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Northwestern University

What did you do with your arts and sciences degree?

Amanda Litman ’12 is recruiting and building the next generation of political leaders

Amanda LitmanThe outcome of the 2016 presidential election came as a big surprise to a lot of people. But for Amanda Litman, it hit particularly close to home.  

Litman, who had worked on a series of political campaigns since graduating from Northwestern in 2012, was directing Hillary Clinton’s email campaign at the time.  (“Not those emails,” she jokes.) The election of Donald Trump “upended our ideas of who can serve in public office, for better and for worse,” says Litman.  

In the weeks after the election, Litman drew on her Northwestern education to understand the new political landscape. As an American Studies major, she had reflected deeply on the question of what it means to be a “good citizen.” She remembered one seminar in particular that focused on how high-school civics classes prepare students to be engaged citizens — from learning the national anthem to abiding by classroom rules.   

“The structures of our institutions matter,” Litman says. “Our problems never have just one source, and fixing them does not take just one solution.”  

So rather than work on another presidential campaign, Litman decided to address the very foundations of American government: state legislatures, city councils, local school boards and mayoral offices. Joining forces with fellow political operative Ross Morales Rocketto, Litman turned her attention toward recruiting progressive young people willing to run for local political office. They named their new organization Run for Something, with the goal of building what Litman calls “a pipeline of generational talent” that will seek higher office in the future.  

“You can't just throw money on TV and win an election,” Litman says. “You have to understand how the structure of our elections — from who the gatekeepers are to how candidates are picked to what actually engages people — leads to a certain amount of self-selection in candidates.”  

Run for Something launched on Jan. 20, 2017, which was also Inauguration Day. Within a week, it had signed up 1,000 potential candidates and received $30,000 from small-dollar donations. By February 2020, the organization had recruited more than 46,000 candidates, provided direct support to 950 and celebrated 303 wins. 

As the 2020 election approaches, Litman remains focused on organizing and building a long-term infrastructure. Her 2017 book, Run for Something: A Real-Talk Guide to Fixing the System Yourself, also offers practical advice and inspiration that took root in her undergraduate days. 

“Northwestern taught me how see a problem through more than one lens — nothing is just a political issue, or a communications issue, or a data issue. It is all of those and more, and you have to understand how those levers work in order to know which ones to pull or push.” 

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