Sanders 2016 Campaign Official, a PZ Alum, Pushes Local Political Involvement

Michael Ceraso PZ '14, who served as Bernie Sanders' 2016 California state director, speaks to students at Pitzer College Wednesday. (Bukuru Anaclet • The Student Life)Michael Ceraso PZ ’14 returned to Pitzer College's campus Wednesday to talk to students about his career as a political campaigner and encourage them to engage with local politics.

Ceraso worked for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign team in New Mexico went on to promote other Democratic candidates. He has worked in several local elections and was the New Hampshire deputy state director and California state director for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential bid.

Ceraso’s talk was part of the "Mindful of the Future" speaker series organized by the Pitzer Student Senate, which, according to the series website, aims to present a “diverse roster of distinguished speakers who engage with students, staff, faculty, and community members on topics that relate to the values of Pitzer College." 

Ceraso currently works for Winning Margins, an organization he co-founded “to partner with under-resourced Democratic state parties in order to lower the barrier to entry for state and local level candidates," Ceraso told TSL.

His organization is focused on raising funds and opening space for new candidates and ideas that can best target specific local issues in South Carolina and Alabama.

“Beyond funding, a big challenge is that a lot of [local] candidates don’t have the necessary networks, even if they get the backing of a national group, to build up support,” he said.

Another issue for new candidates, Ceraso said, is finding the necessary skilled personnel to build their campaign teams.

“The most talented folks who have been taught and trained like myself, who can plan the necessary steps to win an election … aren’t working in local politics,” he said at the talk.

Ceraso thinks opportunities for political change are missed because people focus too much on the power of the federal government and overlook the importance of local politics.

“A lot of folks I have worked with now live in LA and San Francisco or New York and all they do is tweet all day about how angry they are at the president,” he said. “How is that going to help change the reality in the local level, where Democrats often don’t even have a voice?”

He recommended that people take a step back from daily debates and think of ways to create tangible change when they find it challenging to participate in political conversations.

“The question I would ask myself if I get frustrated is: Am I getting caught up in this anger and resentment to the point that I’m not doing any kind of service to anyone, including myself?” he told TSL. “If my answer is yes to that, I need to pick something I can fight for and focus on that, and winning on all levels of government to get it done.”

In his talk, Ceraso also highlighted role of critical thinking in remaining self-aware and looking at political movements from multiple perspectives. He credited his education at Pitzer for these skills.

“Pitzer students are being challenged each and every time they get into a classroom, exercising their brains on the topics that concern them," he said. 

But the weak spot in Pitzer’s education, he said, is the school's isolation from the outside world.

“You have a whole world beyond the walls of this campus," he said, "and you can go out there and get engaged and learn at the same time as you satisfy your academic appetite.”

He thinks solutions to social issues are rarely found in textbooks because of the complexity of real-world situations.

“You need to speak to all these different people to understand who they are. How are you going to get that from a book?” he said. “You need to understand how they understand and pass their politics.”

Ceraso recommended students use their connections and resources to get involved in local politics in surrounding communities. He argued this will increase their ability to sympathize with others and prevent the culture shock that some graduates experience when trying to reinsert themselves into non-Pitzer society.

“There is a lot of space for political work today because everyone is so obsessed with Trump,” he said. "You can go out there and carve your own niche and change the world in a specific way to bring it closer to what you believe in.”