Solomon Rajput decided to put medical school on hold in September 2019 and run for U.S. Congress in Michigan’s 12th district against incumbent Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. After losing the primary election in August, Rajput went back to medical school and started Done Waiting, an organization working to get other progressive candidates elected. 

“That night of the election and the day after we were thinking, ‘You know what, we found a really cool model here,’” Rajput said. “For progressive campaigns like ours, the only way that we can possibly compete with the establishment is through people power. We can’t out-raise the establishment. … And they’ve got all this name recognition, so how can we possibly compete? Well, we can compete with the power of people.”

Done Waiting’s website lists 27 progressive causes the organization is prioritizing, including the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. They plan to endorse and offer support and resources to various progressive candidates, both in primary and general elections, across the country. Currently, the only candidate the organization has endorsed is Adam Christensen, a progressive running in the general election for Florida’s 3rd congressional district.

In the Aug. 4 primary election, Dingell received more than 70% of the vote. Though Dingell was initially elected in 2014, she, her late husband and his father have collectively held a Michigan congressional seat for almost 87 years.

Alex Dumont, communications director for Done Waiting and LSA sophomore, began working for Rajput during the campaign. He said it can be difficult for new progressive candidates to run against more established candidates like Dingell. 

“When running for Congress, it’s really hard to come out of nowhere and run right away,” Dumont said. “That’s what Solomon did and, of course, that’s the only way to do it. … So, I think we all knew what we were getting into in the campaign. We realized the uphill battle ahead of us, but we really thought it was important to do it anyways.” 

Despite the election outcome, Rajput said he is still proud of many parts of his campaign. 

“Although we didn’t win, we won the hearts of 25,000 voters across the district. I’m just really proud of that,” Rajput said. “We created one of the biggest campaigns in the country, to our knowledge, in terms of manpower. I think that we’re actually the biggest in the entire country for a primary challenger. We hit a couple hundred interns and fellows from across the country spending eight to 15 hours every single week working on our campaign.”

Going into the primary, Dingell had received more than $1.14 million in total contributions, with over $495,000 cash on hand, while Rajput’s total contributions amounted to around $116,000. He reported a little less than $40,000 in cash on hand, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Done Waiting has pledged not to take any corporate money. According to their website, if a candidate they have endorsed supports a “corporate” Democrat over a more progressive opponent, they will publicly rescind their endorsement and may mobilize against the candidate they previously endorsed. 

Nick Schuler, vice chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans and LSA sophomore, said he disagrees with the policies supported by Rajput and Done Waiting. However, he said support for candidates outside of the traditional party establishment is beneficial, whether in the Democratic or Republican parties. 

“On the Republican side you absolutely have the pro-Trump and anti-Trump sides, is what it comes down to, but I think interparty competition is good for Americans as a baseline,” Schuler said. “The primary system allows for Americans to choose who they think the best candidate is, as opposed to the establishment. When you have these kinds of different factions trying to fight for their power in the party, that’s not what the establishment wants. … I think it’s good.” 

Vik Mehan, Done Waiting field director and University alum, said he works with Done Waiting because he believes the infrastructure of Rajput’s campaign can provide a useful resource for other candidates without major funding. 

“We know that our campaign structure was pretty unorthodox and very powerful,” Mehan said. “And we’ve made hundreds of thousands of calls and knocked tens of thousands of doors. … We’d hate for that to go to waste.”

According to Dumont, the Rajput campaign made approximately 300,000 phone calls and sent 400,000 texts to voters prior to the primary election.

Many of the volunteers, interns and fellows working at Done Waiting are high school and college students. Rajput said passion is more valuable than traditional experience. 

“I actually like the energy, enthusiasm and dedication of young people. Honestly, I would prefer people like that over people with all this experience any day of the week,” Rajput said. “A lot of these people who claim to have all this experience, they are so wedded to their idea of how to do things, whereas young people are very, very adaptable and very flexible, and they’re willing to learn as they go.”

Rajput’s campaign embraced social media and Done Waiting is following suit. Not only does Rajput consistently post on Twitter and Instagram, he also uses TikTok to both mobilize and recruit young people. Rajput currently has more than 20,000 followers on TikTok. 

“Some of these people with experience were so upset that we were using TikTok, but TikTok was one of the most important things that we did as a campaign,” Rajput said. “It allowed us to get our message out to so many young people, many of whom ended up voting for us or telling their friends who lived in our area to vote for us. … It was such an unbelievable tactic for recruitment. Why would you not want to have a free tool that would allow you to connect with this country?”

In addition to the network of volunteers, both Mehan and Dumont said they think Rajput himself is a very valuable resource. Dumont said Rajput’s personality and previous experience will contribute to Done Waiting’s success. 

“I think Solomon himself, first of all, he’s a very charismatic guy, and he’s really fun to be around,” Dumont said. “He’s kind, and he gets to know everyone on a really personal level, which makes you want to stay engaged, but also he has experience doing this. He is the founder of Michigan Resistance, which is an organization that kills bad bills in the state and national legislature.”

Many have expressed concerns about more progressive Democrats not voting for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, possibly handing the election victory to current President Donald Trump. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a progressive and former presidential candidate, has urged Biden to reach out to progressives and has also said he believes progressives must vote for Biden, including at the Democratic National Convention

Mehan said concerns about progressives not voting for Biden are valid. But he said Done Waiting’s work to rally enthusiasm for local progressive candidates will result in greater turnout for Biden.

“If people are going to come out to vote for their local progressive, who’s probably a Democrat also on that same ballot in November, they’ll vote for Joe Biden,” Mehan said. “I think we’re also helping give people some more hope, especially young progressive people who feel disenchanted. We are giving them just a little extra hope, like, ‘Hey, here’s a progressive candidate, in addition to more establishment candidate who’s running for president.’”

Rajput said he thinks Biden needs to reach out more to progressives and make it clear he supports progressive policies. 

“I think Joe Biden (needs) to really embrace the progressive agenda and communicate… that he is fighting for the progressive agenda to the voters and for the American people,” Rajput said. “There certainly are many, many, many people who are going to vote because they are terrified of Donald Trump — and I would be included in that group — but many people are also going to just potentially sit this election out because they just don’t feel like anything is going to fundamentally change.”   

Rajput said young people are more than capable of getting involved in politics.

“The secret about politics is none of it is rocket science,” Rajput said. “It’s nothing crazy; it’s building relationships, organizing people and some logistics. Young people can learn quickly if they’re organized and if they are dedicated.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Emma Ruberg can be reached at eruberg@umich.edu.

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