Pandemic forces campaigners to get creative

Local residents writing postcards, phone banking in swing state races

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

Politics, like everything else, has been profoundly altered by the pandemic. In a normal year with Election Day just two weeks away, campaign volunteers would be hitting the streets ringing doorbells and knocking on doors trying to persuade voters to vote for their favorite candidates. 

But in a time of social distancing, talking to strangers up close and personal is frowned upon, so campaigns and activists are concentrating on other time-tested ways to motivate and persuade voters.

Local Democratic activists have turned to writing postcards and calling voters. More than 100 area activists have been written around 8,000 postcards to voters in 14 swing states trying to increase Democratic turnout as part of a national program called Postcards to Swing States. 

The project was developed by the Indivisible Chicago Alliance and two leaders who live in Hinsdale. It has a small office in Clarendon Hills, which has mostly served as a shipping and distribution center.

People order postcards in batches and they write on them one of two scripted messages designed to motivate the recipient to vote. The postcards are being mailed to voters in battleground states in the presidential election that typically also have competitive Senate races. Those receiving the postcards are considered likely Democratic voters, but one who do not have a high propensity to vote and could use a little nudge.

Troy Klyber, of Riverside, and his daughter, Sophie, 15, have spent the last month writing 100 postcards, split between Florida and Georgia. Little sister Elise, 7, occasionally helps by putting on the 35-cent stamps. The volunteers supply the stamps. Klyber says that in the past he has contributed money to campaigns but this year he wanted to do more and get directly involved.

"This is an incredibly consequential election," Klyber said. "The integrity of our national institutions are on the line. We have a toxic, incompetent, corrupt, incurious, narcissistic bully as our commander-in-chief and it's essential that we remove him from office, and I will do everything I can to achieve that result."

Klyber learned of the Postcards to Swing States project from Amy Jacksic, who has been coordinating the effort in Riverside.

"I had 46 Riversiders help complete 3,000 swing state postcards," Jacksic said in an email. "So I was the one who always ordered them before I knew if I would even have anyone to do them."

She figured, based on the response she got to messages posted a Facebook page for local Democrats, that there would be takers. 

"It was unbelievably easy," Jacksic said.

The Brookfield Indivisible group has gotten involved in a big way, distributing more than 5,000 postcards to around 60 volunteers in the village.

One of the postcard writers is Cathy Bartl, who is just about done writing 100 postcards spilt between Michigan and Arizona.

Bartl, 70, said that she is lifelong Democrat but has never been gotten directly involved in campaigns before.

"This particular election has gotten me activated to be involved, because I realized how important it is that we get people out to vote," Bartl said. "From now on, I will be an activist. This has gotten me fired up."

Mitzi Norton, one of co-founders of Indivisible Brookfield, lives on the same block as Bartl and recruited her.

Norton has been a whirlwind during the campaign, working hard for months. In addition to writing more than 400 postcards and recruiting others to do so, she has been phone banking both for Democratic congressional candidate Marie Newman and for other candidates. 

Last week she was calling voters in a northeast Wisconsin congressional district trying to oust a Republican incumbent as well as making calls for Newman.

Norton and other Indivisible activists often phone bank together via Zoom. They keep their computers on mute, but can see each other making calls and can chat or message between calls. 

"It actually really helps," Norton said. "I call it the Zumba of election work, or the Zumba of activism. Like any group fitness class, you push yourself that much harder when you're doing it with other people."

There is one silver lining in the pandemic for political types. Many people have more time on their hands and are bored and looking for something to do. 

"The blessing in this pandemic time is that people are home and some have greater availability to do stuff where there looking for something new and unique just to kind of keep busy," Norton said. 

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