Every day a new outrage. I sit down to my morning caffeine delivery system and protein-carbohydrate product, turn on my laptop, and immediately drown. It’s Russia, it’s SCOTUS, it’s Republican manipulation to enrich the wealthy and make the poor more miserable. It’s White House top-staffer white-guy rivalries, it’s Javanka kleptocracy, it’s the cost of Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago, and now it’s saber rattling at Syria and North Korea! Within minutes after opening my browser, I am rapidly upset and boggled and I don’t know what to do. But I don’t like feeling this way. I have friends in solid, safe blue districts who know their own representatives don’t need a boost. I have friends in red areas where they feel helpless and beleaguered by Trumpers surrounding them. None of us knows where to turn. Each of us needs a program—Progressive Activism 101.
If you have half an hour and you want to do something today—yes, I mean this moment, sitting at your screen—go to Jennifer Hofmann’s weekly action list. Scroll down to the archives section and choose the most recent date. There you’ll find Hofmann’s current list of actions. So you can do one or more of those. Then return to the main page and click the button to subscribe. Every week, Hofmann will mail you her curated list of items, brilliantly organized, along with buckets of encouragement and cheer. (I can always use more cheer! Not the perfumey laundry detergent. And not fake Facebook kumbaya memes. Real cheer, the kind I get from a walk outside among fluffy pink-blossomed cherry trees after a spring rain. The kind I used to get having a literate, knowledgeable, thoughtful President who visibly worked to lift up everyone.) And Hofmann is explicit about reaching out to all of us—sure, Democrats, and also those she calls “Republicans of conscience.” Hofmann is all about a big tent of the sane—her weekly action suggestions include many moves that all but the extreme right will support.
Yet maybe, Salt-seeker, you would like to commit a bit more. Right now, “defending elections is more important than cracking out on Russia,” says Joyce Hackett, who heads the Voting Rights Initiative at Code Blue.
There are a number of excellent nation-wide organizations focused on upcoming elections. These include a number of special 2017 races—many in predominantly red states, because they angle to fill vacancies resulting from Trump’s appointments of conservatives to Cabinet and other posts. While those races are challenging, because they happen in districts previously held by conservatives, they present opportunities for voters to choose differently this time. Then there are the all-important 2018 midterms. And there are a number of reasons why all these elections are so critical now.
Here’s the thing—control of the House in 2018 will be decided by a handful of “swing districts,” places where the last congressional election was decided by a thin margin of votes. Most congressional districts are predictably blue or red. But these districts aren’t—and that’s what makes them so important. As they go, so goes Congress. When the seat comes up in one of these districts, it could go either way. Either a Democratic incumbent needs help holding onto her seat, or there’s a chance of knocking a Republican office-holder out and gaining that seat for a Democrat. In other words, that seat is winnable.
Swing Left’s site helps you identify your closest swing district. You then can join a Swing Left team to learn about opportunities to support progressives—and defeat Republicans—in that district. Swing Left focuses on national congressional races, and includes both House and Senate.
Salt-seeker, can you travel and walk? You can canvass the district and attend events there.
Do you need to stay home a lot? You can phone bank from where you live. Are you a little phobic about making cold calls? You can let your contacts know more about your district’s Democratic candidate using social media like Facebook and Twitter. Do you have extra money? You can donate to the candidate’s campaign.
I live in northern California, in a decidedly blue district that needs no help holding Democrats. So I tapped in my zip code, and Swing Left told me my closest swing district was CA-10, a district in the Central Valley that includes Modesto, Turlock, and Manteca. That area is controlled by a Republican who won his last contest by a margin of only 8,000 votes, or 3.4% over his Democratic challenger—a very slim win. In 2018, 8,000 more Democratic votes could turn that race.
Then—this was so fun!—I started to play. I tapped in my old hometown’s zip. And that’s where I began to learn what gerrymandering looks like.
I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, a progressive college town that reliably votes Democratic. But Lawrence is currently included in KS-02. I was disappointed to see that district is represented by an extremely right-wing Tea Party Republican, Lynn Jenkins, who was reelected in a landslide in 2016. So that district’s not even close to swing.
Why? Lawrence is surrounded by a huge expanse of smaller towns and villages, chocked with conservative voters. Take a look at the map of KS-02. Its boundaries were drawn to dilute and dissolve Lawrence’s blue votes in a sea of red. It’s not a possible Democratic win anytime soon.
So Swing Left suggested that progressives in Lawrence focus not on trying to swing their own district, but on next-door district KS-03. That district includes Overland Park (a mostly white middle- and upper-income suburb of Kansas City) but also Kansas City, Kansas, which is a much more urban part of the KC metro area and is home to a racially and ethnically diverse population. KS-03 is represented by Republican Kevin Yoder, who won his last election by 51% of the total. Most view Yoder as very conservative—he’s no Republican moderate. And his 2016 vote margin—36,000 votes–seems steep to garner. But his percent of the total represents a slide from his performance in 2014 and 2012, when he got 60% and 68% respectively. Could some additional Democrats be pulled in to vote him out? Could it be that many potential Democratic voters—maybe KCK residents–didn’t vote at all? Aren’t even registered? Could they be encouraged to participate if volunteers contacted them personally? Would they feel motivated if phone-bankers and canvassers explained to them how crucial it is that they join in?
Here’s why they might. Kansas used to have a great economy and quality public services. The state always elected a lot of Republicans, but it often had Democratic governors, a combination that tended to prevent extremists from dominating. But Kansas has fallen apart badly since Sam Brownback—a Koch brothers puppet—became governor. The Republican-ruled legislature signed on to every draconian decision he pushed—deep tax cuts, refusal to expand Medicaid, and more. These political decisions led to collapses in basic service sectors—schools are increasing class sizes and shortening the instruction year, hospitals are closing, roads aren’t even being fixed. Everyone in the state knows this, and more and more Kansans feel angry and depressed. It seems to me there are potential Democratic voters in KS-03, if volunteers contacted them and told them they could be a key to saving their state from crumbling. The question is, can volunteers turn out 30,000 more Democrats? That’s the sort of challenge Swing Left intends to take on.
That’s all for now. I’ll talk about more activism options next week.
And the people have the power To redeem the work of fools From the meek the graces shower It’s decreed the people rule People have the power People have the power People have the power People have the power To ask firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Nordmark’s essays, poetry, and fiction have been published in Roar, Entropy, Peacock Journal, Draft: The Journal of Process, Porter Gulch Review, Matrix, and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, California.