Grassroots organizations garner results in election

Written By Nardos Haile

On Saturday, Nov. 7, Democratic Party Nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden was projected the winner of the 2020 Presidential Election. President-Elect Biden’s upset hinged on the sole efforts of many grassroots political organizations and mobilization by activists all across the nation specifically in key battleground states like Pennsylvania.

Drue Glaser, a recent Point Park graduate who majored in interdisciplinary studies was a fellow for Point Park’s chapter of NextGen America for the spring 2020 semester. Glaser worked as an in-person organizer on campus and an online organizer after the coronavirus pandemic made it unsafe to meet potential voters in person.

“Before [the pandemic], we were able to show up. It’s really hard to ignore an organizer when they’re right in your face, you’ve got that human connection, you’ve got that level of empathy there and you’re able to use rhetoric in a way that engages people face to face,” Glaser said.

Coronavirus moved all organizing for NextGen America essentially online. The political action committee mobilized through technology and the use of phone banking, text banking and online events. 

“We were hosting senators, councilwomen, council people. We were hosting leaders of different nonprofits, different NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and we were getting everyone that we knew to invite their friends to come to these events,” Glaser said. “If it was just us on the ground, it would be really difficult to get really important and influential people speaking with young voters. The plus to digital organizing was the ability to talk to people who you wouldn’t be able to talk to in person on the day to day.”

Online mobilization focused on educating and registering young voters and also specifically hammering the agenda for mail-in ballots. Early voting statistics by Tufts College showed that a week before the election, 7 million young voters from the ages 18-24 had already voted with 226,900 of those votes coming from Pennsylvania. Overall, mail-in voting in 2020 outnumbered the total turnout in the 2016 general election.

“You get on the conference call on a Monday morning with the state of Pennsylvania and the majority of what we talked about was mail-in ballots. We were talking about the legitimacy of it, how it works, the different court cases that were affecting it, we’re talking about education around it, the different factors that bar people from it, we’re talking about the PostMaster General upending it almost and access to it,” Glaser said. 

Alexis Bonifate, a sophomore political science major and a Point Park campus ambassador for Back to Blue Pennsylvania, was one of the many organizers that planned events that pushed for early voting.

“All of October I spent time, every single week organizing activities. I organized a few walks to the polls events for early voting. I probably did it for 10 to 12 hours a week,” Bonifate said.

Hana Koob, a field organizer for NextGen specifically assigned to the University of Pittsburgh, said before her position at NextGen she was fairly new to the field and she compared the different make-up of this year’s election to 2016’s.

“I had never done a GOTV, which is Get Out the Vote which is the final stage of the election and usually that consists really long days of door-knocking and making sure everybody is committed and equipt to get out the vote but however this year with everything being virtual it was a bit different,” Koob said. “We were working 12 hour days on our computers, so a lot of it was tainted by the fact that we literally sat on our computer for 12 hours straight for multiple days in a row.”

But it wasn’t just grassroots organizers like Koob, Glaser and Bonifate that contributed to the sheer willpower behind Democratic voters in PA this election cycle. Issues such as coronavirus and police brutality played a monumental role in the large increase of minority voters in this election cycle. According to exit polls, about 72 percent of nonwhite voters voted for Biden, with 80 percent of Black men and 91 percent of Black women propelling Biden to win states like PA.

“We have to recognize the power of the Black activists in Pittsburgh and everything they have done. They marched every single day this summer, unrelenting and not just Downtown not just in urban areas, they went everywhere,” Glaser said. “They were talking to people in rural areas, in the suburbs, in the Downtown area. They got everyone’s eyes on them and I think that obviously the marginalized communities were hit harder and in a city that’s segregated as Pittsburgh, I think that really it really hit home with people.” 

In states like Georgia, former GA state representative Stacey Abrams registered 800,000 voters with her organization Fair Fight Action after she lost her bid for governorship after widespread voter suppression in the state. Abrams’s work solidified the state as a battleground region for the election. The same mobilization had widespread effects in each swing state across the country.

“We couldn’t have won this election without Black women. Black women are the people in Pittsburgh—it is the most dangerous place for a Black woman to live, a Black transgender woman to live and they are continuously saving our tails,” Glaser said. 

Organizers said PA flipping back to a blue state was a collective effort on the political organizations, Black activists and the Democratic Party.

“Joe Biden’s lead is a little over 45,000 votes, Trump won a little under 45,000 votes in 2016 in PA. It’s a pretty narrow margin. It definitely was a team effort. We couldn’t have done it without the help of our volunteers calling into PA. We couldn’t have done it without so many Black activists activating Black communities,” Koob said.

Moreover, Koob recognizes that the Democratic Party has had a difficult past trying to appeal and pander to nonwhite voters. Ultimately, the high turnout in the Black community in major cities like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit and Atlanta propelled Biden into victory. 

“Those voting blocs are responsible for his election. I think it’s really important that the Democratic Party works to improve the livelihoods of the people who belong to those communities,” Koob said.