by Jillian Hawkins, Assistant Executive Director

In May, nearly 200 Democrats traveled from every region of Illinois to join the IDCCA and the National Democratic Training Committee for the third-annual Boot Camp training weekend. Participating in the weekend-long intensive training sessions were precinct committeepersons, county chairs, activists, potential campaign leaders, some who look to be candidates, and those who are already elected officials.

The 2019 Boot Camp welcomed some of Illinois’ top Democrats to the Crowne Plaza in Springfield.  Boot Camp alumnus State Senator Rachelle Crowe (D-56) welcomed the group of participants by highlighting how valuable her training was in 2017. She admitted that, early in her campaign, she didn’t think she’d need all the tools from training but has since learned how frequently she uses the tips and tricks of three years ago.

Crowe also said that the biggest lesson she’s come to recognize as a candidate and a State Senator is to “keep your family close.” And, with that, the first-term Senator brought her two children to the podium to crowd-share “Happy Birthday” for her daughter’s sixth birthday.

Even if Boot Campers tried, they couldn’t miss the 6’8” Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs who graciously returned to address the class of 2019. Frerichs reminded the group of his own story – one that involved a couple of lost tries at elected office. Since first being elected to county-wide office in Champaign, Frerichs’ public service career has rocketed. From the State Senate to a statewide office that he won with literally a handful of votes, Frerichs continues to be an important promoter for the IDCCA.

In addition, one of the IDCCA’s strongest proponents addressed the enthusiastic crowd. Illinois’ senior U.S. Senator Dick Durbin offered the audience an update from Washington, some perspective on the election of 2020, and how important it is for Democrats to work through the Primary Election but come together after a nominee is selected. Senator Durbin, as always, pledged his continued service and guidance to the IDCCA and highlighted his readiness to help put an end to the dysfunctional White House administration in the upcoming election. If the attendees’ standing ovations for the Springfield-based senator are any indication, Illinois Democrats are determined to return him to Washington for another term in 2020.

The intensive trainings sunk deep into the latest trends in community engagement. Something every campaign needs is an effective and engaging social media presence. From simple tips such as taking attention-getting photos, to more detailed discussions of what to analyze regarding social media audience targeting was touched on by the nationally recognized trainers. With mobile technology becoming more accessible for campaigns, Bootcamp students were advised on how to recruit volunteers and raise funds from donors using common social media channels.

But the basics of just plain, tireless hard work was also a theme of the conference. Larry Luster, a top advisor to Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s campaign, explained how outworking the opposition often leads to an election night win. Intense effort leads to attracting volunteers. More volunteers lead to more voter contacts…and the benefits continue to grow with an attitude of never slowing down. Now a government relations consultant, Luster shared his experiences with an upbeat message that was an inspirational addition to the conference.

Mary Morrisey, the Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Illinois also took time to share with participants. She highlighted the achievements of the Democratic Party in adding seats to the General Assembly and congress, as well as the goals for 2020.

As a finale on Sunday morning, the attendees were overjoyed by the surprise visit of Governor JB Pritzker. The governor was his natural self; easy-going and upbeat. He listed the accomplishments and soon-to-be accomplishments of his first six months in office. Everything from a $15-dollar minimum wage to navigating the passage of the largest infrastructure construction plan in state history were spearheaded by Pritzker and Democrats. Much more is bound to come, so long as we never lose sight of what’s important: the working and middle-class families of Illinois.

Of course, the 2019 Bootcamp was successfully planned and orchestrated by the IDCCA’s dedicated staff. President Kristina Zahorik began the weekend with some reminders of what local Democrats can accomplish at home, in neighborhoods, in our communities, regionally, in the state, and ultimately in our country. Zahorik pushed the participants to keep building their local Democratic organizations. The IDCCA, she promised, “won’t stop being a resource to help in every way we possibly can.”

To see some photos of our 2019 Bootcamp, click here