31st Street Swing Left: Grassroots in Action

November 17, 2019

If anyone is the embodiment of the New Face of Democracy, it’s Lisa Herrick of 31st Street Swing Left. A clinical psychologist with no political experience whatsoever, she channeled her despondency after the 2016 election into creating and running a group of like-minded people from all walks of life who share a common goal -- supporting Democratic candidates for office to flip red districts to blue. The video speaks for itself, and Lisa speaks powerfully.

Lisa has used skills honed in her career as a clinical psychologist and applied them to a completely unrelated enterprise, running a group of over 450 members that canvasses, organizes and fundraises in order to swing districts from Republican to Democrat. Other members use their own professional skills to analyze data, fundraise, organize weekly canvass trips and train new members. Sure, their organizational skills are formidable and their dedication is palpable, but not a single one of them was involved in politics before 2016. The bottom line is you don’t need to be a political insider to move the political needle. Anyone can do this.

Fast facts on 31st Swing Left:

  • They’re a Washington, DC-based chapter of the national Swing Left organization, formed shortly after Trump’s election and focused on swinging congressional districts from Republican to Democrat. Swing Left now also works on state races and Senate elections. 31st Street is the most productive Swing Left chapter in the country. In 2018, they raised over $1,000,000, or almost 10% of the total raised by Swing Left nationwide. The second-most productive chapter raised just $50,000.
  • The members of the fledgling group cut their teeth in the 2017 Virginia state elections, where Democrats were a minority in both state houses. Prevailing opinion at the time was that that the grassroots groups might be able to flip five or six seats. But to the amazement of all, 15 seats flipped, just short of a majority. They finished the job in 2019 by flipping both state houses and creating a Democratic trifecta (where the governorship and legislature are under the same party control).
  • They have created their own fundraising and canvassing tool kits and videos that are available for anyone to use.
  • 31st Street Swing Left is data driven. They choose candidates by analyzing the polls, meeting the candidate (usually by Skype), and learning about the campaign. They focus on “sweet spot” races, where the candidate isn’t doing SO well that the money won’t have an impact, or where they have no shot of winning (because there aren’t enough Democrats in the district, or it’s not a strong campaign). The sweet spot races are those where the candidate CAN win IF given support. Their dynamic methodology allows them to continue to track the races and shift their aim to direct money to those who need it most.
  • Canvassing is rewarding if you approach it as a conversation and you listen to people’s concerns.
  • Fundraising is easy, and the more you practice, the better you get. You can go the traditional route and host an event at your home. Ask a candidate to Skype in and guests can ask questions. Or send an email to 25 friends, tell them who you support, what data drove you to that decision (or rely on 31st Street’s data), and include a link to donate.  Or get creative. 31st Street members get people to pledge to donate $5 per door knocked and it’s not unheard of to raise $1,000 per weekend.
  • The biggest challenge: staying positive in the face of endless bad news and discouraging events. But Lisa stays positive for the group and the group stays positive together.

What can you do? First, watch the video to learn more about how a bunch of political neophytes are changing the face of our democracy. Then share the video with ten friends to help spread the word. Finally, join 31st Street Swing Left or a local Swing Left group in your area.

To learn more about 31st Street Swing Left, go too www.31ststreet.org.

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