I’m Aftyn, an organizer for Indivisible, and I want to talk to you about what happened in the South this week, and how. I organize in two of the reddest states in the country: Kentucky and Tennessee.
Election night 2018 was rough. As we watched the Blue Wave sweep across the country, it became clear that it had missed us: we elected the same (and more) Trump-loving Republicans up and down the ballot.
It would have been easy for Indivisibles to give up, throw up their hands and say “we’ll never win.” But that’s not what happened. Instead, groups across the South mobilized and built out a MASSIVE year-round voter contact program statewide for 2019.
I’m not just talking about in the cities: one of our group leaders in Appalachia was out knocking doors three days a week, every week, dogged in her attempt to identify every undecided voter in her county. In Boyle County, Kentucky (where Trump won with 62.1% of the vote), Indivisible Danville wrote postcards, registered voters, and canvassed for months prior to the election: Bevin only won by 4 votes.
All of that work was a testament to the fierce tenacity of group leaders who showed up day in and day out, no matter the literal weather or the political climate.
And in the end? Well, the results were mixed. We won the top of the ticket, and that’s incredible. Kicking Bevin out of the Governor’s mansion is huge. These results are proof that when on-the-ground grassroots effort meets an unpopular and unprincipled incumbent (sounds like another Kentucky official we know), well, anything can happen. Down ballot though, we didn’t win a single race. After all the work, we still came up short.
But there’s another way we won: Off-year elections like this are used as a testing ground for messaging and tactics ahead of presidential years. Like 2018, Republicans again prioritized a pro-Trump, anti-immigrant, and anti-choice message. The result we earned at the top of the ballot in Kentucky and throughout Virginia show us that theirs is a losing approach.
On Tuesday night, I was at the big election watch party with two Indivisible group leaders. Late in the night, after we were sure we’d won in the Governor’s race and lost the others, one of them turned to me with a wicked little gleam in her eye. “Well,” she said. “We’ve gotta start canvassing.”
One of the questions I get asked most often as an organizer in Kentucky is how on earth are we going to defeat Mitch McConnell. And honestly, the answer is the same as it would be to defeat any regressive incumbent.
We’ve gotta start canvassing. We’ve gotta start calling, and texting, and talking to voters, everywhere.
If we’re going to ditch Mitch McConnell — or win ANY race — it’s going to take everyone and their second cousin. We’ve all gotta start canvassing.
A few years can’t undo centuries of racism, classism and sexism. It will take more years of dedicated, hyperlocal efforts to make progress, which is why we need to start now. We need people on the ground knocking doors year-round. We need to mobilize the cities and make incremental (or major!) gains in the suburbs and rural areas. We need to pick a nominee who can inspire voters. We need donors who can fund phonebanking and canvassing tools. And we need to start organizing now.
The up-ballot wins in Kentucky this week should be an inspiration. And the down-ballot losses should be a call to arms. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work.
Indivisible Senior Regional Organizer, Kentucky and Tennessee
PS — I also want to give a major shout out to the groups and sister organizations in Virginia and in other states across the country where we had major wins last week! You’ll be hearing more from our teams in other states soon, but I couldn’t let this email go by without giving them huge claps. 😀
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