I’m posting this on behalf of the author, Uyen “Winn” Khuong, Executive Director for Action Together New Jersey (ATNJ). While no one person can claim all the credit for the recent “Blue Wave” that we saw at the last election, Winn’s leadership and tireless dedication is arguably at the top of the list of those who made this possible. (Featured image: Congressman-Elect Andy Kim with Winn at his recent victory celebration).
The 2018 election season saw an unprecedented level of engagement by individuals and organizations from grassroots to long-established organizations. There is broad consensus that this activity is significantly responsible for the New Jersey share of flipping the U.S. House of Representatives by contributing four new Democrats to the state delegation. In the wake of these results there has been a predictable amount of self congratulatory statements about the responsibility of the results. It will take months to discern some of the causes and motivators for the outcomes, but realistically hard claims will never be possible because there were countless contributors across the state working different and overlapping parts of the problem.
On December 9th, NJ.com ran an Opinion piece that attempted to attribute single-handed direct responsibility for the return rates of Vote by Mail ballots across the state and the corresponding results for Sen. Menendez and two of the congressional candidates. Discrediting this telling of events cannot be strong enough as this version does great harm to all the efforts by the countless New Jerseyans: there is no denying a cooperative responsibility with all who worked tirelessly to bring the outcome we all saw.
The Opinion piece gave credit “to the one individual who is quite possibly responsible for New Jersey’s blue wave, the person who single-handedly did more to send two additional Democrats to the House of Representatives (and perhaps two others), and for helping U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez retain his seat: South Jersey Democratic political leader George Norcross.”
So what did happen with the Vote by Mail effort and who gets credit? Let’s be clear: no one single person gets the credit and everybody who worked for it deserves the credit.
Anyone involved in local or state politics has seen an explosion of grassroots groups since the November 2016 elections and overwhelmingly led by women. As a background, activists gathered online and “met” on social media but quickly organized on-the-ground. This proliferation of grassroots activists was in direct response to all the damaging legislation coming out of Washington DC to take away our healthcare, to blow up the deficit at the expense of the working class and shouldering the debt to our children while fattening the wealth of the uber-rich, and harming many vulnerable communities from the complicit GOP that has since resulted in a rise of anti-Semitism and anti-immigrants (to name just two) coupled with the rise of Nationalism. Additionally in New Jersey, newly engaged activists wanted to do something to not only defend the pillars of democracy, but also to makes changes in the Democratic party that would result in transparency and increased engagement leading to a more robust organization.
ATNJ and the groups who joined the Post it Posse initiative to educate infrequent voters on the option of voting by mail reached 300,000 voters. While I can only speak authoritatively about ATNJ’s efforts, other organizations like Swingleft and the Voter Information Project were engaged in Vote by Mail initiatives at a state wide and/or congressional district level.
So who gets the credit? We certainly learned about the success of VBM in Camden County looking at the voter turnout rate and Mr. Norcross’s operation should be detailed so we can all learn from his successful outreach methods. But the credit is also due to thousands of everyday New Jerseyans who pitched in so while we can credit Mr. Norcross’s efforts, we can also say “and also the thousands of volunteers” who helped to educate Vote By Mail. We are stronger together.
Volunteers such as Dan Janowski, who wanted to apply his experience and skill set to help and single-handedly built the voter database necessary to execute the GOTV efforts. The complexity to build a voter database meant that Dan quit his job in order to volunteer full time in this effort resulting in a robust database that we can use for all future elections.
Volunteers such as Tom Spadero, who is paralyzed from the neck down due to a gunshot to the back of his head when he was 11. Tom has worked with politicians for years on both sides of the aisle to secure services for the disabled. This is the first time he is backing a candidate due to how he has been treated by MacArthur. His friend Chuck wanted to help with the Post it Posse but his writing is illegible. So Chuck did postcards instead, sitting for 4 hours putting labels and stamps on.
How about our youngest duo, the Mini Sister Resisters in Bergen county, ages 4 and 6, who did postcards to female Democrats and were instrumental in our Post it Posse VBM initiative?
Read and be inspired by Sue, who wrote Post it notes and sent VBM applications to voters while recovering from surgery., “I am having hip replacement and not working again until early Oct, and it’s a perfect time to do them. My husband and dear friend will be doing this with me during my recovery. The Post-It work is perfect & keeps me in the resistance. My husband really likes this too because he is too shy to canvass or make calls & my dear friend with whom we are staying is glad to do this too.”
There are thousands of volunteers who get credit including those out of state who volunteered from CA, NY, CT, MA, MD, IL, OK, FL, GA, PA, DE, and Americans living abroad in Zurich and Paris. There are leaders from Democratic municipal committees and clubs who stepped up and took a list of names of entire towns to reach such as Glen Rock, Tinton Falls, the Chathams, Chesterfield, and so many others. So many people worked together to reach 298,807 total statewide infrequent Democratic voters. And all done with 100% volunteer effort and small donor donations, including our GoFundMe which raised money to pay for a tiny portion of stamps. This equated to donations of supplies totalling approximately $375,000, all going to educate the voter on the convenient option of Vote By Mail. NONE of this was paid or bought by any campaign or any big money wealthy donors. ALL of it led and largely executed by women.
This was not an “insider” strategy and execution. Far from it: it was from the ground up from New Jerseyans like nurses, teachers, retirees, caregivers, and parents. We never made any Power Insider 100 lists because we are outsiders, relatively new to the political scene but packing an extensive network of people who are not in it for power or prestige. Perhaps including credit to all the thousands of volunteers who were instrumental in this effort will present the reader with one inescapable conclusion: that any one person, regardless of wealth or connection or otherwise, can make a difference. And we did.
Uyen Khuong – Execitive Director, Action Together New Jersey