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.
I’ve spent the past few months (the past few years, really) watching in horror at what’s happening in US politics. While the media typically blames Trump for his terrible policies, the complicity of the US Senate is often missed. Trump is an expert at drawing media attention, but often these stories don’t matter much. It is often the quieter and more politically savvy Republican controlled Senate doing serious damage (e.g. failing to make a deal on extending pandemic unemployment funding, confirming unqualified judges, designing and passing the terrible tax cut package, and blocking impeachment). And for those who might have forgotten, the Republican controlled Senate was road blocking almost all significant legislation during much of the Obama administration well before Trump.
The Flip 2020 project’s mission is to flip the US Senate to a Democratic majority and break the do-nothing Republican congressional gridlock. Flipping the Senate will be a challenge, but it is possible. Republicans currently have a three seat majority. (This will almost certainly become four when Democrat Doug Jones runs for re-election in Alabama, a deep red state, against a Republican candidate who is endorsed by Trump.) Of the 23 Republican held Senate seats up for grabs this November, 6 races are close enough to be considered “toss-ups.”
Determining where our efforts would most benefit efforts to flip the Senate was no trivial task. Did we need to choose a small state so our crew would be able to reach a higher percentage of voters? How do we take care of our canvassers around the pandemic? Are there Democratic challengers who would help us? Did we need to minimize travel and housing costs? What was the weather going to be like in September and October for our outdoor canvassing efforts? Are there Democratic candidates who were particularly inspiring to support or Republican incumbents who were especially enraging (looking at you Lindsey Graham and Moscow Mitch)? And of course, which races are competitive enough that our efforts could tip the balance?
We invited a doctor and experts with experience in public health to help us understand the COVID-19 situation in different states. We poured over polls and political forecasts. We reached out to campaigns and allies in swing states to see who might help us. And in the end it became pretty clear that our best option was Maine.
We need to take 4 seats and Maine is the fourth from the top in terms of polling, and the only top state where the polling lead is within the margin of error. USA Today says “What’s evident is if Republicans lose Maine it will be a sign the Senate is probably lost to Democrats.”
We also wanted to minimize our exposure to pandemic risks, and Maine was by far the safest state of those on our list. Our friends at the Possibility Alliance in Belfast, Maine offered support and encouragement and local political contacts. An anonymous donor contributed thousands of dollars for housing so our team can quarantine appropriately before we begin our in-person canvassing efforts.
Susan Collins has the distinction of being the most disapproved of Senators in the country, with over 50% of those surveyed saying they disapproved of her performance. This is way down from her last election when she was one of the most popular senators in the country. But siding with the President on impeachment and Kavanaugh’s confirmation has hurt her both nationally and at home. Collins paved the way for the current postal system slow down.
Collins’ challenger is Sara Gideon, the Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. As an experienced Democratic politician she has supported Medicaid expansion in Maine, sponsored legislation to expand abortion access, and has been a staunch supporter of Planned Parenthood. She has helped make naloxone available over the counter to help prevent opioid overdoses. She’s a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology and has worked to promote clean energy. She supports the US rejoining the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. She supports police reform and gun control. Gideon is not taking corporate PAC contributions for her campaign.
So what are we going to do about it? Well, COVID-19 makes door-to-door canvassing unwise, but we will do street theater, political actions, tabling to supplement the tremendous “air game” of social media, phone banking and postcards. After our quarantine period, we’ll be splitting our time between actions, phone banking, social media work, and other pandemic compliant activities. We are looking for street performers, musicians, activists, social media titans, and organizers who can spend September thru the election with us in Maine. Join us at www.flip2020.org and if you can’t come to Maine, we would appreciate any financial support you can provide.
Usually in tight presidential elections, the focus is on Florida. More polls are taken there, more rallies are held there, more money is spent on advertisements there than almost any other state. Rich with electoral votes and a highly split electorate, Florida can make or break the top race. But Florida is shifting from purple to blue. This is in part because the 2018 referendum added a Florida state constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to ex-felons. This added 1.5 million people to the voter rolls, most of them Democratic. [I was fortunate to be part of a canvassing team of of communitarians in Tampa in 2018 working on this referendum.]
But 2020 is not a usual year, as you have no doubt noticed. This year all eyes are going to be on Georgia, because it is quite likely to surprise most of the nation with an expensive, expansive senate race and may delay knowledge of which party controls the Senate until 2021.
If you are tracking the election closely, you know two of Biden’s top VP choices are from Georgia (more than any other state except California), Stacey Abrams and Keisha Bottoms. If there were fairness in the world, it would go to Abrams, who was literally robbed of the Governorship of this state by Brian Kemp. Kemp as the Georgia secretary of state purged the election roles of 670K voters, in 2017 (mostly POC) and then won the election by 50K votes and became governor. Abrams did not concede her “loss” and went on to start Fair Fight 2020which works to stop voter suppression just like this.
If you are an election geek (as i am becoming these days) you know that there a rere actually two Senate seats available in Georgia in this upcoming election. One seat is up for a regularly-scheduled election, while the other is up for special election due to a resignation. Thus the term of the Senator who fills this special election seat will only be 2 years long, but it might just determine which party controls the US Senate during those years.
What you likely do not know (unless you are one of the afore-mentioned geeks) is that the special Georgia election is really a “top two primary.” Unless one of the candidates acquires over 50% of the votes (which is quite unlikely given the crowded field) in will spark a 2 candidate run off election in January of 2021 which might determine the majority party of the US Senate. The Biden campaign has recently recognized the importance of Georgia and is sending top staff there.
It is a week after the election, Nov 10th 2020 and most of the election results are in- polling places closed last week and the absentee and mail-in ballots have all been tallied. Biden has won both the popular vote and the electoral college by a comforting 65 points beyond the 270 needed. It is unclear whether Trump will respect the win, and at this point he has not yet conceded. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Joni Ernst of Iowa were all able to hold onto their incumbencies for the Republicans, by tight margins. Political novice Tommy Tuberville forced out Democratic incumbent Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama to raise the bar for flipping the Senate to 4 seats.
The Democrats did well in Colorado and North Carolina Senate races, wrestling seats from incumbents. And former Montana Governor Steve Bullock took the Republican seat from Steve Daines. Georgia repeated its primary fiasco and incumbent David Purdue eeked out a <1% victory over Democrat Ossoff, in an election mired in too few polling stations and the deeply suspicious purging of the voting roles of over 100K voters, mostly in the Atlanta metro region and thus disproportionately impacting POC voters.
As it looks today (Nov 10th) the Democrats have picked up 3 Republican seats in the Senate, bringing the final tally to 49 Democratic Senators and 50 Republicans. The 100th seat and the determination of which party controls the Senate is on the shoulders of the Georgia special election, which is actually a top two primary also known as a Nonpartisan blanket Primary. In this free for all fight, with candidates going after members of their own party as well as the opposing one, Rev Raphael Warnock lost to incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler by 2 points, despite Loefflers insider trading scandal.
In this possible future, the result of this critical tie breaking race will not be known for 2 months after the general election These two candidates, who most people have never heard of before today (incumbent Loeffler was appointed just 5 months ago to finish the incomplete term of Johnny Isakson), will become the center of attention in a race which determines if Mitch McConnell can maintain legislative gridlock for two more years.
This is the future the Flip 2020 Project is working to change. We are seeking canvassers who are willing to travel to senate swing states and we also are looking for analysts, social media mavens, fundraisers, and networkers to work from home and with flexible hours. Help us get through this gridlock and take the senate from obstructionist Republicans.