The pandemic disrupted my life a bunch. I was on leave from Twin Oaks and when the commune locked down, i had the choice to be in or out. Because Jade, who was not an Oaker, could not join me, we decided to leave Virginia and by summer of 2020 we were settled in Springfield Missouri hosted by the lovely and talented Bliss and her tennis prodigy son, Solace.
Besides running the comic and poignant novelty textile company Lewd Linens, Bliss manages the Farmers Market of the Ozarks (FMO). As part of her management of this large market she needs to chat with vendors, collect fees, repulse anti-mask idiots and generally make sure things are running smoothly. This leaves her little time to monitor her own Lewd Linens booth at the market, so Jade and i stepped in and watched her booth on Saturday mornings.
Booth watching gave us time to practice balloon animal making, something Jade had been teaching herself by watching youtube videos. We gave balloons to kids at the market for donations. It was quite a hit and over the course of a Saturday morning we would often make $50 to $75 in donations from parents who were happy to have some small joy inducing present to give to their kids and because it was “pay what you like” everyone was a winner.
Fast forward to the 2020 elections, Jade and I joined the Flip team and worked in Maine to try to save Democracy from the Trump madness. Balloon making followed us and was incorporated into a number of political actions and our repertoire of balloon animals expanded. Jade taught the whole Flip Maine crew how to make balloon animals.
But it was really not until we got to New Jersey that the balloon animal business took off. The Collinswood farmers market was initially very reluctant to have us be part of it or even near it. It was pre-vaccine covid and the organizers were under tremendous pressure to do what ever they could to minimize risk. A couple of folks drawing crowds of kids at no gain to the market felt like a losing proposition.
So we located ourselves a bit far from the entrance to the market, around the corner towards the parking lot and connected to kids as they were heading towards or away from their parents cars. Business was good and by the end of the summer of 2021, we had moved ourselves to across the street from the entrance and owner Dave had warmed up to us, because we were bringing in kids who were excited about getting this week’s balloon. And in my version of the story, because we were donations, no one felt pressured to pay anything in particular making it accessible to all participants and we actually give away a fair few balloons for free.
Enter Filbert. Just before Thanksgiving 2021, we met Josh who “used to be in the balloon game”. He had held onto his large specialty pump for reasons which were a bit mysterious to him, but he sold it to us quite inexpensively. This changed everything. We call the pump Filbert (because that is the company that makes it, because it is a funny name and because it actually fills the balloon extremely effectively, with a single push, as contrasted with 14 pumps of our previous hand pump). For a team that prides itself on quick turn around (otherwise you end up with a line of impatient kids and frustrated parents) this was a breakthrough.
Spot often comes and juggles and sells buttons with us. The juggling draws onlookers, especially kids and the coat tree holds the colorful balloons making us easy to find. As business grew we started to bring inventory to Collinswood, typically making 40 units (mostly swords and flowers) the night before we arrived, always selling out within the first couple of hours, despite replacing it often as fast as we can pump and tie. As we had bigger crowds to handle, Jade’s mom, Maureen joined us. Maureen worked the line, got orders from kids who were waiting (what color balloon, what type of animal), she counted and sorted money in our donations basket and would bring water and cookies she made for us.
We have a collection of pitches we give to the parents “So if part of your balloon sword pops while you are still here at the market come back to us, we have the only free, while you wait, balloon repair service in New Jersey”. Alternatively, i say “If the balloon pops you might be tempted to explain Zen non-attachment to your 5 year old, or describe the ephemeral nature of all things. Don’t do that. Come get another balloon. We have a bunch of data on this, trust us, everyone is going to be happier this way”. We explain that we have the only warranted balloons in the state (likely the world) and if they pop we will replace or repair it for free and parents often laugh at this, but the kids always remember and we get perhaps half a dozen repairs most Saturday mornings.
And in our effort to reframe kids scary experience of balloons bursting we often say “When a balloon pops we tell people you should make a wish, but you should wish for something nicer than a balloon”
We do have quite an array of balloon colors and types. Typically we use 160 and 260 balloons (which are one and two inches in diameter and 60 inches long, respectively) and get a number of fancy colors including reflex gold and silver, which are popular blade colors for swords and neon pink which is often requested as flower pedals. In quantity, balloon prices vary from 7 to 10 cents. They are all biodegradable latex.
This last Saturday there was a street fair in Collingswood, which we walked to from the farmers market. We had lots of attention at both venues, we burned thru over 60 inventory items and spent much of the afternoon with no inventory and Filbert going full blast. Jade is modest about our take, but let me just say i have not been paid this well since is was a software development consultant 30 years ago. We’ve come a long way from the Ozarks.
[A shorter version of this blog post first appeared on the Flip 2020 website]
The administration, which continues to assert that Mexico will pay for the border wall, may be finding the limitations of madness as a political strategy.
Trump spoke to a good-sized crowd at a tiny airport in Georgia near the Florida border. The purpose of the rally was to support the two Republican senators running to save their seats in the January 5th run-off election.
Valdosta, GA airport with an estimated 10K person crowd
Trump spent much of his speech complaining about how the election had been stolen from him and how Gov Kemp had refused to overturn the election in Georgia for him. He played OANN tapes of detailed “vote stealing” activities in various states including Georgia. He notably did not condemn the Republican operatives who were encouraging people not to vote in the runoff, calling them “his friends.”
Trump spoke for almost 2 hours. He let the candidate speak for 2 minutes, while they were on the stage together, during which the crowd shouted “Fight for Trump” in the same cadence as their previous favorite “Lock her up.” The fans message is clear, take Georgia’s electoral votes for Trump, or suffer the consequences.
“You know, you’re angry because so many votes were stolen. It was taken away. And you say, ‘Well, we’re not going to do it.’ We can’t do that. We have to actually do just the opposite,” Trump said.
The Oxford Dictionary defines Orwells term Doublethink as “the acceptance of or mental capacity to accept contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, especially as a result of political indoctrination.”
If you attended this rally, you left with two messages. The senators are not doing enough for Trump. These senators deserve your vote.
Some Trump followers who believe these claims of massive voter fraud are advocating for boycotting the Georgia Senate runoffs. Because this race is within just a couple of points – without Trump actively unifying his base, even a tiny boycott could sink the GOPs chances to hold either seat.
This is a photo of the Sidney Powell and Lin Wood “Stop the Steal” rally in Georgia where Republican participants were encouraged to boycott the upcoming runoff elections, unless they overturn the states electoral votes going to Biden. Here the message from Trump’s friends is unequivocal “Don’t vote” and from the size of the crowd, if I were a GOP operative working in Georgia I would be worried. And in case you have not seen the clips you should know this was an enthusiastic crowd.
This rally creates an impossible situation for Loeffler and Perdue. If they demand the election results be overturned they spark a civil war inside the party where “conventional” Republicans like the Secretary of State Raphenperger and Gabriel Sterling (who famously demanded Trump to control the threats of his supporters) are disenfranchised. Or they stop short of these demands and the enraged Trump supporters follow the advice of Wood and Powell and boycott the election because they have not earned their vote. Either way, because of the razor tight margins the way incumbents are likely to lose. Trump held this rally not to support these candidates, but to threaten them to do more for him or risk losing his full support. For in the end this narcissist in chief cares only about his own king making capacity and not about who controls the Senate or anything else.
The Flip Georgia project is the legitimate daughter of the Flip 2020 project which operated in Maine through the general election. Out of state activists, organizers and street performers are working with locals groups to register voters, canvass door to door and raise voter awareness of the critical runoff election on Jan 5th.
We still need financial assistance to do this timely work. Please support us as you can.
You have likely seen people from across the country asking on social media what they can do to help the Georgia senate runoff elections. The most frequent answer is “Phone Bank and Donate!”
The Flip 2020 project is dedicated to a more varied (and we believe more effective) set of responses to this question. Specifically, we want you to join our Air Team.
The Air Team is currently supporting the clerical work, outreach, and analysis of the Georgia race.
We need support with voter registration efforts, especially of high school and college students- One current push is to reach eligible student voters. We have created two graphics- one to reach people who will be turning 18 before election day, and one to reach Georgia college students who may still be registered out of state but live in Georgia and can change their voter registration to GA. Both groups must be reached before the fast-approaching registration deadline of Dec. 7th!
Which schools will be in session in person after the Thanksgiving break? If they are not coming back, then putting up a physical poster is useless and then the question shifts to “which student group will distribute this to their members by email or social media?” Who from those groups will help us? There is research of social media trying to find influencers who might help promote these messages.
Much of the outreach for this is remote, and you could help in many ways including finding contact info for high school administrators in dem-friendly towns and counties, finding contact info for aligned college groups like the Sunrise Movement, or writing op-eds for local Georgia newspapers. Check out our full list of possible air game tasks on our website at Flip2020.org/Georgia-Air-Game.
Air Team folks would also write back to locals who are writing us with questions and requests for posters. This is the help we need today.
We need help navigating the social media landscape. Are you a Tik Tokker or social media guru? How do we build teams of people with similar interests on these giant facebook groups? How do we promote our art resources page on Facebook? Are there outdoor venues where we can covid-compliantly reach out to people, public events or public spaces? Do you know how to do research on who is accessible as an influencer on a social media platform?
We are also keeping track of canvasses which are opening up in Georgia. After several initial messages discouraging folks from out of state to come to Georgia, now both Democratic candidates and the voter registration and counter suppression group Fair Fight have decided that they want out of state folks to at least do a door to door canvass in Georgia.
This is just the beginning of the things that an Air Team can do, as well as translating posters and other materials into Chinese, Vietnamese, and other languages (we have Spanish, Korean, and Japanese already). If you want to help us flip the Senate here in Georgia and need to stay in your home state, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment below, or through our website’s Contact Us form
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.
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) it will spark a 2 candidate runoff 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.