How The Biggest Swing State Swung Back to Democrats

And big Biden/Harris news, too

Welcome to a very packed Thursday night edition of Progressives Everywhere.

Tonight, our ongoing tour of the progressive organizers and activists who took down Donald Trump turns to Pennsylvania. If you’re wondering how real change happens, down to the nouns and verbs that make it happen, you’ll want to read this one.

Plus, after that, I’ve got all kinds of news and analysis for you, including a number of stories that aren’t getting any national play, so let’s get to it!

By the way: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are Time’s Person of the Year. So that’s another thing they won over Trump.

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The Pennsylvania Group That Stood Up to Trump

When Donald Trump won his shocking victory in 2016, it was a major wake-up call. States and regions once considered safely blue had swung red, while constituencies that Democrats had counted on for years had been either disenfranchised by Republicans or discouraged by the very uneven economic recovery of the Obama years.

Nowhere was this more true than in Pennsylvania, where gerrymandering by a GOP trifecta, rural disaffection, and the decline of unions led to a surprise Trump victory. In response, progressives around the state began coalescing into community organizations to begin the hard work of reversing the red tide. Pennsylvania Stands Up became an umbrella group for a number of linked grassroots groups in the Keystone State, including Lancaster Stands Up, a high-profile organization that focused on both urban and rural communities and produced several nationally recognized leaders.

After helping Democrats chip away at the GOP’s legislative advantage in 2018, Pennsylvania Stands Up set its sights on flipping the legislature blue and delivering the state’s electoral votes to Joe Biden. Surprisingly strong Republican turnout stopped the first goal from happening, but the group’s hard work did the trick for Biden. Pennsylvania Stands Up members made nearly seven million calls within the state and held more than 400,000 conversations with voters — and as Deputy Organizing Director Julia Berkman-Hill tells us, they weren’t the sort of quick GOTV chats that dominate before Election Day.

I spoke with Berkman-Hill this week about her organization’s strategy, how it goes about deep canvassing, and what Democrats and progressives need to do to win back working-class voters in 2022. If you’ve ever wanted to get involved in community organizing or just understand the language, read the interview below.

It was a very different year than what you must have planned for, with the virus so significantly changing activism and organizing. Biden won, but Dems fell short in the legislature, in part due to gerrymandering. So what do you take away from it all?

You see this trend across the whole country of us winning top of the ticket and it not translating down-ballot. And I think that's a real wake-up call for both progressives and in the Democratic establishment, to really interrogate why that happened. It shows us that our work isn't done.

It’s about being on the ground, doing year-round organizing and having deeper organizing conversations with people. It can’t just be one-off mobilization conversations the day before the election or even one off-persuasion conversations. Our deep-canvassing program was based on the idea that the best way to move people is to really have deep relationships with them.

One of the metrics that we always had for deep-canvassing shifts was, did you make an emotional connection with this voter? We asked every volunteer at the end of the shift whether they made an emotional connection, even if they didn't move them. 

So how do you make an emotional connection?

I started organizing with PA Stands Up through Lancaster Stands Up. We would not be afraid to call out the leadership of both parties and really tap into those feelings of alienation that people are having with our political system and not feeling represented. We'd encourage volunteers to be honest about their real feelings, rather than trying to sell something.

We started doing more sort of rigorous deep-canvassing last year. We were part of an experiment through People’s Action and the New Conversation Initiative to talk to voters across race and class, mostly focusing on rural parts of central Pennsylvania, trying to persuade them and move them around their feelings. It was about undocumented immigrants and healthcare. We would ask:

  • Do you believe in universal healthcare? 

  • Do you believe healthcare is a human right? 

  • Do you think that undocumented immigrants should have healthcare? Do you think that they should be able to have access to the same healthcare that people who are citizens or “legal” immigrants do? 

Then we would persuade people and tell them a story about someone in our family or someone that we love that is an immigrant. Then we’d ask:

  • Would you agree with me that the immigration system is broken and that we need to fix it? 

  • Do you agree that immigrants aren't the problem with healthcare, but that it's the pharmaceutical industry and the wealthy 1% that are actually dividing us against each other and keeping us all from having good healthcare?

People really moved. We did surveys with people before the conversations and then after the conversations, and the interviews after surveys showed that people's opinions about undocumented immigrants changed and their support of Trump actually also went down. 

Were there issues that moved people?

This year, we started to canvass around COVID, asking people how they were doing and if they needed anything, This summer, we did two experiments [to gauge support]: one was about support for healthcare again and then the other one was about support for defunding the police after the murder of George Floyd. And then in August, we started persuading around the presidential election. So I think the first thing to know about you canvassing is that it's actually the most effective when you do it around issues.

The first thing you do is make a connection and build rapport. Then you take a first reading about whatever the question is. So for the presidential candidates, it was “on a scale of one to 10, where one is definitely voting for Trump and 10 is definitely voting for Biden, where are you?” If they were a one, you would let the conversation end. But if they were even a soft one, in that they’d say “I'm a one, but I have some concerns,” you would ask them “what are your concerns?” And then you’d ask them to tell you a story about how you've seen people taking care of each other during this crisis and then about what's at stake for them in this election. 

You also share, as the canvasser, your story. So have pretty long trainings where we have people share their story and do a roleplay and see what will move people.

Then you then move into persuasion about the race. We used the race-class narrative, saying that we as working people across race and across class all deserve to be able to live with the things that we need and with dignity and I'm worried that Trump is more concerned about dividing us than about bringing us together. At the end, you take a final rating, so we could actually see how much people move during the conversation. We had about a 35-to-40% movement rate with persuadable or conflicted voters, anyone that began between a two and a nine.

And people really engaged this year, because they were stuck at home?

I think the thing that separates a good phone program from a phone program that has less of an impact is just that you're actually able to move a subset of the people that would normally hang up on you to actually engage with you in a conversation. And that really depends on what questions you ask at the beginning of the conversation. 

If you start a conversation by saying “Hey, I just want to make sure you're voting for Joe Biden,” you're going to get some people to stay on the phone with you and some people not stay on the phone with you. If you start the conversation with, “I’m your neighbor — how's COVID affected you? How are you doing?” that's going to be different. Not to say that it’s going to resonate with everyone, but that's a different conversation. So a lot of the skills that we teach people are around building rapport in that first minute of the conversation to keep people on the phone. 

Once you build rapport with people, and once you create a connection, then it's so much easier. People would have an hour and a half conversations on the phone. And what we found is that a lot of people actually wanted to talk because they were lonely and they didn't have anyone to talk to, and they didn't have anyone to share what was going on in their life.

So looking forward, once you assess the 2020 cycle, what are you planning for this year and beyond? What issues are facing Pennsylvania that you want to tackle?

I think in general in Pennsylvania, it's the same issues that people care about everywhere. And Pennsylvania is a place where it's 80% white, but there are places we organize that are in cities that are majority people of color with surrounding white areas, like Lancaster Redding, Coatesville, Allentown, York, and Harrisburg. A big thing we're seeing is just that a lot of cities in Pennsylvania don't have enough control over policies, so they’re not able to provide enough good quality affordable housing, they’re not able to raise the minimum wage locally. 

2022 is going to be a really big year in Pennsylvania politics. There will be an open Senate seat for the first time in a long time because Pat Toomey is retiring, and there will be an open governorship because Tom Wolf is termed out. Plus, we’re getting new districts, which means that we may actually have a shot at winning back a lot of House seats that should be held by Democrats just based on who lives in those areas, but because of gerrymandering have not been possible for us to win. 

One piece of our work that has to start now is thinking about who is going to run for those new districts, even if we don't totally know exactly what they're going to be. We have to start that process earlier. We have to invest early in candidate recruitment, support for fundraising, and very importantly, campaign staff. There’s a real lack of support infrastructure-wise for progressive campaign staff, for people who want to learn how to be campaign managers, field directors, finance directors. We really want to invest in that early and think about who from our base can actually step up to run those campaigns and run for office.

Donate to Pennsylvania Stands Up!

Important News You Need to Know

The Texas Grift

By this afternoon, 17 states and over 100 members of Congress had signed on to Texas AG Ken Paxton’s letter to Congress requesting that it reject Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College.

On the one hand, it’s not going to work, so I don’t really want to give these jokers the time of day, but on the other hand, the fact that this is happening at all is a massive development with scary implications for the future. Fascism is not the kind of genie you can put back in the lamp.

As this damning thread makes clear, Republicans and their nakedly partisan Supreme Court justices spent October setting the legal conditions required to steal the election for Trump; the plan was foiled only by the size of Biden’s victory. Instead, they’re calling an audible and beginning to normalize the rejection of democracy for future close races. While Paxton’s lawsuit began as an effort kiss Trump’s ass enough to receive a pardon for all the crimes he’s committed, it has since become a vehicle for GOP lawmakers to put a stake in the ground for election stealing.

In a way, it’s quite ironic, as so many of these lawmakers are only in office because of egregious voter suppression tactics and absurd gerrymanders. For example, check out the House district of Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who represents what looks more like a horse’s hoof kicking a guy in the head than any actual fair political district:

If nothing else, this should come as a wake-up call to Democrats who thought Republicans might be willing to work in good faith with them once Trump leaves. And if an attempted coup still won’t do the trick, maybe they’ll learn something from the disastrous COVID relief negotiations, in which centrist Democrats let the GOP cut out stimulus checks from a proposed bill only to see Mitch McConnell dash it anyway.

Bernie Sanders and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley officially introduced a new stimulus bill that would provide Americans with another $1200 check, a pittance compared to the rest of the world but better than what leadership had been discussing. They’re discussing forcing a vote on it by taking advantage of the must-pass government spending bill, which would put a whole lot of Republicans in an uncomfortable spot.

The Georgia Race is Wild

With polling showing its two Senate runoffs neck-and-neck, unspeakable sums of money are pouring into Georgia right now. As the LA Times reports, Republicans seem to have a big money advantage, but that’s a bit misleading — Democrats are buying ads at a cheaper rate and doing so one week at a time, so their total reserved spend is naturally going to be lower.

And it should go without saying that Democrats shouldn’t be spending all of their money on TV, anyway. They’ve got great grassroots groups doing the hard GOTV work that deserve all the financial backing in the world. That includes an increasingly influential bloc of Asian voters in the rapidly diversifying state:

Asian Americans make up just 3.2% of Georgia’s voting-eligible population — compared with about 15% in California — but they are playing an increasingly pivotal role in shaping the politics of this once-conservative and rapidly diversifying Southern state.

Turnout among Asian Americans in Georgia doubled from about 67,000 in 2016 to 140,000 in the 2020 presidential election — a faster rate of growth than Latino, Black or white voters. More than six out of 10 Asian American and Pacific Islander voters cast their ballots for Biden, according to exit polls.

Among the reasons for the higher number of Asian voters this year is that a new generation has turned 18, more recent immigrants became U.S. citizens, and transplants arrived from other states.

But voter mobilization is playing an even bigger role: 80,000 new Asian American voters registered in Georgia in the last four years, nearly doubling the turnout rate.

Unfortunately, Republicans are going to do everything they can to make voting even harder than it already is in a state known for closed polling sites and massive lines in minority neighborhoods. More than half of Cobb County’s polling sites were shut down for the runoff (two were just added back for early voting after outrage), the GOP is planning on weaponizing the preposterous accusations of Kraken-level voter fraud to enact very real voter suppression laws.

The Republican Speaker of the House also tonight an entire constitutional reorganization based solely on Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s refusal to throw the election to Trump. Speaker David Ralston called for a constitutional amendment that would remove the Secretary of State from the popular ballot and instead have the position chosen by the legislature.

In effect, he’s suggesting that incumbent lawmakers not only draw their own districts but also choose the person who oversees their elections.

One more Georgia note: This evening, a number of major progressive organizations called for Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock to run explicitly on the promise that a Democratic Senate majority would deliver stimulus checks to voters. Hmmm… hasn’t someone else been suggesting that for the last month? (Spoiler: Yes, and that person is me, here and here, among other places.)

They have the numbers to prove its efficacy, too:

In a new Data for Progress poll63% of likely Georgia runoff voters said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who commits to passing an additional $1,200 relief check, with just 10% saying they’d be less likely.  

They also note that Sen. David Purdue, a COVID profiteer, is running ads saying that Ossoff is against stimulus checks. That makes it even more essential that both Ossoff and Warnock make it abundantly clear that they support a massive stimulus.


  • Democrats need to take a very real look at their seniority system and whether some of their lawmakers stay in office for too long. This piece about Dianne Feinstein is equal parts heartbreaking and frustrating.

  • Joe Biden’s conversation with civil rights leaders earlier this week does not give me much hope for the next four years or for the party leadership’s grasp on either their base or the politics of the moment.

  • This summer, during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, executives and judges in North Carolina’s Alamance County more or less blocked any and all demonstrations near the courthouse. (They didn’t want any damage done to the giant Confederate monument on the spot where the county’s first Black lawmaker was lynched, FYI.)

    This month, the county has blocked journalists from the court proceedings for protest leader Rev. Greg Drumwright, who committed the egregious crime of… getting pepper-sprayed by police while leading a march to the polls in late October. In fact, the publisher of the local Alamance News was held in contempt and handcuffed as he tried to make the case that journalists should be allowed in the courtroom. As a result, newspapers in the area have filed a legal request to be allowed into the court during further proceedings. I’ll keep you updated.

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