March 9, 2018
By Lindsay Fountain
Every day we’re impressed by the incredibly diverse and talented group of candidates who we support through training. Their passion, commitment, and dedication to changing their local communities is inspiring. That’s why we’re starting our new series, Trainee Spotlight. Every month, we’ll feature one of NDTC’s trainees that’s going above and beyond to improve their communities.
Today we want to highlight one of those candidates. A man who isn’t waiting to get elected to actively work to change his community for the better: Robert Van Kirk.
Robert is running for the 77th State House District in Michigan.
What Inspired You To Run For Office?
What inspired me to run for office was that I was sick of having to go to Lansing, our state capitol, to lobby my Republican representative for my life and the lives of those like me.
What Changes Do You Hope to Make in Your Community, if Elected?
I think the government should, first and foremost, be about serving the people. Yet bill after bill that’s come out of our legislature has been about serving major corporations, the wealthy, and special interests like the NRA.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but we have to step forward and be willing to run and fight against a harmful Republican agenda if we’re ever to restore the power of the people to our legislature again.
How Have NDTC Trainings Helped Prepare You For Your Election?
Trainings by the NDTC have been invaluable to my campaign. I’ve been to other trainings and by far the details and in-depth nature of the trainings by the NDTC have been the most helpful.
Not only can I complete courses on my schedule, but the materials go into such depth that they allow me to really understand complex issues like determining your win number (an art not a science) and how best to make an ask.
It has gone the longest way in professionalizing my campaign, which is what I really need considering I’m a first-time candidate running for state house.
I think what’s most telling of the success of the NDTC’s training is that I have fundraised more money, knocked on more doors, held more campaign events, and engaged more voters than any Democratic candidate in the recent history of my district going back at least a decade.
We’re now helping other candidates who are running for school board, city council, mayor, and county commission and referring them to the NDTC trainings.
Have You Always Been Active in Your Community?
I’ve always been a community activist and leader. My involvement has included everything from organization of a statewide LGBTQ Pride Prom for students regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, so they could experience a prom safely and in an inclusive environment, to negotiation with the university over a student government funding dispute at Michigan State University.
Because of this, I’ve never been the kind of person to shy away from a fight or to back down in the face of opposition I know to be wrong. In this campaign I have kept to these values and led on the important issues in our community.
What Are Some Highlights of Your Campaign to Date?
When the local transit union was in a contract dispute over the drastic increases in their health care costs and the cutting of their pensions I organized rallies in front of the the city halls. After the rallies we marched right into their city council meetings and pled for the lives of the workers and their families.
We’ve also ran or helped to run rallies and lobbying events for special education funding, against one failed policy or another by the Trump administration, in defense of union-level wages for construction jobs in my state, and so much more.
Recently one of our most successful rallies and lobby days was for Sensible Gun Violence Prevention at our capitol. We had two sitting state senators and one state senate candidate, seven sitting state house representatives and two state house candidates, a candidate for attorney general, and the two leading gubernatorial candidates attend.
The President of the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence attended, as well as speakers from Kalamazoo Central High School, who have an online petition with over 100,000 signatures calling for the same issues we were rallying and lobbying for at the capitol.
Every news outlet from around the state of Michigan was present, and we led the over three hundred people in attendance into the capitol to lobby their respective house representative (because their Republican senators quickly left town).
So far, we’ve held more events, knocked more doors, raised more money, and recruited more volunteers than any candidate for this seat in more than a decade. We don’t plan on just riding the wave in 2018, we intend to grow it.
Learn more about Robert and his plans for the 77th State House District here.