After two hellish years of Trump, we finally have a chance this November to flip the House and Senate and stop this effed up administration in its tracks. Even if you live somewhere reliably blue, there are plenty of ways to make a difference in a swing state near you.
Like millions around the nation, you probably woke up November 9, 2016 with a sense of despair lodged in the pit of your stomach. That is, if you’d slept at all since election results started flooding in the night before. The worst outcome possible had been realized in the presidential race and, with a Republican-controlled majority in both the House and Senate, the future seemed bleak.
But, while it was OK—perfectly acceptable, really—to sit around in sweatpants for a few days, ordering pizza and miserably stewing over the fate of the free world, you knew you couldn’t grieve for long. Election Day was a wake-up call to concrete action, and while the opportunity to oust Donald Trump won’t happen until 2020, the upcoming midterm elections are just as critical—if not more so.
Consider this: The 2014 midterm election didn’t just secure Republicans’ control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, it also gave them the largest majority since 1931. Currently, the U.S. Senate is comprised of 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 2 Independents (who caucus with the Democrats). But that could change on November 6. With 35 seats up for re-election (including 2 special elections due to vacancy), 9 of which are currently held by the GOP, Democrats and progressives need to keep their current seats and win two of the Republican seats in order to regain control.
While election experts at sites such as the FiveThirtyEight blog aren’t optimistic about the Democrats’ chances for reclaiming the Senate, they see a greater opportunity in the House of Representatives. These experts view the Senate as a tough swing because only one of the Republican swing seats is in a state that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (Nevada). Factor in that 10 Democratic Senate incumbents are defending their seats in red states, and you’ve got an even more difficult path to victory. In contrast, all 435 seats in the House are up for grabs in this election. To swing House control, Democrats need to win an additional 23, while holding on to the 193 seats they already occupy.
For progressives, it will be a tough race to Election Day, and the stakes have never been higher. Immigration rights, reproductive rights, gun control, social services, and the future of the Supreme Court—these are just a few of the major issues being debated right now in Washington. A Democrat-controlled House and Senate won’t guarantee quick changes, but it could impede the flow of damage being inflicted on our nation by the president and conservative lawmakers.
So, what are the best ways to get involved? We get it, you’re busy with work, school, family, friends, and perhaps a significant other. And maybe you’re lucky enough to already live in a solidly liberal state or district. Whatever the case, there are plenty of ways to help swing the House and Senate no matter where you live. You could call voters in places where races are tight to discuss the issues. Or hop on a chartered bus to register undecided voters in a potentially winnable battleground state such as North Dakota, where incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s race is considered one of the most critical. You could throw a fundraising house party or write press releases for candidates in need. The idea is this: There are ways to help whether you want to cross state lines or stay on your couch. (Sweatpants and pizza optional.)
DECIDING WHERE TO HELP AND WHO TO HELP
Find the closest House race that needs help at SwingLeft.org: Even if your address is solidly blue, you can help flip a House seat near you through SwingLeft.org, a relatively new national organization. Comprised of regional chapters, Swing Left’s focus is on matching volunteers with districts in which the last House election was won by 15 percent of the votes; districts with Republican House representatives where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump; and districts in which polling and other election research has determined a high concentration of volunteers could make winning possible.
According to Swing Left, there are 78 swing districts going into the midterms. Type in your zip code and contact info on the site, and you’ll be emailed by a local district leader with info on how to spread the word on social media, make calls on behalf of Democratic candidates, help out at events, and more.
Find out how your skills can help a female Democratic candidate in a swing district at GetHerElected.com: Whether you’re a wordsmith, graphic design guru, or expert social-media marketer, you can put your skills to good use with Get Her Elected, a New York-based organization that has connected over 3,000 volunteers with more than 230 progressive female candidates. Assignments include writing press releases, designing campaign materials, and sending out social media blasts. Best of all, volunteers can work from any place with a device and internet connection. Lily Herman, a freelance writer and digital strategist, launched Get Her Elected after the 2016 election because she saw a crucial need to get more people politically active, regardless of location. “Get Her Elected lets those who might not live in a [conservative] area get involved,” she says. “You don’t have to leave your bed to do work in a swing state.”
To get started, fill out a form on the site and someone will contact you to undergo a vetting process. From there, approved volunteers can connect with candidates via Herman’s regular call-to-action emails. All the work is pro-bono, task-based, and designated as a “low,” “medium,” or “high” time commitment.
HOW TO HELP FROM HOME
Phone bank to get out the vote in swing districts: Put that smartphone to good use by phone banking—i.e. calling voters where races are tight to discuss the merits of Democratic candidates or encouraging people to vote. Through orgs like Mobilize America, the Sister District Project and Swing Left, you can call voters anywhere from the comfort of your couch. Each group provides a list of phone numbers as well as scripts and talking points. Too shy? Both Mobilize America and the Sister District Project also have a “textbanking” option.
Find out which of your friends and family members live in swing districts and help them make a voting plan: Don’t let November 6 sneak up on friends or family. Prep them with a voting plan. Make sure they’re registered to vote—and if they’re not, help them do so. It’s also key to locate their precinct and identify its voting options, be it in-person voting or mail-in and absentee ballots. Voter.org and RockTheVote.org are both excellent one-stop sites for voter registration and precinct information.
Spread the word on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Sure, they can be total time sucks, but they can also be effective political tools. One method is to help flip U.S. Senate seats using the Senate Majority Pac’s social media tools. Founded in 2011, this organization is committed to “running transparent, low-overhead, take-no-prisoners independent campaigns” via TV ads and other campaign materials. Visit their site to watch the group’s commercials and share them via your various social media platforms—and ask your friends to like, share or repost. That will help boost their reach and amplify the message beyond your own social circles. Using social media isn’t just about preaching to your own like-minded choir; rather, it’s about reaching undecided voters in an easy and authentic way. You can also use the platforms to share election information from trustworthy sites—it’s a great way to engage friends (and friends of friends).
Donate money to grassroots voter organizatins in swing districts with the Movement Voter Project: If time is an issue, there are other ways to invest in the process. The Movement Voter Project, for example, connects donors to various grassroots voter organizations. Put any extra dollars to good use—that $100 birthday check, money earned by selling that expensive handbag you never use, or any cash you’re able to spare.
The group is currently focused on mobilization in battleground states and districts, and donations fund a full range of organizing activities including voter contact, volunteer recruitment, community events, materials, and staffing. MVP’s donor list includes the WAVE 2018 Fund, which distributes money to groups mobilizing progressive voters in key states and districts. MVP also offers a social media “digital toolkit” that includes resources for sharing information via various platforms.
Throw a fundraiser to help candidates in swing districts: Want to go bigger, financially speaking? Time to put the “fun” in fundraising. You could throw a house party, for example. Political house parties are usually organized this way—at some point during the event, the host makes a pitch for donations, passes around a sign-up sheet for email addresses, and encourages everyone in attendance to give. Donations are typically accepted via cash, check, Venmo, or PayPal.
It’s easy to get started with the Movement Voter Project’s House Party Kit. Don’t have a lot of space? Ask a local bar or music venue to co-host a benefit concert or stand-up comedy show and donate proceeds to your candidate or organization. Or, if you’re still in college, join a campus club and organize a bake sale. Whatever your method, be sure to follow campaign finance laws. The federal government publishes a “Citizens’ Guide” to fundraising, which details laws and requirements.
Hold a postcard drive to reach swing district voters: The Sister District Project makes it easy to reach swing voters via the USPS. Sign up with the site, and a district captain will provide you with a general template for creating personalized, candidate-related political messages on hand-written postcards. You will also be given voter names and addresses and timelines for when to send out your cards. The site even has an online shop if you want to purchase postcards in bulk.
HOW TO HELP IF YOU'RE WILLING TO TRAVEL BEFORE ELECTION DAY
Organize a voter registration drive: It can’t be stressed enough—every vote counts and everyone needs to vote. Get out the vote by organizing your own registration drive. Mobilize America and Rock the Vote both offer resources that will guide you through everything from picking a location to stocking up on supplies to talking points to mailing in those voter registration forms when you’re done.
Organize rallies and protests: The Progressive Turnout Project galvanizes volunteers in battleground districts by helping individuals organize rallies and protests leading up to the election.
Canvass door-to-door to chat up voters: Canvassing is just a fancy word for knocking on doors to talk to voters. If you’re comfortable chatting with strangers face-to-face, this is an effective way to engage with voters—sometimes you’ll even get the opportunity to walk with the candidate. If there’s a candidate you want to work with, contact his or her headquarters and a campaign coordinator will provide you with a map and talking points. The Democratic Socialists of America also regularly sends people into red districts to talk to voters. And Swing Left equips volunteers with small postcards you can give to the folks you meet so they can “pledge” their vote. It’s an effective method, because, according to their website, “getting voters to commit in advance can meaningfully increase turnout (by nearly four percentage points!).”
Organize a road trip: There are a few ways you can log some miles in the name of change. Indivisible, for example, is a progressive grassroots movement fighting the Trump administration. One of its tactics is a “resistance road trip” into red districts. The mission: Charter a bus with other volunteers to canvass for progressive candidates. Visit the website to find resources on how to make a road trip happen. Similarly, the Sister District Project also offers guidance on how to organize a group canvassing trip. Sign up to volunteer with the site and receive training and details on where canvassing could make the biggest difference.
HOW TO HELP IN THE HOME STRETCH
Volunteer at campaign events: The days leading up to an election are busy ones for candidates, filled with various events such as town halls and debates, public meet-and-greets, and other appearances. You could contact a candidate’s office directly to volunteer at one of these events, or hit up a site like Run for Something, an organization dedicated to recruiting and supporting young progressive candidates from diverse, non-traditional backgrounds. Run for Something assigns volunteers to jobs like staffing events, phone banking, and candidate mentoring. Visit their site to fill out an application.
Join an army of volunteers with The Last Weekend: The Last Weekend is a super group of sorts. This coalition of progressive political organizations—which includes Indivisible and Run for Something—aims to mobilize more than one million voters between Saturday, November 3, and Tuesday, November 6. The organization is currently signing up volunteers to canvass voters in red districts because, as its website explains, “study after study shows that the most effective way to get people to vote is by having conversations with them in the four days before Election Day.”
Volunteer to get voters to the polls on Election Day in swing districts: There are several orgs that can help you escort voters in vulnerable districts, including the Democratic Socialists of America and Swing Left. You can also direct friends and family in swing districts to Carpool Vote. While the site is no longer taking volunteer sign-ups, it will match drivers to voters who need a lift to the polls. Informally, you can organize your own caravan, too, by teaming up with friends who’ll travel to swing districts to shuttle voters to the polls on Election Day. Take it a step further by creating a Facebook event page to reach deep into your social network for volunteers.
Volunteer to help at the polls on Election Day: Election Protection is a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition that’s partnered with more than 100 local, state, and national affiliates to train volunteers to assist voters at every stage of casting a vote, including registration, early voting, and absentee voting. Election Protection also makes sure each polling place has volunteers trained to identify problems, help with language translation, and if someone’s name isn’t on the voter log, assist them in casting a provisional ballot. They’re also there to stop any potential voter intimidation.
By Rachel Leibrock
Illustrated by Wenjia Tang
This article originally appeared in the October/November 2018 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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