Good People:
Susan Labandibar
Swing Left Greater Boston

Swing Left Greater Boston is the largest grassroots all-volunteer organization in New England, with upwards of 5,000 volunteers based in Massachusetts and in Blue states across the country.  It connects volunteers in Blue States with campaigns in Super States – where the most important battles are being waged for the White House, Senate, and to control the GOP’s attempts at gerrymandering. Now only a few weeks away from the election, volunteers are in overdrive, making sure Democrats win up and down the ballot. What exactly are they doing and why is Swing Left regional organizing coordinator Labandibar optimistic? 

Q: Why did you step down from your job running a tech company to become an organizer with Swing Left?

A: In the aftermath of Trump’s election and the Women’s March, volunteers in Blue states were in search of strategies to contain the damage done by a Trump administration, with the hope of eventually turning the tide in 2020. Living so far away from the voters who would make or break Democratic aspirations for success in future elections, many volunteers like me were frustrated. We wanted to help Democrats try to undo the damage that had been done. Swing Left gave us the opportunity to work on campaigns that matter most in the upcoming election.

Q: At this point, everyone I talk to is hyper-nervous about the election. Give me some Good News to calm our nerves and keep us fighting to win.

A: For some voters, increased availability of vote by mail has become a pathway to participation in this election. Vote-by-mail was intended as a convenience for those who could not vote in person,  but with the dangers inherent in Covid-19, it has become a safety net for voters. This year, many infrequent voters and even so-called “cold voters” have pledged to vote by requesting a vote-by-mail ballot, and they are now voting in much higher numbers than in previous elections.

Q: Give me an example of what Swing Left Greater Boston has been doing in one Swing State to help win back the White House.

A: When there is a crisis such as we have now, when volunteers are so highly motivated to take action, and when we are so far away from the voters who will make or break our success in the election, it is essential for Blue staters to look to our allies and colleagues in the Swing States for direction. 

We found committed, energized and inspiring partners in the Democratic County Committees in Florida. We began with the Sarasota Democratic Committee, sending surveys to Democratic non-voters, asking why they didn’t vote. What we learned was that mail reminders needed considerable redesign to be effective. Our redesigned mailings included a vote-by-mail application.  We found that voters responded to these mailings by registering to vote by mail. We’ve now sent 937,000 vote-by-mail applications to Democratic voters in Florida, in collaboration with our Democratic partners in Sarasota, Palm Beach, Broward and other counties.

Q: Your website urges volunteers to help Swing Left Greater Boston make sure there are No More Naked Ballots! What’s this mean?

A: In Pennsylvania (where Trump won by only 44,000 votes), a recent judicial ruling disqualified any mail-in ballot that is not enclosed in a “secrecy envelope.” This sudden change to the rules helped shape our strategy for sending letters to voters in PA who have applied for an absentee ballot but have not yet voted. One side of the letters shows them where to drop off the ballot in person. The other is a drawing of a person getting “dressed” as a way of explaining how to fill out your ballot and “dress it”  in the secrecy envelope. 

Q: Tell me about a Happy Moment doing this work.

A: There is a special feeling when you are engaged in support of others who are giving all they have, especially when you can share a hard-earned victory. I felt this in 2019 when we took back the Virginia state legislature. The night of the election, I had the honor of watching the results come in with Andrea Miller, the director of Reclaim Our Vote. Andrea has incredible in-depth knowledge of every political race in Virginia.  At one point, Andrea went upstairs to the living room to watch the results, away from the party, and she let me come with her. Her joy was infectious as we watched the results. I was honored and awed to be with a woman who had played such an important role in this victory.

Q: How’s the early voting going now?

A: At this point it looks great. In Philadelphia, where turnout is critical, voters are waiting in socially-distanced lines at City Hall to vote. Some volunteers  are bringing instruments to entertain the voters, the atmosphere is festive.

Q:  If someone wants to get involved now, what should they do?

A:  As the final days of the election approach, volunteers want to know how to make every volunteer hour count. By taking the Final Stretch pledge, you choose from one of three paths to maximize your impact.  You can get out the vote through virtual phone banking, protect the vote by notifying voters of their rejected ballot or staffing a voter hotline, or join the Rapid Response Team to do whatever is needed to support the election. Together we can swing this election!

 

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