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.
By Barbara Weber-Floyd
Author, The Resistance and Me: An Insider’s Account of the Two-Year Mission to Stop the Trump Agenda and Take Back the House
(Available on Amazon and at Canio’s Books, Sag Harbor)
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