This blog post originally appeared on the Flip 2020 website
We have been in Maine for just three days and we have done a different type of action each day. The plan has always been to do at least one action a day, plus social media, networking to local groups, and fundraising to make the whole project work. And after months of planning, it was very satisfying for this plan to actually be working.
After getting negative results on our covid tests, the starting Flip 2020 team moved from Vermont to Maine on Friday, Sept 18, 2020. We had found out about a Black Lives Matter march and rally in Ellsworth, which is a town of just 8,000 people. We did not expect much of a crowd in this small town in a state which is 95% white. We were wrong.
Over 100 people showed up to an action which was principally organized by two talented high school seniors. This spirited march and engaging rally shows that racial justice is not something to just talk about in Maine; people are taking it quite seriously, which is great news in our efforts to flip the Senate away from the Republicans.
The nature of the Flip 2020 project is that we are always looking for how we can add our content to events that other people have organized. In this case we simply asked the young organizers if Tew could speak to the crowd, to which they quickly agreed with the following results:
I had never seen Tew speak in public before, and I was nervous as he jumped up the small hill to address the almost all white crowd. Within seconds my emotions shifted. He was personable, he was raw and authentic, he talked briefly but forcefully about his experience being a black man in Donald Trump’s America. But he did not let the crowd down. He ended up beat about the hope that these types of actions gave him for really the first time in his life and called on the assembled group to realize that this was the very beginning of the tide turning in this troubled country.
After the action we went to dinner with the organizers. We learned that weekly rallies, (and starting this week marches), have been happening in this small town since the execution by police of George Floyd on Memorial Day. We heard stories of their harassment by pro-Trump hecklers and of their plans to do more, despite the opposition.
Saturday is the big Farmers Market day in Maine and on Sept 19 we worked tabling with the Lisa Savage campaign in Cumberland, Maine (in the Portland area). This was where we learned first hand about how friendly and reasonable Maine is. Typically, when you hang out in the parking lot of a farmers market doing political work you spend the day hearing different excuses as to why people can’t possibly talk with you. Cumberland was not this way at all. Generally, people were happy to take our small fliers.
A surprising number of people stopped and engaged with us, often for long conversations. We had several conversations in which we felt like we really landed and people said they were changing their voting strategy because of our conversation. Maine has a slightly complex, but extremely fair ranked-choice voting system, which is the subject of an upcoming blog post. In essence, ranked choice voting prevents the type of third party spoiler situation which so often plagues independent party runs for office.
We got to work with Kelly, who is the field director for the Savage campaign. If you are ever going to run for office, you need someone very much like Kelly. Campaigns have a tremendous number of moving parts, including a slew of hard-working volunteers with a wide variety of skills, preferences, and availability staff need to take into account. Kelly’s spreadsheets have spreadsheets and her upbeat personality and quick wit make her the perfect person to model how to approach people at a Farmers Market. Kelly plans to move to Washington after the November election and continue to work for Senator Savage.
On the way back from the Ellsworth rally on Friday we learned of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. It was a body blow to all of us in the car, who had just come off a very hopeful action. Everyone understood that the already high stakes of this election had just gone up again.
This informed our actions on Sunday morning. When our team met we discussed how we were going to show up at the vigil planned for downtown Portland that night. Facebook said 400 people had RSVPed to this event, which would make it one of the largest crowds we were likely to see in our time here.
But vigils are tricky in terms of doing political work. You need to be very careful to not run over the spirit of what is happening. You don’t want the event organizers or the participants feeling like you are disrespecting what they came there for. We went through lots of different ideas: should we create an event after the vigil, do a piece of street theater, order a bunch of pizzas and try to strike a conversation with participants as they left? In the end we decided all of this was too intrusive and went with a more subtle approach.
We would hand out a postcard, something commemorative of the great justice’s passing. We ultimately decided we would do an original piece of artwork depicting RBG on one side and a description of our group and Ranked Choice Voting on the other. We did not have that much time and we had a bunch of things to do, so we split up our task. Spencer would do the original artwork, I would write the text for the back of the postcard. Tew and Charles would scout the city of Portland, for where we could be in Monument Square to be effective but not intrusive. We needed a banner that we could use not just at this event but at others as well. Tew and Charles considered a dozen options before converging on the one we chose.
Cars went out, keyboards hummed and pens made quick work of what turned out to be a pretty impressive piece of original artwork, especially given that there was only 30 minutes to do it and basically no room for mistakes. The Staples staff was surprised when Charles took over their offices to complete our banner, but as is our way, we were gone before anyone kicked up a fuss.
We made it to the rally and read the mood of the crowd. Several speakers talked about how RBG would want us to follow her lead and fight tirelessly for democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism. We started offering folks the small postcards. Some people were clearly bothered by anything being given out at a vigil, but because the artwork was respectful, compelling and timely, the vast majority of people we silently approached were happy to take this piece of memorabilia and Tew quipped we would be up on refrigerators throughout the Portland area. In 40 minutes over 300 postcards had moved to the hands of happy recipients, including all of the event’s speakers.
In the car home, we did our regular micro evaluation. What worked, what didn’t and what we would do differently next time. What worked was this group which barely knew each other, pulled together as a team, had folks with strengths doing what they were good at and we easily rejected dozens of bad ideas with no one’s ego being hurt for suggesting something we did not agree on. What did not work, was that my text on the back of the postcard was a bit long and thus the font to get it printed was smaller than we would have liked. What we would do differently next time would be to get to the event earlier and build more of a connection with the organizers.
But what was clear, was that after actions everyday for our first three days, we were on a serious roll. Tonight we’re off to prepare for another BLM action in Bucksport, another small settlement which is showing up in a big way for racial justice. If you are looking for a ray of hope in these troubled times, it might just be in these surprisingly active tiny towns in the North of Maine.
This post originally appeared on the http://www.flip2020.org campaign website. It describes the logic of sending vagabond canvassers to Maine to retire Susan Collins from the Senate and flip the majority control to Democratic. It also discusses how you can help if you find this thinking compelling.
I’ve spent the past few months (the past few years, really) watching in horror at what’s happening in US politics. While the media typically blames Trump for his terrible policies, the complicity of the US Senate is often missed. Trump is an expert at drawing media attention, but often these stories don’t matter much. It is often the quieter and more politically savvy Republican controlled Senate doing serious damage (e.g. failing to make a deal on extending pandemic unemployment funding, confirming unqualified judges, designing and passing the terrible tax cut package, and blocking impeachment). And for those who might have forgotten, the Republican controlled Senate was road blocking almost all significant legislation during much of the Obama administration well before Trump.
The Flip 2020 project’s mission is to flip the US Senate to a Democratic majority and break the do-nothing Republican congressional gridlock. Flipping the Senate will be a…
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Usually in tight presidential elections, the focus is on Florida. More polls are taken there, more rallies are held there, more money is spent on advertisements there. Rich with electoral votes and a highly split electorate, Florida can make or break the top race. But Florida is shifting from purple to blue. This is in part because the 2018 referendum added a Florida state constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to ex-felons. This added 1.5 million people to the voter rolls, most of them Democratic. [I was fortunate to be with a collection of communitarians in Tampa in 2018 working on this referendum.]
But 2020 is not a usual year, as you have no doubt noticed. This year all eyes are going to be on Georgia, because it is quite likely to surprise most of the nation with an expensive senate race and may delay knowledge of which party controls the Senate until 2021.
If you are tracking the election closely, you know two of Biden’s top VP choices are from Georgia (more than any other state except California), Stacey Abrams and Keisha Bottoms. If there were fairness in the world, it would go to Abrams, who was literally robbed of the Governorship of this state by Brian Kemp. Kemp as the Georgia secretary of state purged the election roles of 670K voters, in 2017 mostly POC and then won the election by 50K votes and became governor. Abrams did not concede her “loss” and went on to start Fair Fight 2020 which works to stop voter suppression, just like this.
But sadly, apparently the Biden campaign has not been returning Abrams calls.
If you are a deep election geek (as i am becoming these days) you know that there are actually two Senate seats available in Georgia in this upcoming election. One seat is up for a regularly-scheduled election, while the other is up for special election due to a resignation. Thus the term of the Senator who fills this special election seat will only be 2 years long, but it might just determine which party controls the US Senate.
But what you likely have not heard is that the special Georgia election is really a “top two primary” which unless one of the candidates acquires over 50% of the votes (which is quite unlikely given the crowded field) in will spark a 2 candidate run off election in January of 2021 which might hold control of the US Senate in the balance.
Let me tell you a story, based on probabilities and guessing.
It is the day after the election, Nov 4th 2020 and most of the election results are in. Biden has won both the popular vote and the electoral college by a comforting 65 points beyond the 270 needed. It is unclear whether Trump will respect the win and at this point he has not yet conceded. Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Joni Ernst were all able to hold onto their incumbencies for the Republicans, by tight margins. Political novice Tommy Tuberville forced out Democratic incumbent Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama to raise the bar for flipping the Senate to 4 seats.
The Democrats did well in Colorado and North Carolina wrestling seats from incumbents. And former Montana Governor Steve Bullock took the Republican seat from Steve Daines. Georgia repeated its primary fiasco and incumbent David Purdue eeked out a 1% victory over Democrat Ossoff, in an election mired in too few polling stations and the deeply suspicious purging of the voting roles of over 100K voters, mostly in the Atlanta metro region and thus disproportionately POC voters.
And as it looks today (Nov 4th) the Democrats have picked up 3 Republican seat in the Senate, bringing the final tally to 49 Democratic Senators and 50 Republicans. The 100th seat and the determination of which party controls the Senate is on the shoulders of the Georgia special election, which is actually a top two primary also known as a Nonpartican blanket Primary. In this free for all fight, with candidates going after members of their own party as well as the opposing one, Rev Raphael Warnock lost to incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler by 2 points, despite Loefflers insider trading scandal.
But Loeffler’s narrow lead does not matter. What matters is that Loeffler and Warnock were the top two vote getters and thus will runoff against each other on January 5th 2021, which is two days after the new Senate is scheduled to be sworn in.
In this likely fantasy, the result of this critical tie breaking race will not be known for 2 months. after the general election These two candidates, who most people have never heard (incumbent Loeffler was appointed just 5 months ago to finish the incomplete term of Johnny Isakson), will become the center of attention in a race which determines if Mitch McConnell can maintain legislative gridlock for two more years.
I am happy to be working on the Flip 2020 Campaign which is organizing covid compliant canvasses, that might even go to Georgia. If you want to get involved, leave a comment below or email the Flip 2020 project.
I remember as a young child when the first remote controls for televisions came out. I found it a curious device, we had managed to change channels on the television quite happily without this device, which seemed to be destine to get lost or crushed or run out of batteries. I imagined it would not be popular and fade away, like 8 track tapes. And to be clear on the the period in time, there were only a few TV stations and cable was decades away.
I was tremendously wrong. And one of the things which typifies especially US american behavior is we have a slaving devotion to convenience. Many will, for example, stream the same song repeatedly, rather than download it – because streaming is easier. And we assume we will always have the internet when we need it.
Everyday many people watch the light rail fly past as they sit alone in their cars in rush hour traffic, because it is more convenient to take your own car, more convenient to not bother car pooling, more convenient to leave work at the same time 90% of the workforce is leaving work (it would be inconvenient to change my schedule to avoid rush hour). We pay in time and money for this type of convenience.
Turns out, pandemics are crazy inconvenient. What if you should want a haircut? Or to defund the police in a mass non-violent movement? What if you want to have an indoor rally crammed with supporters who are discouraged from wearing face masks?
And this inconvenience is most of why the coronavirus is going to hit the US harder than any other country. Yes, we have terrible leadership, especially at the Federal level. But the information is now out there, you can try to blame the president who suggests you inject bleach. But you don’t trust him for anything else, so this seems a weak excuse. Are we really washing our hands enough? I fear not.
The event which made me realize our chances of survival were seriously diminished was the “Covid Herd Immunity Fest” in Ringle Wisconsin. This event coming in a few short weeks will host 2500 people in an outdoor space designed to hold 10K.
When I first heard of this event i thought to myself “I don’t think that is going to work”. I did not know exactly how, but it was clearly too bold. And indeed, this event has had a rough ride. Two of the originally scheduled bands have dropped out of the event, one explicitly because of the festivals name.
The festival has changed it’s name, but what appears clear is the event – with it’s version of social distancing will take place. Sadly, it is not enough for us to say “well, I don’t like it so I will simply not attend.” The hospital that may fill because of this type of event, may be your own.
I use remotes to control televisions these days, and I use face masks whenever I am near strangers (a technology I am forecasting will be increasingly popular). But I fear that this joke about herd immunity will become a tragic reality.
[Readings for white readers: It is Juneteenth, the 155th anniversary of the announcement that slaves were legally freed in Texas. Here is what some black leaders think of this event this year. Tulsa also just remembered the 99th anniversary of the Burning of Black Wall Street which killed hundreds of blacks, interned over 6000 in camps and rendered homeless 10,000 blacks in one of the most violent acts of white supremacy in this countries history. A history which until recently was hidden.
The best primer for white people on race I have found is complied by Michael Caloz.]
In a surprisingly reckless act, the President is inviting 19,000 people to Tulsa for his first campaign rally. This event is to be done without social distancing and without masks, dramatically increasing the chance of spreading the coronavirus to participants. Hundreds of Tulsa health professionals have petitioned the mayor to cancel it.
The Trump campaign is requiring people who go to the event to click on a liability waiver which absolves the campaign of responsibility if they get infected. But there are questions about whether this type of liability waiver will actually protect the campaign. This is from the LA Times:
According to Timothy D. Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University College of Law, the courts have imposed three basic limits on liability waivers. First, you can’t assume risks you don’t know about; second, you have to assume the risk voluntarily; and third, the waiver has to be consistent with public policy.
It is the last limit which seems the most important to me. There are still bans on gatherings of over 50 people in many places (though likely not Oklahoma) and the CDC identifies the highest risk for gatherings as:
Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.
This is where the hackers come in. What if someone could get a hold of the names and contact information of the 19,000 people who attended this event? What if a month after the event you were to contact those people and ask if they had been infected by the virus? What if some lawyers filed a class action suit on behalf of these survivors or victims’ families?
There is quite some chance that this would not work, despite liability waivers often not being respected by the courts. But even if the court challenge failed, perhaps it would influence the attendance at the up coming planned rallies in Florida, North Carolina and Arizona which are the spots for the next Trump rallies.
I am facilitating an online workshop on how to tell your own origin story. It is on zoom on Monday June 15 7 PM Eastern time and here is the event link on Facebook. [If you would prefer email me at email@example.com] There is a donation requested, which is going to front line activists in Minneapolis.
I want to disspell a myth about origin myths. An origin myth need not be part of your early life. In fact regardless of your age, the pandemic or the Floyd Uprising might be the center of your personal Origin Myth.
Your origin myth is it is a story that helps other people understand both an important life transformation as well as something about the trajectory you want to be going in. An origin myth is the truth based story you might offer when someone you were excited about connecting with asked you to tell them about yourself. And you could have more than one.
My origin myth is about a train ride and a curious character. And about how i became a story teller.
When considering your origin myth review events which have most shaped you into being the who you are and especially the parts of yourself that are helping you to be who you want to be. But a good origin myth is not completely true, it gives you room to be a bit better than you really are or were, it is supposed to be an inspirational tale. This gives you license to polish the characters, including yourself.
In this two hour workshop we will share rough origin stories and likely break into small groups for everyone to tell their story and get some constructive feedback from other participants. I’ve never done this workshop before, so it might be a bit rough, nor have i ever done breakout groups on zoom, hopefully i will figure that part out by Monday.
There is a requested donation for this workshop, with 100% of the money going to front line POC activists in Minneapolis working on the uprising that city has sparked.
To get the link to the zoom event, you have to RSVP on the Facebook page or email me.
Perhaps my first critical lesson in the politics of language was the difference between a riot and an uprising. Riots happen all the time, crowds get violent when their team wins or loses, groups destroy property for a bevy of reasons, righteous, impulsive or perhaps simply drunk.
Uprisings are potentially going somewhere. Uprisings are the building blocks for revolutions and other kinds of political change, small or large. Uprisings are when injustice hits a flash point and people say “no more” in a way that might put a police car or a city into flames.
The best piece on the complexity of this situation was summarized by Will Stenberg and includes this thinking on judgement of the protests:
I am uncomfortable saying, as some of my fellow leftists do, that a situation this complicated is GOOD, and I refuse to say, with centrists, that it is bad or wrong. The only thing I know is that it is INEVITABLE. And it’s not new. American cities burn every couple of generations because America has not learned to respect its black citizens.
It is no longer true that only winners write history, now anyone can. Part of writing it is to give it names and i am calling the month of June 2020 the George Floyd Uprising, because that is what it looks like today and that is what i want. Of course, i want it to go on longer than this month, but a month of sustained political protest could transform the national political process.
Tonight there are more peaceful protests than altercations nationally, but the president is threatening to deploy the army within the country.
Today (April 27, 2020) at 8 PM Eastern there in this Zoom Chat Space.
This is a very late announcement, but i realized there were a fair few people who might see this post in time to join this workshop, and if you can’t make this one, there will be another unlimited one in a week.
Here is the workshop description:
This workshop includes my personal rules for compelling story telling as well as several of my own short stories. Participants will share a short story and hear others review it with an eye towards improving it.
This workshop itself is a story i am not yet well enough practiced in to do to a large audience. And since a limited number of people (perhaps 12 to 15) will each share a brief story i want to keep it small. So reserve a spot and then after this “rehearsal” workshop i do another in a week with open admission.
If you want to participate in this work shop please be willing to share a story of personal importance to you (tho it need not be a true story) of 1 to 2 minutes in length and prepare to hear constructive criticism of it from other workshop participants.
This workshop is designed to run 90 minutes. But if it is a chatty group it can make it to two hours. Please note this is 8 PM eastern time and 5 PM Pacific.
You must have the basic free zoom app installed on your phone or computer. We have a large Zoom conference space donated by our fine friends at Greenpeace International.
Gabriel was from Trinidad and happy to answer all my questions.
Do you do it to feel like a rebel or an outlaw? Not at all, it is just a job.
They carry a pharmacy of cannabis products on their bike and in their backpack: oils, cookies, bud, candies. They have a myriad of different varieties of marijuana and they describe each to Tankstra, my new New York City host.
I continue to ask questions.
Is it a regular job? Yes, 3 days a week, 6 hours a shift.
Do they trust the people that he works with? “I don’t trust my own shadow, but i have had a few tricky jobs and i am confident i can handle this one. “
Do they believe in the product? Absolutely. As an artist and a musician the high from marijuana has been influential in crafting my art.
Tankstra asks Gabriel if they will smoke with them. Gabriel obliges and i continue my interrogation.
How did they get into this business? My sister got me the job. Who it turns out is friends with Tanksta as well.
And the conversation veered to how wonderful the sister was and how both Gabriel and Tankstra were deeply appreciative of the sister.
Have they ever had a problematic client? Someone tried to pass me what was likely a counterfeit $50 dollar bill at one point.
Any altercations with the police? None.
How long have they been doing the job? A year and a half.
Tankstra and Gabriel smoke quietly for a few moments.
Gabriel gets up to leave and i ask a final question. Do many of your clients offer to smoke with you?
This is the first time.
[This story is from 2016]