Creating a new Political Platform
Midterm elections loom over our heads, coming up fast on November 6, 2018. With important battles for Senate and Congressional seats, we need to hear every candidate’s voice. Sarah Ullman, can help. She is the founder of One Vote at a Time, a group of a female filmmakers who create campaign ads for progressive candidates without the means to make their own. Her team focuses on promoting candidates who will advocate for gun control and other important issues. We were so excited to read about her and learn about her activism that we just had to share it with you here.
“Meet the Young Female Filmmaker With a Gun-Reform Super PAC”
June 2, 2018
What makes Sarah Ullman different from all the other 30-something filmmakers living in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake? For one thing, she has a super PAC. If your idea of a mega-fundraising political action committee founder looks more like a Koch or a Mercer, Ullman will surprise you: Petite, with a bob and a penchant for bright lipstick, you might sooner mistake her for a campaign volunteer than an executive director whose political ads helped flip 10 of the 15 seats Democrats gained in the Virginia statehouse in 2017. But her youth makes sense in the context of her PAC’s number one cause: to help elect candidates committed to ending America’s gun-violence problem, which, in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, this year, has become the cri de coeur of an entire generation.
Ullman founded her PAC, One Vote at a Time, in 2016, after another notorious mass shooting struck a group of largely young Americans, this time at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. While living in Los Angeles, having begun her career as a director just a year before, Ullman was watching Chris Murphy of Connecticut speak in the midst of a 15-hour filibuster on the Senate floor when she realized that she, too, had had enough. Ullman had interned for Murphy, then a Representative from her home district, in 2009, when she was a junior at Tufts University. As a familiar cycle of thoughts and prayers set in, Ullman felt helpless and angry. “I just was tired of feeling that way,” she says. She took to her Facebook page, asking her mostly film-industry–related friends and acquaintances, “What if I made campaign ads for people who are supportive of gun safety? Who’s with me?”
Four months later, after a lot of paperwork, One Vote at a Time was born.“You have to register as a PAC to make political advertising, and then you’re like, ‘Fuck, how do I do that?’” Ullman recalls via phone from North Carolina, where she was filming another round of ads in May. In setting up the PAC, she had a little legal help from Joss Whedon, whom she met though a producer friend and who sits on Everytown for Gun Safety’s Creative Council. Ullman recruited an entirely female team (“[Some people] asked, ‘Can you find a female grip?’ And I’m like, Watch me”) and headed to Nevada, funded mostly by donations from friends and family. There, One Vote made a video supporting a state background-check measure, which passed. “I realized if my video was able to convince 10 people, would be able to convince 100 people, any number of people, it will have been worth it, because in that background-check initiative, every vote mattered,” Ullman says.
It was the vote of confidence she needed to go back to L.A. and crowdfund $37,000, enough to go to Virginia in 2017, where One Vote made ads for 10 successful candidates, all of whom campaigned on gun-control platforms and helped a blue wave roll through the Virginia state legislature. “It was such a remarkable night,” Ullman remembers, “and knowing that we played a small but important part, especially for the campaigns that were more unlikely to win” convinced her that she had a working model. One Vote’s donated ads were especially helpful for first-time C- and D-tier candidates, who would otherwise not have access to such powerful tools for spreading their message.
This is how One Vote at a Time works now since Ullman and her colleagues have perfected their hyper-efficient, millennial-style method: She and a team of four staff members set up a studio in an “activist house” in a chosen state, then they invite the candidates they’re working with to stop by to film their ads. “We’re able to process people through our studio much faster than we would if we were to go on location,” Ullman explains, though they do also venture out to film subjects in their districts. Then there’s a team of seven women, based in Los Angeles, who work on postproduction, finishing up the candidate ads. Ullman says, “We give them the treatment that I would give any clients in L.A.” In addition to the donated time and use of the best film equipment, she continues, they also benefit from One Vote’s “expertise in helping them shape their message and figure out how to translate what they already are talking about or what they already know into video.” Though Ullman takes on some freelance projects, One Vote at a Time is what she has been “living and breathing” for almost two years now.
The PAC focuses on candidates at the state level because its organizers believe that’s where gun reform has the most potential. State legislature is “a real battleground, and there are huge opportunities for big gains in states like North Carolina, which has just had its district lines redrawnbecause of a racial gerrymandering case,” says Ullman. In deciding what makes a pro-gun-safety platform in each state, the organization speaks to political consultants, talks to the candidates, and considers the policy landscape to get a better understanding (in North Carolina, for example, the governor has proposed tighter regulation that bans bump stocks, raises the age to purchase assault rifles to 21, and requires universal background checks). As for the rest of a candidate’s profile, there isn’t exactly a checklist with other progressive stances they have to take in order to receive One Vote’s support, but something Ullman won’t compromise on is that they must be pro-choice. As she says, with an all-female PAC, “ain’t nobody got time for antichoice Democrats, if we’re super-real about it.”
In 2018, One Vote has signed on to work with 250 candidates in 10 states, one of whom is already a major success story: Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor in Georgia and the first-ever black woman gubernatorial candidate with the nomination of a major party in United States history. (You can check out one of the videos that One Vote made for Abrams below.) In North Carolina, Ullman is excited about attorney Anita Earls, who is campaigning for a Supreme Court seat after helping to challenge the state’s redistricting laws. As the country gears up for primary season, it’s hard not to feel optimistic when listening to Ullman excitedly speak about the ads she’ll be making and rebuke anyone who would doubt that young people have the wherewithal to actually end America’s long, ugly relationship with guns—her work ethic is contagious. When asked if she worries about burning out, she says, “The only thing that keeps me sane right now is knowing that I will be able to look back at this time and know that I did everything I could possibly do. Like, I am doing everything that I have in my capacity, every tool I have in my toolbox I am using right now, to make a difference.”