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On The Inside with Mario Piscatella

I met Mario in a dimly lit bar in Washington, DC.We hung out by the bartenders near a high traffic area right by the stairs.Despite this odd and condensed location, our conversation lasted at least a full two hours without so much as a break in the banter.As it turns out - Mario grew up in Ohio, a state that could use more of people like Mario but now calls Florida home.Marios family is what youd call traditional democrats, except for his father, who works in the Aerospace industry. Once, Marios dad was watching Bill OReilly on FoxNews and asked Mario if he knew anything about the protests that were streaming across the television.As Mario tells it, he announced that he was one of the organizers to the protest and that was the last time him and his dad truly discussed politics but the first time his father recognized the influence Mario had on the world around him. Its about finding a balance - not a compromise, but a balance.In my family we dont go over our own personal boundaries, Mario says after a couple of idle seconds. I do what I do and my father knows he or anyone else in my family wont change my mind. That isnt to say that Marios entire family wont talk politics with him.His mother became a Democrat because of Chris Dodds father - Thomas Dodd.She was so happy when I went to work for Sen. Dodd.She had told me the story of how she became a Democrat because of his father.A few years ago for her birthday, I sent her a signed copy ofLetters from Nuremberg: My Fathers Narrative of a Quest for Justice.Sen. Dodd had not only signed but also told his audience at a book signing that it was her birthday gift, the entire event was put on YouTube.That was a few birthdays ago - I will never be able to compete with that gift. Education policy was Marios first passion and part of the reason he moved from Ohio to California, seeking an affordable education.I was in college classes with brilliant young people who would one day not be in class anymore.Many of them were forced out of an education because it was too expensive and they were already working two jobs and the fear of their student loan debt just crippled their dreams.It was then that I realized that fixing the education system wasnt about fixing the education we receive but the need to make education affordable for all.Simply put, to fix education in this country we need to fix poverty first. Mario began teaching others while in college where he was a network administrator and had to share a base knowledge of technology and networking.This was at a time when people could get by with basic knowledge of html and no one carried a smart phone.It was a simpler time back then.In 2006, he started working on campaigns, first for Republicans to learn how they did it.The longer he worked with potential candidates the more he realized that having a desire to help people and write important policy did not easily translate to being a well spoken and successful candidate.Many candidates dont know how to be a candidate.They come from professions where they havent had to speak in front of crowds or make asks or have to think before they speak.It wasnt until a Mario helped manage a federal race in California that he realized that politicians needed people like him because many local candidatesneededtraining.Instead of becoming overwhelmed with this realization Mario set out to fix it. While attending a RootsCamp, a project of the New Organizing Institute, Mario led a session on training candidates and staff.Thats when the magic happened.Matt Blizek came up to me and said 'Hi, my name is Matt Blizek, Training Director at Democracy for America and youre DFAs newest trainer.'To be honest - I was hooked by his delivery. He was confident, composed and calm.It obviously worked because Im still training.Mario had a probationary period before becoming a more permanent fixture in the training rotation; hes stuck with it because he believes that our training must happen on a much larger scale. Progressive and Democrats need to do more trainings like what we do at DFA.Our candidates need this type of training so they help build up our progressive brand and our party must to do better at holding our progressive candidates accountable to help build our brand. All over the country Mario sees great candidates running but not having the party support or the organizational support to utilize their potential.Some of our best potential candidates are running for office because of their ideological beliefs, and sometimes they just lack the political skills and knowledge to run an effective campaign.DFAs training provides exactly that.I wish every potential candidate had an opportunity to attend. Mario claims hes a junkie, a political junkie that just cant get enough.While he doesnt drink or smoke which could potentially alienate him in the campaigns crowd, he recognizes how much potential he has and why he just cant shake the training bug.Politics, campaigns, and organizing are just what makes me tick.If I didnt do this for a living everything else in my life would just erode. He says his daily regimen is at least oneMonsterRehaband sometimes hot tea - he loves his hot tea and honey.He might not seem like your typical campaign consultant from the outside - but I promise you he is.Like most of the folks that attend our Campaign Academy trainings, he cant help it.Asked why he continues to do this work he said, Because our candidates and campaign staff need us too. The people we train inspire me.Theyre at our trainings at 9 AM ready to learn.Some of them travel over a hundred miles to attend and left early that morning to show up. These trainees arent your ordinary Americans.They spend two full days training and at night they talk the trainers ears off about campaigns, tactics and organizing.Then theyre back at it the following day up even earlier and ready to learn even more about campaigns. You shower hoping this political thing will just wash off, but after a few days youre stuck and rummaging around with campaign people all over again, Mario says of being a sucker for politics.He used to not take vacations, but he learned from that mistake.You need time to clear your mind and really disconnect from the race, he says mentioning that he rarely stays at one campaign too long.You come in work here and there and make sure the candidate and staff are on message then youre back out helping your next candidate-in-waiting. Current candidates come to mind when talking with Mario over is idea of candidates-in-waiting.He says hes following the races of Darcy Burner, Ilya Sheyman and Alan Grayson.(Editors Note: All areendorsedcandidates). He feels good about these candidates chances of winning even though the race in Illinois looks tight between Sheyman and Brad Schneider.Brad claims to be a Democrat, but hisvotingrecord and giving historyindicateotherwise.Which is why vetting true progressive candidates is so important to advancing our causes.Not to mention, putting up enough credible progressives for every race.Howard Dean taught us with the 50-State-Strategy that putting true progressives up across the country and challenging the lies and misinformation of the GOP are key to taking our country back, he says. Anyone can be a Democrat, its only a label and doesnt take a true sense of values and morals.What makes someone a progressive candidate and one that can beat the GOP are people who are forward thinkers who will set long-term goals and lead us down a path to achieve their goals. While were discussing the crop of contenders currently in the field and whether or not President Barack Obama has a chance to win in November the conversation moves to the direction of political backbone.An anatomical necessity and often the first part of the body to give way once democrats are elected to office.Democrats became complacent - we didnt have to stand for anything for a long time.People knew they were right and no one felt they had to defend their stance on war, taxes, social security or any other public assistance program, claimed Mario.Democrats stopped taking risks.It was easy to call for a compromise because the Congressmen you were working with on the other side of the isle were gentlemen.Those days are gone. But Mario is optimistic about President Obamas chances at a second term. His base will come out and support him this election.Period.His work on ending Dont Ask, Dont Tell and his move to delay the Keystone Pipeline decision will pull the pessimists off the bench and get them to the polls.Hes clear though, that Obama wasted a lot of political capital his first few years in office and his indecision with the health care debate hurt him.If he remains the man we saw behind the podium delivering the State of the Union, hell be re-elected, but he warns him of falling back to his old methods.But there is hope.Hope all around us.If weve learned anything from 2010 it is that the party must not be blindsided by these attacks, we must go out there and fight. Politics can often be likened to a football game - two teams fighting tooth and nail to gain incremental ground.Our politicians are entrenched at the 50-yard line, trying to push to the end zone - the next election year.The challenge for progressives is avoiding the obstacles that cripple democratic candidates and politicians and maintaining a clear vision for the future.Mario agrees and believes that DFAs own, Arshad Hasan, should be put on a ballot somewhere.Until then, Mario will continue to work and back candidates that show a true backbone waiting until Hasan announces his own bid.After all, you just cant wash this feeling off. Mario is a Communications Trainer for DFA, runs his own consulting firm, MPA Political LLC. He lives with his wonderful girlfriend Amy in Jacksonville under the supervision of their pug, Farley.
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Glad I'm not a Republican

A message from Nick Passanante: Today is one of those days I'm especially glad NOT to be a Republican. Even after flipping most of his policy stances to appeal to the extreme right-wing, Mitt Romney is still struggling to win the Republican Presidential nomination.The last thing America needs is another politician willing to do anything or say anything to get elected. But that would perfectly describe Brad Schneider. A "Democratic" candidate for the IL-10 Congressional Seat, Schneider has repeatedly made donations to Republican candidates. Not just any Republicans, but ones who support the privatization of Social Security and ending Medicare. Now he wants us to believe he's a progressive. We need real progressives in Washington and this is too good an opportunity to waste on a fake Democrat like Schneider. With the primary only days away, we need your help to make sure that the true progressive, Ilya Sheyman, wins the primary. The best way to make a difference in this race is to sign up for a Call Out the Vote shift. It's easy, fun and can be done from the convenience of your home. After a simple training and briefing on the race, you'll be connected with Democratic voters in the district and have the opportunity to drive support to the true progressive. Will you join me in calling out the vote for Ilya? Yes, I'll sign up for a Call Out the Vote shift. No, I can't call, but I'll chip in $3 to elect a true progressive. IL-10th is the most Democratic leaning seat in the country to be held by a Republican. We have the perfect opportunity to send a vote in support of protecting Social Security and a true progressive champion to Congress. But if Schneider successfully tricks voters into thinking he stands with us, this opportunity will be wasted. Don't let a faux Democrat win a blue Congressional seat. Sign up to Call Out the Vote. We know that people power will push Ilya Sheyman to victory. Join the movement to elect the former DFA Field Director to office. Thank you, -Nick Nick Passanante, Deputy Political Director Democracy for America
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Your Chance to Win

A message from Arshad Hasan: DFA Member- Netroots Nation is the biggest progressive conference of the year -- and it's my favorite. Every year, I get to meet the progressive movement's greatest activists, bloggers and candidates for office. And I want you to join me there this year. Apply now for a Netroots Nation Scholarship -- and you can win an all access pass to Netroots Nation in Providence. Since 2008, DFA has run a scholarship competition to help bring bloggers and activists, who wouldn't otherwise attend, to Netroots Nation. Last year, in partnership with America's Voice, we sent 50 amazing scholars to Netroots Nation in Minneapolis. Some of them had never heard of Netroots Nation before, others thought they couldn't possibly win, but they all had one thing in common -- they brought an incredibly important perspective to the table. Apply now to be part of the 2012 group of scholars. Or Nominate someone you know to win a scholarship. The application is easy -- we just want to get to know you and see why you'd like to go to the conference. We give bloggers and other DFA members an opportunity to voice their support for you to win. It's a people-powered scholarship and the applicants with the most votes are automatically selected. We'll also have a panel of judges who look at all the applications and select some of the stand-out applications and stories, and we ensure that multiple perspectives from all over the blogosphere are represented. I love the program and I'm proud of the people we've been able to send in the past. I hope you will apply or nominate someone else who you think should make it to this year's Netroots Nation in Providence from June 7th-10th. Apply for a DFA scholarship to Netroots Nation today. Or nominate someone you know for a scholarship. I hope to meet you soon. - Arshad Arshad Hasan, Executive Director Democracy for America
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Maine Senate survey results

A message from Nick Passanante: Dear DFA Member, After reviewing the results of our Maine Senate survey, the choice of DFA members is clear. Over 84% of respondents support Chellie Pingree for Senate. With such overwhelming support and the filing deadline of March 15th rapidly approaching, we want to give you an immediate opportunity to help her campaign. In less than 13 days, Pingree needs to collect collect 2,000 signatures from Maine Democrats to get on the ballot. Will you sign up to help this people-powered campaign collect signatures in Portland this weekend? Yes, I will help Chellie Pingree get on the ballot by collecting signatures this weekend! We have a golden opportunity to send a progressive voice to Congress, a voice for working families and women's rights, but first we need to make sure Chellie Pingree gets on the ballot. Thank you for your work, -Nick Nick Passanante, Deputy Political Director
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GRAS winners 2012

2nd and 3rd Runners up are Norman Solomon CA 02 and Jose Hernandez CA - 10 Burlington, VT Today, Democracy for America (DFA) announced that Alan Grayson, FL 09, is winner of the Grassroots All-Stars Contest. The winner of the 2012 Grassroots All-Star Competition will receive: the title of "2012 DFA Grassroots All-Star" and DFA's endorsement; a commitment to raise $20,000 in small donations from DFAs national membership; and a commitment to recruit volunteers over the course of the campaign. The two runners up in the Grassroots All-Stars contest who will also receive prizes are 2nd runner up Norman Solomon, CA-02, and 3rd runner up Jose Hernandez, CA- 10. Congratulations to Alan Grayson for winning the DFA Grassroots All-Star Endorsement. We are proud to endorse such a stalwart champion for true progressive values, said Jim Dean, Chair of DFA. All of the candidates who distinguished themselves in the Grassroots all-stars completion exemplify the kind of campaigns DFA members want to endorse: bold champions who engage real people in the political process. Two other candidates who really distinguished themselves in this contest are Angela Zimmann of Ohio and Ilya Sheyman from Illinois, rounding out the top five. Ilya Sheyman is a great organizer who has been running a real grassroots campaign to represent the 99%. While Angela Zimmann showed tremendous creativity in engaging the online community and inspiring DFA members to support her compelling upstart campaign. Both Sheyman and Zimmann also received endorsements from DFA. Grassroots All-Stars (www.grassrootsallstars.com) is an annual competition for House challengers and open seats. Candidates compete for online votes to demonstrate support among DFA members, and the top three candidates receive prizes. This years top ten were a diverse group, including candidates from 8 states, 4 women, and 2 people of color. Past winners of the whole contest include Jerry McNerney, Charlie Brown, and Beth Krom. ### ABOUT DEMOCRACY FOR AMERICA Democracy for America is a people-powered Democratic Political Action Committee. With over one million members nationwide, DFA is a grassroots powerhouse working to change our country and the Democratic Party from the bottom-up. www.DemocracyForAmerica.com Paid for by Democracy for America, www.democracyforamerica.com, and not authorized by any candidate.
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