made sure that dozens of our members were on hand to greet presidential candidates as they packed a parking garage in Columbia for the Congressman Jim Clyburn Fish Fry in 2007. When campaigns opened offices in the state, we showed up. When it came time to organize for events like the South Carolina Black Pride Celebration, we made sure that presidential candidates sent staff and surrogates on their behalf. We were there to credential staff at presidential debates, register reporters and press events, volunteer at phone banks and ask tough questions of candidates at town halls.
Prior to the last election cycle, Democratic campaigns often expected to encounter the LGBT community at black-tie fundraisers in big cities, but not always at places like historically Black college campuses in South Carolina. We changed that perception. That resulted in better policy from our candidates and better participation from our community ahead of the presidential primary.
Stonewall Democrats in South Carolina realized that our local organizing could impact national politics. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on slick ads and materials, we worked with the national office of Stonewall Democrats to identify unique opportunities that grassroots organizing could advance good policy.
Apart from a national impact, our unique organizing continues to change our own state. We applied this same successful organizing model as we set out to reshape our state party, once known to some as a "good ol' boys" type club. We organized alongside allies to elect new party leadership and the South Carolina Democratic Party is now one of the most aggressive state parties in organizing among the LGBT community. That has resulted in positive pressure on politicians seeking to take pro-equality positions.
As with my campaign, Stonewall Democrats didn't set out to do something earth-shattering. We simply identified a need on the ground and looked for unique ways to organize effectively.
Advocacy Should Be Easy and Effective
Two years ago, few would have thought that the South Carolina Democratic Party would become a leading organizer for equality. But, seeing the need for better policy, the Stonewall Democrats stepped in. Additionally, two years ago I wouldn't have thought that a kid like me could get elected to public office through a two-week long Facebook campaign. But, seeing a need for better government I stepped up.
Take a look yourself. Where is there a need in your community? What can you do about it?
Perhaps you don't know where to start. One of the great things about Stonewall Democrats is that our organization brings together regular Americans who want to work through the Democratic Party to improve it and to bring about better policy, legislation and laws. Social networking isn't going to save us, but its one of those easy steps that we can take to share our message. That's what I did in my election and that's what Stonewall Democrats does each day.
Take a moment to go to www.stonewalldemocrats.org to become a member and to and join the thousands of us doing simple-but-effective actions that are needed to continue to create change.
Advocacy should be as easy as it is effective. Become a Stonewall Democrat. Then write your own "25 Things" list on Facebook and talk about how you just joined us as a member - and encourage others to do so as well. I know that many of you have found that "25 Things" note overbearing and have resisted reposting it ever since the fad surfaced nearly a month ago. But, I just broke down and posted my own, and this is a pretty good excuse for you to do the same.
You can read Stonewall Democrats' own version of "25 Things" at: www.stonewalldemocrats.org/25things