the resistance and me
July 18, 2020: Voter Outreach 2020 - Postcards To Voters
Turning Out The Vote In Battleground States Will Decide This Election: Learn About Handwritten Postcards To Voters (the first in a 3-part series on non in-person voter outreach)
Over the July 4th weekend, in two speeches, Trump laid bare the blatant racism and divisiveness that are the underpinnings of his personality, his presidency and the rationale for his reelection campaign. No dog whistles, no code words, no nuance. It was deeply disturbing. He wants to bait us into a race war where, he believes, he will emerge the winner. He has no interest in uniting, no interest in soothing the frayed nerves of an anxious nation. That was left to Vice President Biden in his comments on the meaning of Independence Day in 2020. The choice between the two men could not be starker.
The weekend heightened my own sense of urgency about the 2020 election. And it reminded me of the message President Obama conveyed on the virtual fundraiser for Biden a few weeks ago: “Whatever you have done so far is not enough.”
I have been muttering this sentiment to myself since election night, 2016. I didn’t do enough to help elect Hillary. I should have done more to flip our district in 2018. And now, stuck at home, how the heck am I going to get-out-the-vote for Joe Biden this year?
Trump and the GOP know there is only one formula that leads to him winning reelection. He deployed it in 2016. Trumpism does not have the support of the majority of the country. He can only win if he suppresses the Democratic vote, through outright voter suppression and by smearing his opponent, and then he has to rile his base to such a fever pitch that nearly 100% of his 40% of the country cast their ballots. That is how he eked out an Electoral College win in 2016 and that is his plan for 2020. In 2016, he used immigration as red meat to inflame his base; this time he is using fear of our fellow Americans. It may be disgusting, but if Democrats don’t vote, then it could succeed.
In my book, The Resistance and Me: An Insider’s Account of the Two-Year Mission to Stop the Trump Agenda and Take Back the House, the reader learns, just as we learned, the incredible importance of speaking directly to voters. Across the country, in-person canvassing helped to power the blue wave. We cannot meet voters face-to-face this year, making turning out the vote just a little bit harder, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have weapons in our arsenal, other ways of reaching voters that will boost Democratic turnout. I implore each of you to learn about them and start using them because whatever you are already doing, it is not enough.
There are basically three forms of non in-person voter outreach: snail mail with letters or postcards, phone-banking and text-banking. Over the next few weeks, I will focus on each of these. Each method can be done from your own home, each is available to everyone. You can try them all and choose the method that you are most comfortable with; you can do a combination of two or three. Once you learn about these initiatives, my hope is you will be ready to get started. None of us want to wake up on November 4th and have any regrets, or say to ourselves, as we did in 2016, if only I had gotten more involved. Because the truth about Trump, the truth that was there for us all to see in 2016, is he is unfit for this job and the combination of incompetence and corruption that mark his administration is literally killing us. We will not survive a second term.
To begin, this blog post will take a look at handwritten postcards to voters. I first got involved in mailing postcards to voters for the midterm election with my Indivisible group, East End Action Network (EEAN). We hosted a lot of activities for the midterm election, including one-on-one interviews and debate forums with the primary candidates as well as get-out-the-vote door-knocking weekends. But probably our most popular general election events were a series of postcard-writing parties, in conjunction with the campaign of our Democratic congressional nominee, Perry Gershon. They provided the postcards and the mailing lists of Democratic voters’ names and addresses and together with other grassroots groups who did the same, thousands of handwritten postcards were mailed out to voters in CD#1 right before the election. The idea is that when a voter receives a handwritten message about voting that it cuts through all the noise and clutter to make an impression. The goal is to create a card so engaging, so colorful that it will go up on a refrigerator door.
In my book are descriptions and photos of our 2018 postcard parties. People who wanted to get involved but were not comfortable going door-to-door or even phone-banking, were thrilled to participate and really enjoyed the experience. EEAN provided all the markers and stickers to make the cards creative and colorful, and everyone brought food and drinks to make it a party. Our master at organizing these events is leadership member Sharon Adams, a retired elementary school teacher.
Already this year, Sharon has organized two postcard-writing events for EEAN, both of them virtual. The first was for Common Cause to alert New York voters about their options to vote in the primary and the second was our first event reaching outside of New York, to voters in a battleground state. We have known that 2020 would be very different than 2018 because we would be adding involvement with the presidential election along with the congressional. Unlike our congressional race, the presidential race will not be decided by who gets the most votes, but by who reaches 270 electoral votes. Trump lost the popular vote, but won the presidency by small margins across a few states. Most states, including New York, are already in the red or blue column which means that voters in a handful of states, called swing states or battleground states will decide the outcome of this election. Given that, it is crucial that we reach these voters and encourage them to vote for Biden.
In researching the different groups that are involved in sending postcards to battleground states, we chose Postcards To Voters (PTV), https://postcardstovoters.org/. This was an easy decision since Sharon was already very familiar with how PTV works because she has been involved with PTV from its inception. Alongside all of the activities she is involved in for our district, she explained why being an active volunteer with PTV has been important to her.
“Volunteers feel that the stakes are so high that they have to do something to assure that our democracy will survive,” she said. “Volunteering to write friendly handwritten reminders to targeted voters has become a movement thanks to Tony McMullin, who founded Postcards to Voters in 2017. I'm proud to have been a part of this grassroots group of volunteers since its start.”
Founder Tony McMullin goes by the nickname Tony the Democrat. The website has a photo of Tony, along with an explanation of how his background led him to create PTV:
Since March 2017, many people have called me Tony The Democrat.
I have a career in business process and technology project management for specialized insurance and financial services companies. Since 2003, I have had the privilege to work on numerous municipal and state campaigns coordinating volunteers, field operations, and data-driven decisions.
While in Dallas, Texas, I was a founding member of a grassroots group that turned a red house district blue, and served as both a Precinct Chair and House District Coordinator responsible for recruiting, training, and mentoring Precinct Captains. This experience with campaigns and volunteer coordination are the foundation for my new initiative.
I live in Metro Atlanta with two rescue Miniature Schnauzers, Lex and Pierce.
Tony was first bitten by the campaign bug when he quit his job to volunteer full-time for Howard Dean’s campaign in the 2004 presidential election. There is a great profile of Tony on the website New Faces of Democracy, a group that spotlights many of the grassroots activists who are part of the anti-Trump Resistance. https://newfacesofdemocracy.org/spotlight-tony-the-democrat/.
You can also read about Tony and PTV in a 2018 article in The New York Times entitled, “Writing Postcards Brings Voters Back From the Edge: ‘It’s Sharpie Therapy’.” According to the article, “In the big data era of politics, where campaigns are betting millions on software that can harvest hundreds of pieces of information about a single voter, Tony McMullin is making a decidedly different wager. He is trying to show that elections can be won through the persuasive power of a plaintive handwritten postcard. It is a battle of quaint vs. quant.”
The home page on the PTV website is warm and welcoming and filled with photos of colorful and creative postcards. Here is the description on the PTV site of how it works:
Postcards to Voters are friendly, handwritten reminders from volunteers to targeted voters giving Democrats a winning edge in close, key races coast to coast.
What started on March 11, 2017 with sharing 5 addresses apiece to 5 volunteers on Facebook so that they could mail postcards to voters in Jon Ossoff’s race grew in one month to 1,200+ volunteers nationwide and over 51,000 postcards mailed.
Now, we consist of over 75,000+ volunteers in every state (including Alaska and Hawaii) who have written over 9 million postcards to voters in over 200 key, close elections.
We use an interactive texting service (Abby The Address Bot) to assign addresses to our trusted, returning volunteers. For new volunteers and those organizing postcard parties around the country, we use a commercial Help Desk system to streamline and automate email requests.
Another commercial business intelligence package crunches the numbers so we always know who our top volunteers are by campaign, a heat-map showing where the postcards are being written by zip code around the country, and other essential dashboards to manage an operation that now averages 15,000 voter addresses assigned daily.
How It Works
1. Sign Up
o We’ll send you an email with instructions
o Write a practice postcard and email us a photo following instructions in the email
o Approved -We’ll send you addresses and information on how to obtain additional addresses
o Not Approved – You will receive an email detailing why and how to fix it
We felt this group was perfect for our postcard action and we were eager to write to voters in a battleground state. Because all our meetings and events have been virtual since March, we could not provide tables of volunteers with materials as we did in 2018, but our founder, Rebecca Dolber, explained in our weekly newsletter how a virtual postcard party would work. Members were asked to RSVP with Sharon if they were interested. Sharon then followed-up in an email to those members who signed up:
Thank you for being the first group to volunteer this week to write Postcards To Voters. (PTV)
I started writing with this awesome organization when it started in 2017. There are now over 75,000 volunteers in every state that have written close to 8 million postcards to voters. (Now you're really excited to be part of this movement!).
Postcards To Voters are friendly, handwritten reminders from volunteers to targeted voters giving Democrats a winning edge in close, key races coast to coast. After you become an approved writer you may be able to choose the target group you want to write to (depends on the addresses available) and you choose how many cards you want to write (you are usually given 3 days to complete/send). I like to do 5 or 10 at a time. Aside from that, you are given everything you need. There are only 3 MUST HAVES for each card, tons of extra ideas, background information and of course the addresses.
I'm going to give you the link to get SIGNED UP and then you'll receive an email with exact instructions. On the website, https://postcardstovoters.org/, go to JOIN in the menu. After you've sent the photo of your practice postcard and been approved, you'll receive additional instructions on how to request addresses whenever you feel the urge to write. I am here to help with any questions. The website is awesome! It's very complete, so take some time to explore the site.
Please let me know when you've been approved and are ready to start writing. Keep a tally of how many cards you write please.
Facebook and Twitter have PTV accounts that are fun to follow. There is a whole community of writers across the country that share on social media. (I even get excited when followers like my postcard designs) #PostcardsToVoters
So...you will need postcards, postcard stamps and art supplies. As you will see on the website, it's supposed to also be a fun activity. We can share our creative designs, sources for preprinted cards and fun new stickers or markers. I am fond of using colorful 81/2" x 11" card stock that is cut to 4 pieces. This is the cheaper way to go, but I also have a variety of printed cards. If you need ANYthing, please just ask me. The PTV website has great options for buying postcards, 100 for $15.
Due to the pandemic, most of the writing groups that formed across the country are not meeting in person. We would like to have a virtual writing party on June 25th if everyone is approved and ready. We are flexible. Again let me know when you're approved and we'll plan from there.
One last note...a postcard writer from Colorado commented on a photo I recently posted on twitter of my completed cards. He commented that his goal is "to ensure that the cards he sends will be looked at." Let's get our cards on those refrigerators, my friends!!!!
If you go to the PTV website and click on the tab for “results” you will see the list of campaigns that PTV has been involved in. The action that we participated in was postcards to registered Democrats in specific Florida counties with information on how to enroll in vote-by-mail. Turns out, much to my surprise, that Florida has a wonderful vote-by-mail system that enables a voter to enroll and for two federal election cycles, they will automatically be sent a mail-in ballot for every election. I wish New York had that. Given the pandemic and the fear that people will not feel safe going to the polls for in-person voting or, like in several primaries around the country, many polling places were closed due to staff shortages, all of this confusion in November can be avoided if people have signed up for vote-by-mail. Our cards gave Democratic voters all the information they needed to enroll in this program and ended with the tag line, “When FL Dems vote-by-mail, Dems win!” And needless to say, few battleground states are as important as Florida.
We all ordered postcards and stamps, signed up on the PTV website, created our sample cards and got approved and started working on our address lists. Our virtual Zoom Postcard-Writing Party on Thursday, June 25th would be a social gathering to schmooze together while we all worked on our cards. Some folks had already finished several lists and others were just starting. Some members preferred to finish and mail their postcards without joining the Zoom, which was fine, while others looked forward to the group interaction.
For those of us on the virtual party, the event was a lot of fun and it was wonderful to catch up and share the time together. It was also gratifying to have younger women with kids at home join us. It is one of the ironies of this pandemic that being forced to go virtual has opened up our meetings to more members, particularly younger members with children at home.
“The pandemic has actually affected my activism in mostly positive ways,” said leadership member Lisa Marrin. “Stay-At-Home orders have given me much more time for postcard writing, Zooming and learning more about the history of party politics in the nation. Since so many of my children's activities were cancelled and I am working from home on my own schedule, I have been able to meet more often with the EEAN leadership committee and we have developed a great framework for our upcoming actions. I have committed to three different postcard projects and have just finished training on phone-banking. I am excited to engage in this way. The downside of political action during a pandemic is the lack of face-to-face contact with like-minded individuals and my reluctance to join in-person protests. As I try to put the health of myself and my family first, I just have not been able to bring myself to attend. Luckily, I can take satisfaction in my virtual activism and the fact that I am able to participate in those ways on a larger scale.”
Lisa’s friend, Stacie Coppola, is a new member who also has children at home and was able to join the postcard party Zoom. It was so uplifting to watch them participate and to hear how Stacie turned it into a teachable moment for her son and daughter, who are 12-year-old fraternal twins.
“I'm so grateful to have this opportunity to help out and to use it as a way to teach my children about the importance of participation,” said Stacie. “My children and I ended up having a really great discussion about the struggle that women and African Americans have had in getting the right to vote and how important it is not to squander that right. COVID-19 has really driven home the fear I have that my children will be facing a very different world than we all have. My husband usually expresses hesitancy about introducing them to the heaviness that comes with political topics but we both realize that this next generation will be facing challenges that will make it impossible for them not to be ‘political.’ Working on the postcards allowed them to see that participation, even on small levels, can be fun and comforting. The women at East End Action Network have a kindness of spirit that is very motivating and has encouraged me to take the edge off of my anger at where our country is and just get to work.”
At the end of the Zoom, everyone held up their cards so we could see all the amazing designs. I was blown away by the creativity of some of the designs and there was no doubt in my mind that Florida voters receiving these will take notice of them. Here are a few examples:
Postcards by Stacie Coppola and her children
Sharon Adams’ postcards
Patricia Callan’s postcards
It is our hope that members will continue on their own requesting lists and mailing more postcards to Florida voters since no group activity is necessary to get more address lists. Once approved, when you finish a list, all you have to do is text the word “hello” to the mobile number and another address list with instructions for what to write on the card is emailed to you. Even once we start writing postcards for our Democratic nominee in CD#1, we plan on continuing our work with PTV. (Due to the large number of absentee ballots that needed counting, we have only just gotten the results that Stony Brook University Chemistry Chair Nancy Goroff has won the primary and will be the Democratic candidate to take on GOP Trump-clone Congressman Lee Zeldin in the fall).
The PTV system is user-friendly, interactive and fun. I was so intrigued by PTV that I reached out to Mr. McMullin to learn more about him and about PTV. He was open and friendly, exactly what one would expect from someone called “Tony the Democrat.” My first question was about the vote-by-mail action to Florida. I had assumed it was because of COVID. Turns out it wasn’t. They started this action with Florida voters in 2018.
“I don’t remember how it came to my attention,” he said, “but in Florida, you can enroll in vote-by- mail simply by making a phone call, only one phone call needed, and you are locked into automatically receiving a ballot by mail for every election. This is a powerful incentive for a volunteer trying to figure out how to spend their time and postage, because with an enrollment process as easy as a phone call, the likelihood of a positive outcome is much higher than with a different state where you have to request a ballot application, fill it out and mail it back, then fill out the ballot and mail that. All those steps reduce the number of people who will complete that enrollment. When I pitch to volunteers that I need their help to do this action, I want to give them an action that has the biggest chance of success. I hear from people why don’t we do this in Michigan or Arizona and the answer comes down to the ease of enrollment and the length of the term which can’t be matched by any other state. I can’t in good conscience ask our volunteers to spend the same kind of postage when there is a much lower success rate of enrollment.”
Tony also explained that having worked on this initiative over several years, it helps the county supervisors process these vote-by-mail requests. “This way they are not inundated, not flooded with requests which would happen if we held onto the postcards and mailed them all at once, then they would get swamped with new enrollments and their office staff would be beleaguered. That also would not serve the voter as well. By our volunteers writing and mailing them along the way, we are good partners and give the county supervisors an easier time.”
It is serendipitous that Florida has an excellent vote-by-mail system that makes it worthwhile for the time and expense of his volunteers and at the same time is arguably the most important of the battleground states. “We have known for a long time,” said Tony, “that Florida can be the firewall because there is no path for reelection for Trump without Florida. If Florida turns blue, that is all we need to stop Trump.”
There is another added benefit of vote-by-mail that extends beyond the presidential race. “Once Democrats are enrolled, they then get ballots for every election. Every study proves that if you are mailed a ballot automatically rather than relying just on voting in person, that this increases turnout throughout the state at every level of government.”
This connects so nicely to what Dr. Lara Putnam, historian at the University of Pittsburgh, talks about in my book, which is the need to create an ongoing progressive ecosystem that begins at the local level. I mentioned Dr. Putnam’s analysis to Tony. “I have goose bumps listening to you describe focusing on local elections. This is what I tell our volunteers, that their efforts with the postcards will help change behavior and strengthen the voting habit. It is hard to make voting a habit, we are talking about people with two jobs, single parents, people burdened with elder care issues and so they could be forgiven for missing a special election for county commissioner. But now, if they can get the ballot in the mail, it is just inevitable that they will participate at a higher rate.”
As good as Florida’s vote-by-mail system is, Tony explained to me that it used to be even better. No surprise, the change came once Republicans took over the state legislature. “Florida has a lot of pride in their vote-by-mail program, which used to be permanent. You would always get a ballot as long as you lived at the same address. Then when the GOP took over, they modified it to make it expire after two federal election cycles, generally four years. But to show that they really have no fundamental problem with voting by mail, they really just want to make it harder for everyone to vote, they grandfathered in those already enrolled so that they would still be permanent. At that point, the GOP had an advantage in vote-by-mail enrollments. It was an insidious way to game the system.”
But thanks to all the efforts to enroll Democrats in vote-by-mail, that GOP advantage is gone. According to a recent article in Politico, entitled, “Florida Democrats Gain Vote By Mail Advantage,” Democrats now hold a significant lead in vote-by-mail enrollments. “Democrats have opened up a 302,000-voter advantage over Republicans in vote-by-mail enrollment, an edge that could pay big dividends in President Donald Trump’s newly adopted must-win state.”
Helping Florida turn blue is so crucial, that Tony told me PTV will continue to focus on vote-by-mail this summer. “We are going to continue for the next couple of months, hopefully with another 600,000 postcards,” he said. After that, they will point their army of volunteers towards helping candidate campaigns. Right now, he can’t say which campaigns they will be helping. “I can’t know in the beginning of July which campaigns we are going to be writing for. I have some guesses based on conversations with people leading multiple candidate efforts in different states, such as Ohio and Texas, but it is a fluid situation and different campaigns sign up every week.” There is a web form on the PTV site that campaigns can fill out. “But the more volunteers we have, the more campaigns we can help. People are signing up and writing over 15,000 postcards a day, which is terrific. We try to forecast our writing capacity and I have a spreadsheet of different campaigns. We have 76,000 volunteers; think what we could do if we could double that size by November. And we are ready for that. We have the technology and the infrastructure to do that. In 2018, we did 1.9 million postcards in September and October. I think we could do 4-5 million this year if we have enough people involved. Really, I have to thank our volunteer writers, they are the backbone of this work and they recruit their friends and family. We don’t have a marketing budget. When we grow, it is because the volunteers are happy.”
I asked if the Republicans had a similar operation. “I have seen a handful of specific GOP campaign postcard activities, but nothing close to our volunteer base or to broad campaigns, that is one of the things that we have an advantage,” he said. “Imagine what it would take for another group to start what we do and build that volunteer base. If another group is just starting up, they will have a long road to get to where we are.”
I thanked Tony for taking the time to speak with me and for all he is doing to reach voters. I only had one last question. I was curious to know if any of the sample postcards ever get turned down. “It doesn’t happen often,” he said. “When it does, it might be because the writer didn’t pay close enough attention to the rules and then we tell them what they need to do to fix it which most people are happy to do. Unfortunately, we do occasionally hear back from people that this is too picky for them and it’s not a volunteer activity that suits them. But that is pretty rare.”
PTV was an activity that ideally suited our group. Our virtual event was a success and our members had enjoyed participating. And we were especially pleased that members were continuing to ask for more lists on their own and continued to mail more postcards. We will be planning more PTV parties this summer, virtual and possibly in-person with social distancing. And just maybe PTV could help us in our fight to unseat Zeldin.
For Sharon, who started with PTV on her own in 2017, she said it has been gratifying watching PTV grow. She also said it has taken on an even more meaning for the volunteer writers after watching Trump double down on his divisive and racist messages.
“I'm very impressed by the incredible amount of volunteers, all across the country, who are so seriously invested in Postcards To Voters,” she said. “On this fourth of July weekend, one volunteer shared on social media that they're using their postcard writing as ‘a distraction from the horrible speeches being made about America.’ Another writer felt ‘this is the most patriotic thing I could accomplish today.’ Volunteers stated they will save their celebrations for November. As the holiday weekend unwinds, I've just completed another ten postcards which are headed to Broward County to encourage vote-by-mail. I'm looking forward to our next virtual writing party or possibly an outdoor writing party with masks and social distancing guidelines a key factor. “
Go to the PTV website and give it a try. If you are part of a grassroots group or a book club, you can add a virtual event to your postcard-writing. But it is also an easy action you can do by yourself. I like writing and designing my cards at the end of the day while I sit and watch television, a good antidote to the news. You will find the time of the day that works best for you. And if you need a guidebook to show you how to integrate grassroots volunteerism into your daily life, read my book and meet the women who did exactly that. The book is available on Amazon.com and at Canio's Books (631) 725-4926. A book talk hosted by Canio’s Books can be found on the following link: https://www.facebook.com/caniosbooks/videos/983767798721737/
Speaking of my book, I have set up a fundraiser with the book as a way to say thank you to Tony for all he is doing for voters. PTV stays afloat from donations and to help them in that effort, I will be sending a signed copy of the book, free of charge, to the first 20 people who donate to PTV in response to this blog post. To help PTV track those donations, please add $.46 (46 cents) - in honor of the 46th President we are all working hard to elect - to whatever amount you would like to donate. Here is the link for the donate tab on the PTV website: https://postcardstovoters.org/donate/. Follow the instructions to donate either with Paypal or by mailing a check. And don’t forget to add the 46 cents so that I know to mail you a copy of the book. Let’s grow their army of volunteers and make 5 million postcards for November happen.
In my next blog post, I will focus on phone-banking. There are many opportunities to phone-bank. Every candidate and campaign has phone-banking for volunteers. You can go right now to the Biden campaign’s website at https://joebiden.com/take-action/ and become a volunteer. You can also go to the campaign of any candidate in your district. All campaigns will set you up to phone-bank.
But like PTV, there are also groups conducting phone-banking to battleground states for vote-by-mail. The Florida Democratic advantage in vote-by-mail enrollments is being created not just by the postcards but by phone-banking as well. There are some advantages and disadvantages of each. With postcards, you have the advantage of working on them at any time of the day that is convenient for you. Your whole family can get involved and designing and coloring the postcards is fun. By contrast, phone-banking is a solitary experience and setting it up is a little more complicated than mailing postcards. But phone-banking offers one big advantage, the ability to directly interact with the voter, enabling us to answer their questions and help them get enrolled in vote-by-mail. For this reason, at EEAN, we decided to do both.
To get us started, EEAN leadership member Alex Margolis who is a powerhouse when it comes to voter outreach, both with postcards and with phone-banking, offered to give us a presentation about the phone-banking she has been doing. She has been working with a Florida Democratic group, FL Dems, who have organized a phone-banking outreach to enroll registered Democratic voters in Palm Beach County (PBC) in vote-by-mail. The action is called PBC VBM. They have a Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/GrassrootsPalmBeach/
Alex, who is a corporate attorney, told us about PBC VBM on the postcard party Zoom, explaining how this initiative works.
“There's really a unique opportunity in Palm Beach County, because the election supervisor though a Republican, seems to be pretty good and is working with the Democratic Party to facilitate enrolling voters in vote-by-mail. These calling list are all Democrats and it's a very easy phone call. You're not asking for money. You're not asking for support for a candidate. You're just asking if they're enrolled in vote-by-mail and stating that we want to help them enroll if they are not signed up for it. If they say ‘yes’, you enter that and it is automatically communicated and the supervisor will follow up with this voter to get them enrolled in vote-by-mail. I'm doing postcards also but with the phone calls, you're actually signing them up.”
We discussed that many of us are still a bit squeamish about talking to voters on the phone. But, as Rebecca pointed out, the nature of these calls should make it easier.
“What I find so alluring about this is that you're not asking people for money. You're not asking them to give you information that maybe they don't want to talk to you about. You're calling to provide a service for them, which in these times of everything being so confusing, I could see people really appreciating it,” said Rebecca on our Zoom call. “I also keep saying to myself, if I'm not going to do it now for this election, I'm never going to do it. This is the election to do it.”
We all agreed that if ever we were going to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and commit to phone-banking, this is the time to do it. And Alex said it is true that, in her experience, many voters she spoke with were appreciative. “This one guy, after I asked him if we can count on him to vote for Democrats this year, he said, ‘I'd vote for a tuna fish sandwich before I'd ever vote for Republican again.’ This other call was with a veteran and he was great. He said, ‘All women should be elected. Women should run the world. It would be so much better.’ Then on another call I spoke with some younger voters who really want to volunteer to help out. Some of these conversations have been really uplifting.”
Many of us signed up with PBC VBM as well as a training session with Alex who will take us through the process step-by-step. In my next blog post, I will be able to bring you this hands-on information about how it works. Hopefully that will help you get past your own reservations about phone-banking. Then, for the last blog post on voter outreach methods, I will focus on text-banking. In the meantime, sign up with PTV and get started on your postcards!
June 19, 2020: Canio's Book Talk
Thank you to everyone who joined us on June 16th for a Zoom Book Talk with Canio’s Books. Special thanks to Maryann and Kathryn of Canio’s for hosting the event. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss the book as well as the lessons I learned from the experience of being part of the Resistance and from writing the book to the moment we are in today, particularly the Black Lives Matter protests around the country and the challenges to voting in the election this fall.
If you didn’t get a chance to join the Zoom or watch on the Facebook livestream, below is the link to the video of the book talk. If you have questions or comments about the book talk, you can reach out to me through the options on the Contact page here on the website.
Also, as I mentioned at the end of the book talk, I will be posting in an upcoming blog different actions we can all do from home to reach out to voters, particularly voters in the battleground states. These actions are to the six battleground states that will decide the Electoral College. These actions are postcards to voters, phone banking and textbanking. And the immediate actions right now are to states, like Florida, to advise voters how they can vote by mail, what may be an essential avenue due to the pandemic for voters to safely exercise their right to vote this fall. This blog will include not only the links for volunteers to join in these actions, but descriptions of how these actions work so you can feel comfortable trying them and excited to get started.
May 7, 2020: The Grammar of Politics
I met Shivaji Sengupta, Ph.D., for the first time on March 7th when I was the guest speaker at a Southampton Democratic Club breakfast in Hampton Bays (see a previous blog post about this event). It was a book talk and a book signing for The Resistance and Me. It was the first in a planned series of book talks but remains the only one because everything shut down shortly afterwards due to the coronavirus. (We are working on editing the video from this talk and will soon have a link for it here on the website).
During the question-and-answer period at the end of the talk, Shivaji stood up and introduced himself and said the loveliest things about the book and our grassroots activism and expressed his desire to become more involved in the fight to save our democracy. Before saying good-bye, we exchanged business cards and from that beginning, a pen-pal correspondence has blossomed which includes sharing each other’s letters to the editor before submitting them to hopefully be published. In fact, last week, our two letters to the editor were side by side in our local newspaper.
One day he surprised me by sending me not a letter to proofread but a review he wrote of my book. I asked him if I could put it here on the website. I also asked him to send me a short bio about himself as an introduction to the review. He said yes to both.
So, to begin, here is a little bit about Shivaji, in his own words:
I was born in a town in western India called Nagpur on August 28, 1946. But since there was no tradition of birth certificates in India those days, my father gave my birth date as 28th August 1947, when admitting me to a school. Overnight, unbeknownst to anyone, including my father, I became a year younger! So I am officially 72 and a bit, whereas biologically I am 73.
I was born in a military hospital which was actually a 17th Century castle of (then) an unimportant Hindu king called Shivaji, a small-time war lord with an army of 5,000 soldiers. With that modest army he is said to have kept the mighty Moghul Empire at bay. The Moghuls had captured over 90% of India from the early 16th century through 1757. When Shivaji was king of the small area near the Arabian Sea, the then Moghul Emperor, Aureng Zebe, wanted Shivaji's sea-port kingdom because it would enhance his trade with the west. Apparently, try as he might, he couldn't conquer that small piece of land. The Emperor's General with an army of 50,000 could not defeat Shivaji who led the armed fight-back himself against the great Moghul. The General kept a diary of his exploits to "Maratha Land" (Shivaji's kingdom). In it he cursed the, "small time Indian prince who... does not fight like a man. They are like monkeys swooping down from the hills, catching us unawares and killing us while we were just becoming aware an attack was on. This Shivaji is a coward and so are all those pesky monkeys who fight in his army."
Well, Aureng Zebe, the Moghul Emperor never did conquer Shivaji's little land. The Hindus ruled Maratha right until the 17th Century when the British finally defeated them.
In 1969, while working as a stack-boy in Columbia University's rare books library, I met an elderly historian named George Marshall. He was doing research on guerilla warfare and studying Shivaji's wartime diaries and the maps the Hindu king had drawn by hand to plan his military expeditions. He discovered that Shivaji was in fact the inventor of guerilla warfare, the asymmetrical strategy by which often a small army can defeat a much bigger one. When I was at Columbia, the North Vietnamese had used guerilla war tactics to keep the mighty Americans in check. The United States never could defeat the "Viet Cong" ("Cong" in Vietnamese means "monkeys," the same moniker given to the Maratha soldiers by the sixteenth century Moghul general.)
After India's independence from the British in 1947 (I had just turned one), and in the resultant wave of nationalist fervor, Shivaji became a national icon. That military hospital was "de-incarnated" back into Shivaji's castle and became a national landmark. I would wager that in those days most male children born in that military hospital were named Shivaji.
Alas, I grew up to be nothing as brave as the historic king. Everything from insects to the ingenious frightens me. Shivaji is described in Indian history books as an athletic, robust man, a wiz with weapons. I am small, puny, with very few motor skills; did very poorly in most sports.
Nor was I good at studies. Throughout my childhood days, I was more interested in playing outside with my friends than reading books. My relatives constantly reminded me that my father was a brilliant scholar in school and college. He stood third in his baccalaureate exams in the whole of India, among some 45,000 students. When I was born he was the editor of a local newspaper. Later, he competed in the Indian Services exams and was appointed as a news editor in All India Radio in India's capital, New Delhi. I was 2 1/2 years old then. The year was 1948.
From 1948 to 1967, I lived with my parents and a younger sister in New Delhi, graduating from a Roman Catholic Irish missionary school, and an elitist Anglican Church college. In 1963 my father at age 42, with nothing more than a bachelors degree, attracted the attention of Henry Kissinger when the latter went to Delhi for a series of lectures which my father attended. He offered him a fellowship, and my father went to do research in international relations between India and the Soviet Union at Harvard where Kissinger was a professor. He completed a research study in Harvard that Kissinger himself sponsored and Praeger published it as a book. Baba (dad in Bengali, our Indian mother tongue) returned to India but went back to America again in 1967, this time as a senior research fellow at Columbia University's Institute for International Change. There he worked with Zbignew Brezinski, later President Carter's National Security Advisor. Baba wrote another book on the tripartite relationship between India, China and the Soviet Union, for which Brezinski wrote a foreword. They were very good friends. Baba eventually completed a doctorate in political science under the guidance of Arthur Schlessinger who wrote The Imperial Presidency criticizing Richard Nixon.
It's during his three-year long stay that he brought the rest of his family to New York in 1968. With his help I was admitted to Columbia University to study for a Masters in English. I had done reasonably well in my baccalaureate, receiving honors in English Literature, though my results were nowhere as good as my father's. My mother, Mira, had gone a few months before. On June 6th, 1968, my sister, Tutul, and I embarked on a plane to come to New York. At the airport, bidding good-bye to friends and relatives, we heard of the assassination attempt on Robert Kennedy. Upon hearing the news, my cousin and best friend taunted me good-naturedly, "Be careful! You're going to a trigger-happy nation!"
Shivaji stayed in the United States and made it his home. He continued at Columbia University and received his Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature. He and his wife raised three daughters, two of whom live in New York City. After a long career as an educator and administrator at Boricua College, he recently retired from his position as Vice-President of Academic Affairs. According to the college website, “Boricua College is a private college in New York City. The college was designed to serve the education needs of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics and was founded by Victor G. Alicea and several others.” Shivaji is one of those founders.
He is also a prolific writer and has a regular column in The South Asian Times. His recent article, entitled “Comparing and Contrasting Corona Response by US and Indian Leaders” is a fascinating exploration of how these two countries have handled this pandemic. For both countries’ leaders, their concerns were more about themselves than public health.
Needless to say, that he would choose to cast his intellectual eye upon my book is an honor. The title of his review is “The Grammar of Politics.”
The Grammar of Politics: Barbara Weber-Floyd's The Resistance and Me and Jeffrey J. Harden's Multidimensional Democracy
Broadly defined, grammar is a set of rules derived from the consistency of the interactions between the functional elements of a phenomenon. These rules in a given system are extrapolated from the behavior of the elements that form patterns and structures. The rules then, distilled from these patterns, help us to understand not only the system better, but in some cases to do creative things with it.
I read the two books mentioned in the title through the lens of a grammar of politics, a term introduced by a classical political scientist in 1925, Harold Laski.Laski's term expands on how the different parts of a nation state interact to form a government. I have taken "grammar" to mean the functional interaction between the constituents (individual and interest groups) and elected officials at various levels - counties, state and federal - within the overarching Law of the Land, the Constitution (in the case, our country).
Interactions happen on several levels of each, county, state and Congress. For example, county elections are determined by the politics of the townships; state elections, by District and counties, and Congressional Elections by the entire state apparatus and all the local elements. I see this entire structure as a Grammatics, i.e., as functions played by each element in each entity (county, state and federal) that constitute not only the government (that is obvious), but also culminates, as an invisible hand, in the affirmation of the whole of the U.S. Constitution, or, if you like, the Law of the Land.
These three form the infrastructure, of which these elements just mentioned comprise the political process. Carrying on the linguistic analogy of grammatics, the elements words (constituents), phrases, clauses and sentences (elected officials) and the Essay (the Constitution), interact with each other, as well as with other complementary domains, such as the " moods" of sentences, such as indicative, imperative, performative and interrogative. They provide the intent of the communication which sentences perform. In politics, these may correspond to social institutions; the most important among them being economics, the environment and health which, in turn, form their own relationships and interact grammatically. The occasions or events in which they interact may be considered as supplements, because they give life to the grammatical functions of the state, as it were: specific public events such as war, natural calamity (like the coronavirus) and peace-time treaties entered upon by States in the international arena, and by states and provinces within a state.I define politics (a derivative of polity, meaning behavior in Greek) as the public behavior of people, motivated by community and self interests, leading to desired goals. Culture and ideology, as well as economics, play major roles in it. Politics then is a set of public behavior influenced by all these things. If we were to search for a grammar of politics we will need to isolate those elements mentioned above, and others, to determine whether there is any consistency in their interaction with each other. For instance, does an ideology shared by a given community, its goals, and the actions the community takes, are consistent in their interactions?
Let's take real life examples to apply the grammatics just explained to two books, Jeffrey Harden's Multidimensional Democracy (2016) and Barbara Weber-Floyd's The Resistance and Me (2019).
I see Barbara's book as an illustration of politics at the grassroots level. It begins with the soul-crushing event of Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential election and how this transformed so many women into activists. This insider's account is in the form of a daily journal, that consists of reports of various meetings - from the small rallies on the streets of Suffolk County to the million women's marches in Washington D.C. in 2017 and New York City in 2018; of interviews of numerous actors taking part in the Southampton Township Democratic Committee, ultimately selecting representatives for the Southampton Town Council; and of Barbara's own observations, perspectives and opinions about the events. It is a success story of capturing a Democratic Super Majority in the Southampton Council, apparently, for the first time in 200 years in 2017; of the heart-rending defeat of Perry Gershon, the Democratic nominee for Congress in 2018, which was compensated by wresting away the majority from Republicans in the House of Representatives. All in all, I see Barbara's book as giving an insight to how politics works at the grassroots level. It is also an extremely valuable "how-to" book for political workers, especially new ones like me.
Jeffrey Harden's Multidimensional Democracy is a theoretical book, converted from his doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Colorado. It is a book about how elected representatives have to manage with skill, dexterity and political awareness between the Demand-side of their responsibility, and the Supply-side. Harden defines Demand as the demand for policy changes and new policy that constituents demand on the person they've elected. Supply is the demand for resources, mostly monies and infrastructures that constituents need. Harden says that the first, Demand for policy, seems to be the preference of the upper middle class and the wealthy, whereas Supply of resources seem to be the preferred choice for the middle class and the poor. To navigate between these, with all the apparatchiks involved, Harden terms as multidimensional democracy.He exemplifies this with a detailed account of a state assembly person, Sidney Carlin, a woman Democrat who has been elected from her district 12 times in Kansas that has over 70% Republicans. The way she has done it is by putting into action the "people first" motto which politicians mouth, but seldom carry out.
Harden shows how this elected official pays equal attention to Demand for policy changes, thus continuing to enjoy the support of wealthy Republicans; and bring resources in her district to benefit the poor and the middle class. She listens to all her constituents, holding town halls in the district literally every weekend (whether anybody comes or not - she is always there), and posting reports on her website. Many Republicans in her district speak of her as "my favorite rep." I dare say that had Barbara chosen to run for office, she would have been, characterwise, another Sidney Carlin. But she prefers to continue as a political worker, an equally indispensable role as an elected official.
I find what Barbara describes in The Resistance and Me and what Harden theorizes in Multidimensional Democracy act as an excellent illustration of the grammar of politics’ concrete application (Barbara) to theory (Harden) albeit completely unintentional on Barbara's part as she wasn't aware of Harden's book: which actually strengthens my claim that these two books are complementary to each other and form a brilliant example of the grammar of politics.I urge Barbara to continue this noble yeoman's service to her people, by working in politics, writing and speaking.
I look forward to our exchanges of emails and phone calls and his ever-present encouragement to keep going. It isn’t easy to carry on the grassroots work of the Resistance in the age of COVID-19. For Shivaji, it became even harder when one of his closest friends died from the virus. Jose Israel Lopez, a Dean from their shared college, Boricua College in New York City, passed away on March 28th. They had last seen each other in January. Dean Lopez became ill and went downhill very fast. In an email, he described their relationship to me. As always, his poetic writing captured the emotions of the shocking news.
Jose is my friend (cannot use the past tense, not yet). We two were the go-to persons at Boricua as far as academic management was concerned. When I retired because of cancer, he said, "Get better and be back! It will be hard for me to be here without you." JOSE, TELL ME YOU DIDNT MEAN IT!
On Monday mornings we sat with Victor (Dr. Victor G. Alicea, President of Boricua College), our mentor, brother and friend. Jose always had something insightful to say, intellectual and compassionate. Victor listened to him with rapt attention.
I will miss his intellect. Deeply conceptual, he in fact had trouble communicating some of his thoughts because we were not as well read in the subject matter he was talking about. At times like this, when he perceived with sharp observation that I or someone else was struggling to keep up with his depth of knowledge and thinking, he would suddenly break into a most friendly laughter and say something self-deprecatory (like "Trust me to talk about something I myself don't understand well!" he would say, and we would all laugh.)
Now he is gone! Just like that! Without giving us a chance to say good bye - which we wouldn't have anyway! I am crying again.
April 23, 2020: How We Got Here
(an edited version is featured in The Southampton Press at https://www.27east.com/southampton-press/how-we-got-here-1695833/ )
The news media has accurately reported how Trump’s mismanagement of COVID-19 has exacerbated this global health crisis. But Trump’s damage to our public health goes back to the beginning of his administration and for Congressman Lee Zeldin and the rest of the Republican Party, their culpability starts much earlier. It begins with the universal Republican vow to eliminate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and is compounded by their ideological orthodoxy to starve every federal agency of funding, including those agencies that are charged with public health. Like every Republican, this was the platform Zeldin ran on in 2014 and this is how he has voted as a member of Congress. But these dual GOP missions – repeal the ACA and reduce the size of government – have directly contributed to the disastrous federal response to this crisis.
The ACA, while primarily concerned with health insurance access and patient protections, also focused on public health issues through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In 2010, the ACA established the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) at the CDC. With a dedicated budget, the PPHF, in coordination with other CDC programs, supported a public health mission that included the “early detection of and response to health threats.”
The GOP could not repeal the ACA while Obama was President, but once they took over the House after the 2010 election, largely on the strength of campaigning against the ACA, they worked hard to consistently weaken it, including weakening the PPHF. Then, in 2017, with the inauguration of Trump and complete control of the federal government, they went full-steam ahead to repeal the ACA and reduce the size of all federal agencies. The CDC and the PPHF were no exception. First, Trump and the GOP directly cut the PPHF budget as part of sequestration. Then they targeted the funding as part of their ACA repeal bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would have cut $1B from the PPHF. While that bill failed in the Senate and did not become law, that didn’t stop them. In early 2018, Trump signed the budget bill that cut the PPHF by $1B over ten years. Later in 2018, Trump eliminated the global health security office within the National Security Council (NSC) and made further cuts to public health programs by diverting money from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his policy to detain migrant children. Public health experts at the time warned that such drastic moves would harm the country’s ability to respond to and contain outbreaks of disease.
Trump and Zeldin are now working overtime to bury this history. To deflect blame, Trump insists his name be stamped on the stimulus checks being mailed to desperate Americans. In a similar vein, Zeldin recently announced how he alone got much needed medical equipment rushed to Suffolk County. They would like you to forget how we got here.
Despite his incompetent record on public health, Congressman Zeldin is a member of the Congressional Coronavirus Task Force. Recently Trump appointed him to the White House Task Force on Reopening the Economy. But Zeldin’s economic record, such as opposing raising the minimum wage and supporting corporate tax cuts, is no better for working people than his record on public health. It is like appointing the arsonist to now come put out the fire.
April 8, 2020: Zoom Time
I am not sure why, but for the first time, each day this past week found me on multiple Zoom conference calls. Each of these was for a different group that I belong to, from my local Southampton Democratic Club to the national grassroots women’s group, SuperMajority. It is as if we all collectively woke up to the reality that this lockdown is going to be a long haul and this is the new normal not just for a few weeks but for a few months.
Like everyone, I am shaky with anxiety over this pandemic, worried that the people I know and love could become a statistic of this disease. I live in the suburbs outside of New York City where we have our own rising cases, though nothing like the five boroughs of the city. I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for 25 years and my heart is breaking for what I will always consider “my city.” But my worst, chest-tightening moments of panic come when I think of my family members who are nurses on the front lines of this crisis. How can it be that in the United States, a healthcare provider is now taking his or her life in their hands just going to work? Every single one of these heroes deserves more than thanks from a grateful nation, they deserve wartime hazardous duty-pay. In lieu of that, the least this government can do is have their student debt wiped off the books for the job they are doing, risking their lives to save ours. We need to all start a movement to make this a reality. What would be a great hashtag for this mission, #thanksarenotenough?
Two weeks ago my anxiety reached a maximum level when my husband, son and I all came down with a cold. How surreal that the common cold induced frantic days obsessively taking my temperature and sleepless nights of pure dread, kept awake by coughing that I could not determine if it was wet or dry. It was hard to get through to the primary care physician’s office, the line was always busy, but once I did speak to a nurse my question was, “at what point should we worry?” Since there was no fever, chills or shortness of breath, she told me it was probably exactly what it appeared to be, a simple cold, but if any of those three symptoms appeared, to call right back. Call right back, I thought? It took me hours to get through this time when I didn’t have fever, chills and shortness of breath. But each day the cold lessened and by week’s end had passed as colds are wont to do. But this simple cold left a residue of fear in its wake that made me reluctant to even go outside for a socially-distant walk.
So, I have asked myself if in the midst of this once-in-a-century public health and economic crisis, should I take a break from politics, if only to help maintain my sanity? On our Democratic Club call the focus was on how can we reach out and help those in our township who are really suffering because they can no longer afford to buy food. It felt good to be helping out with something that was not political. I also gave up watching my MSNBC line-up at night. I listen to music while riding my exercise bike rather than watching Rachel Maddow. Some nights we watch movies, particularly movies that make us laugh. I still read the newspaper each morning but I skim through a lot and I have tried not reading headlines on my phone all day. It has helped quiet some of the panic.
But even digesting a much lighter diet of news, I cannot escape one undeniable fact, that this crisis, all of it, from the number of infected and dead, to the dire shortage of personal protective equipment for our healthcare providers, to the shuttering of businesses and skyrocketing unemployment, to the food shortages for low-income families, every bit of this trauma the country is now enduring, has been made much worse by the incompetence, selfishness and corruption of the Trump administration. And this inescapable fact sits in the pit of my stomach and emits a rage so white-hot that I can’t ignore it. And because of that, I can’t stop worrying about politics and in particular, the election this fall.
The Washington Post put together a complete accounting of just how much of a mess the Trump administration has made of our preparedness for this crisis. The April 4th article is entitled “The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged: From the Oval Office to the CDC, political and institutional failures cascaded through the system and opportunities to mitigate the pandemic were lost.” It is a big, investigative deep-dive into the dysfunction. It is gut-wrenching and infuriating but maybe the most important article every single American needs to read.
On March 30th the Editorial Board of The Boston Globe, put the blame for this failure of leadership squarely where it belongs. The title of the editorial says it all: “A President Unfit for a Pandemic. Much of the Suffering and Death Coming was Preventable. The President Has Blood on His Hands.”
To quote the editorial: “As the American public braces itself for the worst of this crisis, it’s worth remembering that the reach of the virus here is not attributable to an act of God or a foreign invasion, but a colossal failure of leadership.”
Much like The Washington Post article, the editorial goes through the entire timeline of failure on the part of the Trump administration and ends with the statement, “But come November, there must be a reckoning for the lives lost, and for the vast, avoidable suffering about to ensue under the president’s watch.”
It is this need for a reckoning that mandates we stay focused on politics and keep our eyes on the November election, despite the pandemic that rages around us. When Trump was elected, our outrage sparked the Women’s March and created the anti-Trump Resistance. That movement powered the blue wave in 2018. Despite the fears that now haunt our days and plague our nights, we must not lose sight of what has always been our prime directive, to make sure Trump is a one-term president. Our work in the Resistance was how we channeled our rage then and it must be how we channel our rage now.
But unlike the last three years, we cannot organize and attend rallies, we cannot knock on doors and speak directly to voters, we cannot even be together in a planning meeting or a Happy Hour social event. All last week, on every Zoom call with every organization, we struggled to answer the same question, “How are we going to get the public engaged when we are stuck in our homes?”
In an article on, April 5th, The New York Times addressed this dilemma from a campaign’s point of view. “With Campaigns in Remote Mode, Pandemic Upends Battle for Congress: As retail campaigning has become all but impossible amid the public health crisis, candidates tread carefully in an uncertain political environment.”
This article did not address the dilemma from the non-candidate point of view, meaning how are we in the grassroots going to function this year if we cannot go outside? The next day, April 6th, The New York Times corrected that oversight with an article looking at the impact on progressive campaigns and on the grassroots movement from the pandemic. “Progressives Built an Organizing Juggernaut for 2020. Then the Virus Hit: After a disappointing turn in the presidential race, grass-roots progressive groups focused on congressional races and down-ballot campaigns. In weeks, the coronavirus has destroyed their plans.”
To quote from that article: “The grim picture may have a profound political impact for the general election and beyond. Democrats were poised to have an organizing juggernaut ready for the 2020 election, with the goal of both reaching new voters and helping reverse the state and local losses they experienced during President Barack Obama’s years in power. Even more, liberal groups hoped this election cycle would formalize their political infrastructure, so the activism that erupted in response to Mr. Trump’s election could be harnessed going forward. That may still happen, but it will require creative financial and digital solutions, according to interviews with several leaders of progressive political organizations and left-wing candidates running for office in states like New York and Ohio. Optimists have called it a time for political innovation, while others worry the structural barriers could stymie the progressive movement at a critical crossroads.”
The article zeroed in on the bind we are all in. We spent 2017 learning how to get out of our houses and speak in person to voters. Then in 2018 we utilized that knowledge and those skills to propel the largest voter turnout for a midterm election in 40 years. Now we have to learn how we are going to be effective without person-to-person contact.
Below are a few initiatives that are trying to address that need. The first is an app called Outvote that is mentioned in this article. Here is the description on their website: “Outvote is an app that makes it easy to support the causes and campaigns you care about. The goal of the app is to promote voter participation within progressive campaigns. Our larger mission is to build a community of organizers that remain active between election cycles. By partnering with the biggest campaigns, advocacy organizations, and nonprofits, the Outvote community will be able to mobilize around current events, elections, and critical moments in policy formation for social equality and justice.” https://www.outvote.io/
But Outvote seems to be primarily for organizers, a valuable resource but not really a direct conduit to voters. Indivisible has an ongoing project with a direct line to voters that activists can participate in from their homes. It is called VoteFWD and involves writing letters to voters in swing states. Here is the description from the Indivisible website: ‘Want to get out the vote in key states from the comfort of your own home? Indivisible is excited to be partnering this election cycle with VoteFWD. VoteFWD provides activists with names, addresses and a data-driven proven template to write letters to voters in important states. Letter writers will save their letters and send them right before the election so that voters receive them at the perfect, most-strategic moment.” https://indivisible.org/resource/write-letters-voters-votefwd
On my Zoom call with SuperMajority, which joined with Pantsuit Nation, I heard about two projects. The first is called Turnout Tuesday where they are asking their members to call their state Secretaries of State and press them on how they are going to use the federal funds to make sure the vote in November is secure, particularly if they are going to invest in mail-in ballots. The second is text messaging to voters and they have been conducting training seminars to teach members how to do “rapid response textbanking” to alert voters about important issues. https://supermajority.com/
At my local Indivisible group, East End Action Network (EEAN), we were already planning postcard-writing parties, creating and mailing personal postcards to voters in our district, as we did in 2018. This will be a joint project with Indivisible North Fork. These events will begin in July, after the New York primary on June 23rd when we have a Democratic congressional nominee. While it is certainly more fun to party together (you can read the descriptions of these events in my book, The Resistance and Me, available on Amazon), we can convert this initiative to home-based postcard writing rather than in groups if we are still not able to gather together by the summer. The end goal of getting the postcards out there can still be achieved.
These are all good ideas. But they don’t go far enough. The voter suppression outrage by the GOP in Wisconsin underscores the extreme lengths the Republicans will go to keep people from voting. We are going to need bigger and bolder ideas to take the place of speaking to voters in person if we are going to be able to counter those GOP schemes. Possibly because they are aware of this challenge, Indivisible will be hosting a series of training webinars in April for Indivisible leadership on how to better use the virtual space during this lockdown period. If you are a member of an Indivisible group, someone in your leadership has probably already received an email about signing up. If not, reach out to your Indivisible contact. I tried to find a link for these webinars on their general website and could not find one. I look forward to whatever ideas come out of these webinars and will include them in later blog posts.
I am particularly worried what happens to voter registration. Normally the spring and early summer are key periods to focus on voter registration but how can that be done digitally and from our homes? I have been wondering if it is at all possible to conduct a virtual voter-registration drive and I would love to hear back if anyone has any ideas about this. How can we reach residents in the district who are not registered to vote? Is that even possible? They wouldn’t be in MiniVAN but would there be a way to cross reference residents with voter registration rolls to determine constituents who aren’t registered? We could mail them personal letters including the voter registration form if they cannot register online through the state motor vehicle department. Is there any way at all we could create such a list?
Along with my fear that we are not going to be able to register new voters, is a concern that our digital efforts are not going to reach the Independents and Unaffiliated voters we need to win in November. Maybe we should think about sending postcards right now to these voters with the facts about how the Trump administration has mishandled the pandemic, facts that would break through the fog of misinformation that Trump and his propaganda machine at Fox News are spewing out. These postcards could also have contact information for services that many constituents need during this crisis, such as food banks and how to file for unemployment benefits. And these voters are in MiniVAN. We would have to figure out how to pay for printing the postcards and the postage since these would not be funded by the campaigns.
We know from the midterm election how much time, effort and boots on the ground it took to power the blue wave. It is a process that starts months before with voter registration, educating the public, supporting primary candidates and then getting-out-the-vote. We do not have the luxury of waiting for the crisis to pass, waiting until we are able to knock on voters’ doors, not while Trump and the right-wing media saturate the airwaves with lies about this pandemic while at the same time erecting barriers to voting. If we are going to hold Trump and the GOP accountable in November, we need to act now and to do that we need bigger and bolder ideas of how we are going to reach voters, counter the lies and protect the ability for every American to vote.
March 7, 2020: My First Book Talk
On March 7th, I was privileged to be the guest speaker at the JP Spata Southampton Town Democratic Club, to give a book talk about The Resistance and Me. The Club holds breakfasts several times a year with guest speakers. I would be the March guest speaker, for a breakfast held at Buckley’s Inn Between in Hampton Bays.
I am grateful to the Advisory Board, and in particular the President of the Club, Joy Flynn, for inviting me. After being sick for almost two months after the book was published, I was never able to do the book launch I wanted to do. My plan was to have a party and invite all the sources in the book and my family to celebrate the book and send it off into the world. It was disappointing that this never happened. In many ways, my talk to the Club became that book launch as many of my friends, sources in the book, and key family members – my husband, son, sister and niece – were able to join me.
Since this was my first book talk, I spent a lot of time doing what reporters do – researching just what a book talk should be. I found many great articles online with suggestions. This was one of my favorites: https://www.janefriedman.com/5-steps-killer-book-talk/
After reading this article, I ripped up my first draft, which focused on the content of the book, and crafted a talk that included my journeys as activist and writer, some readings from the book and lessons learned from the experience, both politically and personally. I spent a month working on the speech and then the week before the talk, practiced it out loud to my son, who gave me good notes on what was effective and what needed work. I also needed to cut it down. After the first time I read it out loud, it was twice as long as the allotted time so it was back to the drawing board. The second time it was shorter but still too long. This required more than just cutting it down, but really rewriting it. In the end, the tighter speech was far better that the original draft. I hoped it had the right mix of the personal, readings and lessons to take forward, particularly into the 2020 election.
Along with the speech, I knew we needed materials to help make it a good presentation and for the promotion of the book. So, my brilliant niece, Elyse Sheehan, who was my editor for the book, created a poster, flyers, business cards and a sign for the book table that advertised signed copies of the book for sale. Joy had suggested I bring copies of the book to purchase, though I wasn’t expecting any sales. I also found Matt’s easel from high school to hold the poster. We would have also prepared to show photos from the book onto a screen but the restaurant’s system was not easy to work with and I didn’t feel experienced enough to try to add that along with the readings. There also really wasn’t enough time.
Another concern had to do with the restaurant not having a stand for the microphone, though thank goodness they did have a lectern. I was able to buy a stand that could clip onto the lectern. I hoped it worked because if I had to hold the microphone, the speech and the book, I feared I could end up dropping something.
As of Thursday before the talk, few people had signed up, which send me into a bit of a panic. Did this mean that people were not interested in hearing about the book? Joy, who was unfortunately out of town, emailed me and told me not to worry that this was typical and that by Saturday, we would probably have our usual attendance, of about 40 people. That is exactly what happened. Within two days, the head count went from 15 to 40. Joy had alerted the restaurant to expect between 35-40 people.
We arrived early and set up the easel with the poster, the book table and microphone stand. I had printed out the flyers and the agenda for the talk that Joy had emailed me and Elyse put them on every table along with the business cards. The sign Elyse made for the book table was perfect and she arranged the table with stacks of books and business cards. I had brought little stands to hold the business cards. It looked so professional.
I brought name tags for everyone and Mitch and Alexis Mayer, Club members, checked everyone in at the door. Matt set up his camera on the tripod in the back of the room. I was so touched how many of the people in the book were there along with many unfamiliar faces.
Andi Klausner, or as she calls herself, “Chapter Seven,” introduced me. I felt a bit shaky in the beginning, but as I looked out at so many friendly faces, it helped to calm my nerves and the preparation took over. I knew exactly where in the speech I would turn to the book which was marked with tabs for each reading. I got choked up a bit each time I spoke about my family and this journey but I was always able to keep going. It went smoothly and each time I looked up, I could see all eyes looking back at me. To my great surprise, when it ended, there was a standing ovation.
We had time for a few questions. And nine people came up afterwards and bought books.
It was an amazing day.
March 2020: We Have Not Forgotten
The last few months have been hard to take. We have watched Trump escape accountability from impeachment and he is now on a revenge tour, with Fox News, the Department of Justice and the entire GOP in his pocket. Meanwhile, our Democratic presidential nominees are attacking each other. It is all so depressing that people seem more despondent today than they were in 2017. And the truly depressing subtext is a fear that the Democrats are going to blow it and Trump will get four more years to continue the damage he and his GOP lackeys are doing to this country.
Contributing to this anxiety is an on-going effort, both by the Republicans and by the media, to try to erase what we all accomplished in the midterm election. There was an article in The New York Timeson February 9thentitled, “President’s Team Aims to Win Back Suburban Voters.” Based on news coverage today, you would think there had never been a Resistance, never been a blue wave that generated historically high Democratic turnout in 2018.
I understand the reasoning for this. For the media, they need to chase the story of the moment. The news is often described as a stove filled with pots of water and there is no choice but to focus on the one that is boiling over. And I understand the motivation of the GOP. They need us to have amnesia for Trump and Republicans to be reelected, to retain the Senate and take back the House. For me, that would take more than amnesia. It would take a lobotomy.
Long before I had an idea to write a book about this movement, before I even made the decision to be an activist and fight against the Trump agenda, I was just a voter, a Hillary Clinton supporter who, like all of you, was devastated on election night in November 2016 that someone as unfit for office as Donald Trump was elected to the presidency. 2020 is our chance to right that wrong. They only win if we surrender to despair and stay home.
So, I would like ask each of you to think about what you are going to do for this election. Of course, you are going to vote. And you need to Vote Blue No Matter Who. But we all need to do more than that. It is all hands on deck here. I am not asking you to become activists. I know most of you do not have the time for that, you have jobs, you have families. But do think of what you can do to get involved.
Here is one simple thing that I read about that all of us can do without joining anything or even leaving our homes and it could be incredibly effective. Check with five people you know, your friends and family, and find out if they are registered to vote. If not, help them get registered. Then ask them to reach out to five people they know and do the same. It is like the old telecom Friends and Family plan that builds a bigger and bigger network.
Here’s the voter registration information you can give them. In New York, if they have a NY State Driver’s License they can register electronically online at the NY DMV site (https://dmv.ny.gov/more-info/electronic-voter-registration-application). And if they can’t register through the DMV, they can go to their local Board of Elections website (for Suffolk County, that link is: https://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE). Download the voter registration form, in English or Spanish, fill it out and mail it in. It is that simple.
First register voters, then get-out-the-vote. To get more involved with voter outreach, contact the campaigns in your district for Congress, for your state races, for the presidency, and offer to volunteer. They all have websites and contact information. They will welcome your help and you can decide how much time you have to give and what you would like to do: canvassing, phone banking, putting up signs or writing postcards to voters. The campaigns will be happy to train you. You know from the book, that I am a strong believer in canvassing because we get to speak directly to voters. And even if they aren’t home, we leave information at their door. They know someone took the time to come to their house.
If that prospect of speaking to strangers scares you, I understand. You will read in the book about the first time I went out canvassing. I was with the great Mike Anthony of the Southampton Town Democratic Committee (SHDems), former chairman of our committee and a very experienced canvasser. That first time I stood stiff and mute while he knocked on the doors and spoke to the voters. But then I went out again and again and each time it got easier. Trust me, if I can learn to do it, so can you. You will become a pro in no time and you will feel better for it.
Posting on social media might feel good, but it doesn’t persuade voters. You are only speaking to the already converted. If we are going to power blue wave 2.0, we need to reach those non-Democratic Party voters. So do not forget what we accomplished in 2017 in local races and how we won the House in 2018. There is no reason we can’t do the same this year.