...Can You Not? | Sojourners

...Can You Not?

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A new PAC has popped up in Colorado with a simple platform: “Bruh, can you not?”

The PAC, started by Denver-based Kyle Huelsman and Jack Teter, seeks to help get more qualified women, LGBT people, and people of color in office — by convincing straight white men not to run.

The site is tongue-in-cheek, promising “interventions for the misguided bros in your life who looked in the mirror this morning and thought ‘yeah, it’s gotta be me.’”

“We challenge brogressives and others to reject any notion that they are uniquely qualified or positioned to seek political office in districts that don’t need them. As well-represented white dudes, we feel it is our obligation to know when to shut up and Not,” says their statement at canyounot.org.

But the Can You Not PAC — started “by white men, for white men” — is fully serious.

“We both work in politics. A lot of political operatives are white guys in their twenties,” Teter told Sojourners.

"And people were like, ‘This is an amazing idea. ...They kept asking where they could donate. And now all of a sudden we’re breaking the internet!”

Sort of, anyway. Their site has been whipping around social media since they formally launched as a PAC last week, but since beginning to accept donations on May 2 they have pulled in just $1,100 — from individual donations of $4 to a single contribution of $575.

But the founders are optimistic, saying they’ve already heard from interested candidates in Colorado, where they will focus for now. Huelsman and Teter aim to give the money directly to candidates, and are putting together an advisory board of, in their words, “not straight white men” to vet promising candidates. 

Teter said the most common pushback they’ve received is from white men, “saying, ‘Wait, no, we need to teach women to stand up for themselves!’ … I don’t think it’s the job of white men to tell women or LGBT people or people of color that they should run for office any differently than they are.”

In fact, Huelsman cited studies on gender in congressional races from political scientist Barbara Burrell that find women candidates to be equally adept at raising money and winning elections as men. Yet men continue to be overrepresented in elected office by 300 or 400 percent. The Can You Not site also points to a study from Emory University professor Beth Reingold indicating that black state legislators are more likely to introduce measures to combat racial discrimination and improve education and healthcare.

“If I’m a Democratic operative and I want the most progressive policy possible and data tells me that progressive policies do better when there are more women and people of color and LGBT folks in office, I might have an obligation to not run against them,” said Teter.

“We joke about Republicans being the party of old white men, but it happens in the Democratic party, as well.”

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"Success stories." Via canyounot.org

Teter, who is trans, says he was the first trans staffer at the state capitol in Colorado.

“Part of this project is founded on the idea of allyship. For me to be able to [work at the capitol] was due to amazing allies who were in positions of power.”

Yet for the earnestness of the PAC's aims, the site unequivocally leads with humor. That’s intentional, said Huelsman.

“[In society broadly,] there’s this sense of, we don’t want to push the boundaries of really naming the problem for what it really is,” he said.

“This isn’t something we all can talk about readily. So being able to approach this with humor and satire I think is a really effective way to get people to listen to a really, really hard conversation.”

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