The 2021 Grassroots Reboot: Building Massachusetts Infrastructure Now to Win in 2022 and 2024 was amazing. It brought together 180 participants and numerous presenters, all exploring ways to take collective action. The meeting was the first annual conference of Swing Blue Alliance/Swing Left Greater Boston. Leaders of grassroots organizations across Massachusetts collaborated to magnify the impact of the session. Here’s an overview of the sessions, I hope it encourages you to get involved in activism right now.
Katherine Clark on the State of Our Democracy
The conference began with the inspiring words of the Assistant Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Katherine Clark. Though she highlighted how “we saw the power of organizing and activism and what they can do for our country” in the Georgia runoffs, she also shed light on the January 6th “attack on our democracy.” The Capitol riots only called attention to the need for federal legislation, the For the People Act, that “protects our right to free and fair elections” and “ensures every American has the freedom to vote,” but it is stuck in the Senate due to the filibuster. Through collective action, we can make fair elections become a reality. To get this bill to pass, I encourage you to get involved in the “For the People” campaign.
Bill Scher on What’s Coming in 2022 and Beyond
The next headliner, Bill Scher, contributing writer for Politico, Real Clear Politics and Washington Monthly, posed a question for the 2022 midterm elections: “Will Democrats Be History… Or Make History?” Historically, the President’s party loses seats in midterm elections. Scher explained that this trend occurred because of “governing realities put stress on governing coalitions.” Not only that, but because of the gerrymandering that could occur with redistricting, Republicans could gain up to eight House seats via map changes.
Scher noted, in order for Democrats to maintain their narrow majority in Congress, it would have to be a “particularly great year for Democrats if it is going to cut down the historical trajectory.” There have only been three elections where the president’s party won the midterms. What they all had in common was that it was during a time of crisis. For this reason, 2022 could prove victorious to Democrats. Scher offered advice for Democrats how to have the best chance at winning:
Successfully manage the pandemic crisis, maintain sufficient support from independents, gain votes from weaker Republicans losing faith in the party, stay united, avoid circular firing squads, resist demoralization, help voters overcome suppression tactics, give money, and give time.
Swing Left Greater Boston on Grassroots Organizing
Up next was Swing Left Greater Boston’s portion of the conference led by Susan Labandibar. Labandibar and the team revisited the successes of 2020, congratulated the volunteer team for doing such an amazing job, and discussed the strategy for 2021 and beyond. Last year, 4.7 million actions supporting Democrats in the election were taken by SLGB volunteers, from writing letters and socially distanced canvassing to sending texts and conducting phone banks. Their impact was not only felt in Massachusetts, but directly in key swing states. Labandibar noted, “Since we were founded in 2018, we’ve never wavered from our goal: To help activists, organizers and group leaders take effective action to swing our country Blue and save our democracy from a political party that has run amok.”
John Loewenstein, director of research at SLGB, explained how election research is important to know what volunteer efforts and new technologies are effective. The research team found the impact of Vote by Mail postcards: it increased requests for mail ballots, it boosted requests when including return postage, and increased turnout when combined with Get Out The Vote postcards.
Paula Joseph, Boots on the Ground coordinator, elaborated on the strategy of the volunteer-run organization for 2022 and beyond. Their mission is to help blue state volunteers work directly on competitive House and Senate races, that is, where Democrats have a decent chance of winning, in key states and districts, targeting demographics where their work will have the biggest impact.
Labandibar gave the exciting announcement that Swing Left Greater Boston is renaming and rebranding to Swing Blue Alliance over the summer.
Labandibar said, “Swing Left Greater Boston is really the sum of all of the people and partnerships in our community. We’re changing our name to better reflect that community as well as the independence we’ve built over the last five years.”
While Swing Blue Alliance will still be an affiliate of Swing Left, it also joined forces with Indivisible and Indivisible Mass Coalition to collaborate on helping Democrats to consistently win elections, turn purple states blue, and work on issues important to voters.
After that, Labandibar turned the dialogue to Richard Segan, who talked about supporting group leaders, hosts, and organizers across the nation by providing more communications tools they can use, building relationships with local groups, and creating a community of volunteers. To grow their network, Swing Blue Alliance offers opportunities for action to hosts by working with front line leaders in key battleground areas.
Segan is currently leading a campaign to pass S.1: For the People Act in a partnership with Common Cause to combat voter suppression legislation with almost a dozen phone banks a week and a mail campaign pushing moderate Democratic Senators to pass S.1. Segan gave tribute to the hosts and volunteers of Swing Blue Alliance by presenting a video of some of them while they explained their work sending Vote By Mail applications, sending postcards and hosting virtual parties; and their satisfaction with meeting people from across the country and creating meaningful political change.
In the final presentation from the group, Swing Blue Alliance Georgia Grassroots Liaison, Rebecca Riccio, provided important insight on electoral activism: some of us live in the blue bubble and work in predominantly white organizations. What we must do is listen to the people who are often silenced, and uplift front line leaders in those communities with a shared purpose by following their lead and offering our help. We are fighting for power, because “those with power are closest to the solutions with the need for a durable democracy.”
Laurie Veninger and Christine Brown on the Indivisible Mass Coalition
Introducing Indivisible Mass Coalition (IMC) was its Vice-Chair, Laurie Veninger. She explained how IMC is the statewide Indivisible organization with the mission of supporting Indivisibles in MA and building collaboration and strength. The wildness of 2020 did not stop IMC from working on critical national elections, setting up resources, and forming alliances with grassroots groups. She talked about IMC Building Bridges, or Action Teams, where activists can build coalitions like Protect-the-Result, phonebank together for S1, and combat harmful disinformation, all while including anti-racism standards in their actions.
One of Indivisible’s activists is Christine Brown, founder of Massachusetts Grassroots Information Center, or News-MAGIC. News-MAGIC is a new, free networking tool from progressive grassroots activists can share and take information from events and actions in a joint calendar and interactive Slack channel.
The conference moved on to breakout room sessions, where the audience could choose from several amazing speakers, including:
- Starting an Organizing Hub with Kate Donaghue, Mass Dems Organizing Hub
- Combating Disinformation on Social Media with Christine Brown and Debbie Hart-Klein
- Strengthening Our Democracy via Legislative District Teams with Shaw Yang and Hewon Hwang
- State of the State Next Door: How you can help flip NH Blue…for good with Lucas Meyer
- Driving Results: Our Postcard and Letter-writing Research with John Loewenstein and Sam Polk
- Love and Elbow Grease: Building a Successful Coalition in Georgia with Kimberlyn Carter, Alex Ames, Martha Shockey
- Deep Canvassing and Talking to Voters with Paula Joseph
We’ll be inviting all of them to write a guest blog on their sessions, stay tuned for that series!
Kimberlyn Carter on “What’s your what’s next?”
The conference concluded with Kimberlyn Carter’s presentation on “What’s your what’s next?” which inspired and moved our entire audience. Representing the state of Georgia, Carter described the challenges that her team has faced during the 2020 election and beyond. One after another, her Georgia team overcame immense challenges from defeating President Trump in the presidential election to electing Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the U.S. Senate to today, facing an onslaught of voter restrictions from the Republican Party. With so many challenges one after another, it often made her think, “What’s next now!?”
But Carter used this frustration to push and inspire. We all need to consider, what next do we need to do to stand up for democracy? Our work is not over, as Kimberlyn Carter stated, it’s time for you to consider, “What’s your what’s next?”
Thank you to those who attended the 2021 Grassroots Reboot Conference. Whether it’s volunteering, organizing, donating, or campaigning, we hope this conference left you feeling inspired.
— Valerie Infante is a rising junior at Tufts University studying Political Science. She is currently an intern at Swing Blue Alliance.