We lost. That’s the thing hanging heavy on our hearts today- Susan Collins won and will shortly begin her 5th term in the Senate, and we’re further from flipping the senate to democratic control than we’d hoped or even imagined.
We’re tired. None of the flip crew have gotten much rest over the past few weeks- an action a day gets tiring after the first 10 days or so and we held that pace for over 40. We’ve driven thousands of miles and canvassed by car, foot, bike, and kayak.
But we don’t regret doing this work. We are grateful to everyone who supported this project. The progressive, independent, and radical Mainers we connected with this autumn reminds us that even in this mostly rural state (also the whitest in the nation) there are folks who support medicare for all, believe black lives matter, and who will fight for progressive values.
Over 100 people made monetary donations to the project, with contributions ranging from $10 to over $10,000. Others offered housing, food, video editing, grocery store cards, and so many other skills and gifts. Thank you to everyone who helped keep our canvassers fed, housed, and fairly compensated for their work.
Dozens of volunteers contributed their time to Flip 2020, from analyzing data to decide where to canvass, to fundraising, to knocking on doors, to cooking dinner, to tabling at farmers markets, to balancing the budget. Thank you to everyone who gave of their time and skills to support this project.
The project can point to a number of successes. When we first started working on this campaign Lisa Savage was polling at 2%, by election day she was at 5% and came within a few thousand votes or her 2nd place votes determining the race. The whole team became fierce advocates of ranked choice voting, something many of us knew little about before our arrival. The package of policies (a demilitarized Green New Deal, Medicare for all, defunding the police, ending the drug war, free tuition) are becoming the new populism and we found they had great traction with voters – this part of the movement is ramping up. We built bonds with locals and each other that will last well beyond the election dust settling.
We have done our final heart circle, spent quite some time listening to the appreciations we had for each other and some pointed regrets as well. Some of us will head to Georgia to work on the runoff senate race. Others will return to the intentional communities movement. Still others head back to school, to work, to organize groups in our communities. Some of us have gotten more connected to BLM organizers, indigenous led activist crews, femme lead political agitating, and more. While losing sucks, none of us regrets coming on this adventure and our efforts to make things be better. Thank you to everyone who made the Flip 2020 project happen.
We have tabled or performed at dozens of public events, including farmers markets, environmental events, BLM protests, and more. We’ve been to Portland, Lewiston, Augusta, Waterville, Orono, Bangor, Belfast, Old Orchard Beach and many other smaller towns.
Interviews with the independent candidate
The national media fails at covering independent candidates. We hosted an interview with independent, green candidate Lisa Savage to further amplify her voice. You can watch our interview with Lisa Savage here.
We’ve had discussions with over a thousand Maine voters face to face about defeating Susan Collins this election, a similar number via text and phone banking, and with hundreds more speaking to groups at public events.
We’ve traveled 10,000 miles on foot, bike, car, and kayak
We’ve driven more that 10,000 miles since our arrival in Maine, connecting with voters in nearly every county of this physically large state. We’ve also canvassed on foot, on bike trailers, and even in kayaks!
Original artwork in honor of RBG
We attended a vigil in honor of RBG and created artwork for memory cards at that event. Check out our short film Don’t Mourn, Organize featuring from footage and speakers at the RBG vigil.
We have also registered nearly 100 Mainers to vote (where they filled out the card and gave it to us) and given out over 100 voter registration cards (which they took with them). We also assisted voters in accessing mail in ballots.
To see more of the Flip 2020 crew in action, check out our slideshow.
This post is part 2 answering the question, Why Maine? Why did Flip2020 select Maine out of all the senate swing states? In part 1, we look at Why Maine (Read part 1 here). In this post, we explore the second half of that answer: ranked choice voting.
The Flip 2020 project team has unanimously voted to endorse Independent Green Lisa Savage for U.S. Senate. We believe in her progressive platform, her proven dedication, and refusal to accept corporate campaign donations. The majority of our team also supports Democrat Sara Gideon for U.S. Senate. If Lisa Savage is knocked out of the race during the instant runoff process, we believe Sara Gideon is the best other option. It’s unusual for one organization to support two candidates in the same race but Maine’s Ranked Choice Voting makes this, and many other things, possible.
What is Ranked Choice Voting?
First, let’s start with an explanation in the form of an original song written by Katie Sontag from our crew:
In an RCV election, “Voters pick a first-choice candidate and have the option to rank backup candidates in order of their choice: second, third, and so on. If a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, that candidate wins, just like in any other election. However, if there is no majority winner after counting first choices, the race is decided by an “instant runoff.” The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as ‘number 1’ will have their votes count for their next choice. This process continues until a candidate wins with more than half of the votes.” (Thanks to FairVote for this description of RCV). Or to put it more simply- ranked choice voting means ranking a third party candidate #1 on your ballot and the democratic candidate #2 does not make it more likely that the republican candidate will win.
Why We Like Ranked Choice Voting
Maine’s RCV is an especially positive thing for the Flip 2020 Project. Many of our canvassers align more closely with the Green Party and progressive candidates than with mainstream Democrats. We’re delighted that because of Maine’s ranked choice voting we can support both Lisa Savage and Sarah Gideon in their Senate races. Our goal is to Flip the Senate by beating Susan Collins, electing either Savage and Gideon would accomplish that goal. We’re also realists who recognize that Sara Gideon (with her huge campaign budget) is the person most likely to beat Susan Collins this November. We’ll be encouraging progressive voters to “Rank Lisa First, Blue Number 2” and actively supporting both candidates.
Progressive and independent voters often have a difficult decision to make at election time—do we vote for a candidate who has values that match ours, or the candidate who is more likely to get enough votes to win? In a close race when every vote counts, we have to make a difficult choice between voting for a progressive or against the Republican (which generally means voting for a Democrat). In the face of this choice, and with our preferred candidates unlikely to win, some third party voters (progressives, greens, independents, and others) stay home. It’s a serious issue in American politics.
Motivating independent and progressive voters is especially pertinent in Maine, where more voters are registered independent than either Democratic or Republican. Maine’s current senators also show that the state shows strong support for independent candidates, because the Republican incumbent Susan Collins is the least popular senator in the states, but the Independent incumbent Angus King is the most popular senator in the states. Finally, for independent voters frustrated with the centrist rhetoric of the Democratic Party, ranking “Lisa First, Blue Number 2” makes their desire for Medicare for All and a demilitarized Green New Deal clear, yet doesn’t risk losing the seat.
The polls look good for the Biden/Harris ticket right now. The president’s poor handling of the pandemic, the resulting economic collapse and his poor performance of the first debate have resulted in a number of declines in key battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden has been very consistent in his widening lead over the Commander in Chief and has more support than Clinton ever had.
But this forecast could be wrong for two reasons. The first is various voter suppression and integrity damaging techniques being deployed by the White House. The second is because of a completely legal thing the Republican campaign is doing that will almost certainly have a significant impact on the results, which hardly anyone is talking about and the mainstream media is all but ignoring. And if my logic is correct, this legal tactic is invisible to the polls.
Voter suppression and integrity damaging techniques
We have to give 45 credit for trying novel approaches to voter suppression and election disruption. You have likely heard about the post office being hobbled by a presidential crone DeJoy, most recently with the removal of mail sorting machines. You have perhaps heard of the hundreds of lawsuits prepared to contest changes in voting laws in the battlegrounds of Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida. The initial budget estimate for these lawsuits was $20 million.
What you may not have heard of is the 1982 federal consent decree agreed to by Republicans and Democrats. This agreement blocked armed guards (generally off-duty law enforcement officers hired by Republicans) who harassed and blocked voters at the polls, often voters of color. It was overturned by a recently appointed Federal judge in 2018. The Republicans have hired 50,000 “poll observers” who will certainly harass voters in Democratic areas.
The completely legal reason why Republicans may vote in greater numbers than Democrats this election
When we started the Flip 2020 project, which is designed to help switch control of the US Senate to the Democrats, we thought we would embrace the formula we used in Florida in 2018. We would bring out-of-state activists to a key election state, train them how to canvass, and house and feed them in the run-up to the election.
A key piece of this successful strategy was finding an existing canvass operation which would pay our folks and provide critical canvass infrastructure like political materials, well-designed canvassing turf (so we did not waste time going to places where they were not going to consider our candidates and referendum) and access to the all important MiniVAN system which provides information on voters for canvassers so we arrive at the door informed and knowing who we are looking for.
The president’s reelection campaign continued to canvass door-to-door, and knocks on a million doors each week. It’s why the president might still get re-elected.
Many canvass campaigns target “lazy voters”, those who are known to be registered to your party but do not reliably vote. Canvassers can explain how they can qualify for absentee ballots (oh yes, despite the president’s protests, his field staff is absolutely encouraging people to vote by mail if they don’t want to go to the polls), get voters rides to the polls if they want, and remind them how important the election is.
What PTPs research shows is that voters who have face-to-face contact with a canvasser are 10.4% more likely to actually vote. The most optimistic numbers for social media, texting, and phone banked voters is a 3% increase in voting, several studies show these “air game” techniques are markedly less effective than that. In a close race, increasing turnout by 10% on your side means winning instead of losing.
What is especially insidious about this situation is it will be largely invisible in polling. The canvasser coming to your door is not changing your mind, they are increasing the chances you will vote. So when the pollster calls, they likely get the same answer they would have got before the canvasser’s influence, but what they don’t know is the canvasser has worked with the voter to get their absentee ballot, has worked with the voter to insure they know where their polling place is, has helped the voter organize transportation to the polling place and has reminded the voter to vote early so that their vote is counted. What the pollster does not know is the canvasser has made the voter more effective and more likely to actually vote. If you review the criteria for pollsters making the determination that someone is a “likely voter,” most of these are canvass effects invisible.
So let’s recap
The postal system has been and continues to be crippled
Over $20 million has been budgeted just to start lawsuits across the country
Over 10 million people in the most critical states will be canvassed and perhaps 1 million votes will come out of this
What can you do? Well, the Flip 2020 project is doing a tiny amount of door to door, and instead we are focusing on key Senate battleground states and doing covid compliant street theater, tabling, literature drops, and political actions to get the word out and bring the progressive vote in. You can volunteer to help us and/or generously donate at www.flip2020.org or at our GoFundMe.
Getting the attention of voters is not an easy task these days. It’s particularly hard in a swing state like Maine where over $160 million Republican and Democrat dollars have poured in to paint the airwaves, phone lines, and social media feeds with partisan slogans. This gives us at Flip2020 a unique task to rise above the noise and find ways to capture attention that is already scarce.
While we’re already quite a crafty bunch (this week, we recorded a music video for an original song about Ranked Choice Voting), we’re always seeking more tricks to help us reach people here in Maine and to support our political activism work for years to come. That is why we are incredibly excited by the opportunity to do a street theater + puppet training and collaboration with the world renowned, Bread & Puppet Theater.
Bread & Puppet is one of the oldest, nonprofit, self-supporting theatrical companies in the country. They perform an exhilarating form of street theater which uses huge paper-maché puppets, colorful banners, caricature costumes and chanting with the audience to transform any street into a theater stage. They also have a strong political activism background.
We need $2,000 to cover the 7-hour training and transportation for our crew of 10 to stay with Bread & Puppet on their farm in Glover, Vermont. If 20 people donated $100, we would quickly hit our goal and equip this energized group with a new set of skills to make change in this country.
The Flip 2020 team in Maine has been busy with actions everyday. We have hung large banners over highways, spoken at BLM rallies, attended RGB vigils and handed out commemorative artwork with voting info the reverse, scouted action sites and farmers markets, clipboarded and tabled parks, networked with numerous Maine groups and invited them to our future events, met several times with US Senate candidate Lisa Savage as well as supporting her staff, and raised a fair amount of money, tho we are still certainly short our needs for the project. More of the team arrives over the next week. We will be 10 adults (possibly 11) on Oct 3.
And what we are going to do is even more important and with higher impact.
Saturday night we are going to the BLM Maine organized rally sparked by the injustice of Louisville police not being held accountable for the murder of Breonna Taylor. We plan to distribute a memorabilia original artwork piece of the ER technician. We are developing a POC lead de-escalation training for BLM activists in Maine.
We are bringing in equipment for banners to be strung on bike trailers so we can do bike parades. We are doing a video of most of the Flip staff walking and interviewing with candidate Lisa Savage and her top staff on the beach.
We have been asked by the Savage campaign to design appropriate street theater to be performed October 9th in front of marijuana dispensaries in the state. Recreational marijuana use has been legal in Maine since January 2017, but this will be the first day that sale is legal by state licensed stores. It’s likely there will be lines, and we’ll be doing actions in those locations.
We are organizing a Circus and Chat event in the main square in Portland on 10/10/2020. The circus part will include different skits from different performers in the group and talent we have drawn from Maine. It is a kid friendly event which is designed to draw a crowd. We will likely have the local Ideal Maine Band to perform as well as a few speakers including Senate candidate Lisa Savage and Progressive Party VP candidate Dawn Neptune Adams. After the circus and speakers we are inviting the crowd to a community conversation.
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 seemed 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 the start of what looked like a serious roll. Tonight we’re off to prepare for another BLM action in Bucksworth, 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 Maine.
It’s been a busy few weeks for the Flip 2020 Project, and things are only likely to get busier (and more exciting!) as we move closer to election day. We’re 7 days away from jumping off in Maine, we have exciting new allies, are continuing to raise funds, and are also working (remotely at the moment) with both the independent green & democratic campaigns in Maine.
7 days till Maine– The first part of our crew is currently in quarantine, while others are preparing for it. We’ve lined up testing for our early arrivals, are working on social media and other “air game” outreach, and are excited to be able to start our work in Maine in only a week.
Our amazing crew– We have about a dozen “un-canvassers” at this point, including several folks who were part of the 2018 Tampa canvass. We also have folks working in support & coordination, finance, outreach, fundraising, and on social media. We have pretty good racial and gender diversity in the group. We’re also delighted to have an experienced fundraiser joining the group who currently works with Michelle Obama.
Bread and Puppet is the premiere street theater and giant puppet making group which has been creating visually dramatic props for political story telling for decades. (We’re big fans.) One of our amazing un-canvassers has worked with Bread and Puppet in the past and is helping us to schedule a workshop/training with them, likely in mid to late September.
Maine allies– We have gotten through to both the Lisa Savage (Independent Green) and Sara Gideon (Democratic) campaigns and are talking with them about what kinds of support from us they are interested in, including fundraising training, phone banking (especially while we are in quarantine), as well as actions and street theater.
Ranked choice voting in Maine– Since we’re on the topic of independent candidates, we’re delighted that due to Maine’s use of ranked choice voting we can support both Lisa Savage and Sarah Gideon in their Senate races.
Other interesting races– We are working with the Down Ballot project (link is to their most current report), an analytical initiative which gives data and insights into the most current polling and fundraising for tight Senate races. They also make recommendations on which races to support financially. In the upcoming issue they are encouraging folks to fund our initiative.
Fundraising is going well, although there is (of course) more work to be done. Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far. We’ve received a few large donations, including $5,000 from an anonymous donor and $20,000 from a second anonymous donor (who we have never met). We have also raised smaller contributions made through PayPal and GoFundMe. We appreciate any contributions (small as well as large) you are able to offer, as well as shares on social media to spread the word. If you want help in you’d like to help with our fundraising efforts, please get in touch with us at Flip2020Project@gmail.com.
Georgia Special Election– We are continuing to do some remote work outside of Maine in other critical senate swing states. Georgia has a special election on Nov 3 for a second senate seat, this election is without a primary so multiple candidates (from the same party) are running for one of the top two spots. One of the leading Democratic contenders is Matt Lieberman, who wrote a racist fiction story which has been recently discovered and will likely cost him the election. He has so far not dropped out of the race, thus endangering other Democrats from getting one of the top two slots. We are working with the NAACP and other POC groups to try to force Lieberman out of the race.
Thank you to all of our supporters, and if you’d like to volunteer with us or make a contribution you can do so on our website, or get in touch with us directly at Flip2020Project@gmail.com.