Gretchen's List: April 2020, Democracy in a Time of COVID

Dear Friends,

First, I hope that you all are healthy and safe at this moment.

My family and I began social distancing over two weeks ago, and I have gone through so many turbulent emotions in that time: anger and despondency, anxiety and weariness, fear and very fleeting hope. I am not an optimist about this moment. I do not think it will help us heal our planet, or bring us productively closer as families, or prompt us all to revisit those things which are most important, or lead our children to remember this as "the best part of their childhoods" (source: various memes that claim profundity but make me want to scream). This is a health crisis that will physically weaken us and bring us grief; it is an economic crisis that will endure for a decade; it is a political crisis that will threaten the very core of our democracy. We have a great deal of work to do, and many Americans are largely unable to do it, either because they are currently overburdened with work and parenting in strange times, or because their financial futures are tenuous and grim, or because the strain of the moment taxes our collective mental health and capacity.

Yet, I started writing this newsletter -- could it be only a month ago? -- to give people very tangible things to do with their money and energy to advance our democracy this year. And even as we feel penned in (literally, and in all other ways), our democracy needs our attention. I am sending these resources so that, if you're up to it, you might be able to break off some part of this project to tackle as you're able.

Responding to COVID-19

I am still formulating how to respond to this immediate crisis, but here are my thoughts so far.

Call your Congressional representative (especially if you are in a moderate or swing Democratic district) and tell them that you support the House stimulus plan. (If you're in San Francisco, you can also call the Speaker, but she's busy and it's her plan.) The Senate stimulus is up in the air, and the Republican majority dwindles as more Senators are in isolation. Speaker Pelosi would not put forth a bill that her Democratic members in swing districts could not vote for, but they need to know that they have their constituents' support. I think the bill is very strong: it includes cash, a dramatic and meaningful expansion of unemployment support (and furloughs instead of layoffs), help for hospitals and schools, paid sick leave, food assistance, green airline infrastructure mandates, funding for mail-in voting (more on how important this component is below!) and more. It is a good package. It needs to not be watered down, and it needs to pass quickly. I have spoken with two Congresswomen in swing districts this week and reiterated my support (for them and the bill), but they need to hear from the people they are representing. This is our opportunity to build a meaningful safety net in a time of crisis. It is imperative that we take it.

Now, as far as giving:

  • Support your frontline. My husband is on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, which supports Zuckerberg San Francisco General. We have made a major gift to the hospital foundation towards personal protective equipment for providers, additional nursing hires, and other pandemic response needs. As a public hospital and the only Level 1 Trauma Center for San Francisco, we believe ZSFG will be the absolute frontline in emergency services.

  • Support the nonprofits that you already support. Nonprofits are already feeling the strain of lost income, canceled fundraisers, and potential layoffs. If you can continue to give to the organizations to which you usually give, make your gift now -- don't wait for the annual campaigns at the end of the year. This includes organizations that might be directly involved in the crisis (e.g., food banks, health clinics, housing programs), and those that aren't. If you want your favorite nonprofit organization to still exist after this passes, they need your support now. For any organizations for which I had made a multi-year pledge, I decided to pay off the total amount of the pledge now.

  • Support your local abortion fund. Who is surprised that Republicans are finding ways to restrict abortion access in the middle of the pandemic? Literally no one. Clinics are fighting battles to stay open in Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, and certainly more to come. Abortion is essential medical care, and cannot be postponed. Abortion funds will be strained as they support patients needing to travel further, or to pay for more expensive procedures due to delays in access. This is a situation where a comparably small gift goes a very long way. Find your local fund and contribute. (And if you have questions about what funds to support, please let me know.)

  • Support your local economy. I'm very worried that when we all burst out of our homes in many months, we will find our favorite restaurants closed, our local bookstores shuttered, our favorite organizations gone. We've been ordering takeout from local restaurants and books from local bookstores (San Franciscans, both Books Inc. and Green Apple Books will deliver!). My friend Kaitlyn, along with her husband, made SaveOurFaves.org to make it very easy for those of us in SF to purchase gift cards from many local restaurants. (The thoughts on the benefits of gift cards are mixed, but essentially they can help "flatten the curve" of economic losses, to borrow a phrase with which we are now all intimately familiar.)

Protecting our Democracy

When Donald Trump was inaugurated, I put a sign in my front window. It is the companion sign to the ubiquitous "Keep Calm and Carry On" signs, also produced by the UK Ministry of Information during The Blitz, and reads: "Freedom Is in Peril, Defend it with All Your Might." The sign is very faded and crinkled after three years, and I will not take it down while Trump is in The White House. Especially not now. Your "might" might vary right now, but whatever might you have, please know our democracy needs it.

Trump has no respect for our Constitution and Senate Republicans are led by a traitor to this country. Several states have had to postpone their primaries due to coronavirus (in decisions that I do not remotely envy them having to make). We must ensure that we have fair and timely elections in November.

These are the organizations that I will be supporting to ensure that happens:

  • Brennan Center for Justice. I love the Brennan Center am very proud to support them, never more so than now with their comprehensive plan for protecting the 2020 vote. It includes modifying voter registrations and polling places, expanding early voting, providing universal vote-by-mail options, and communicating around laws and emergency rules in every jurisdiction.

  • National Vote at Home Institute. I am been looking forward to my 2020 Election Day "I voted!" selfie for approximately 1,231 days. I love going to the polling place and filling out my ballot with my children. I now plan to take that selfie at the mailbox. We must vote by mail, and early. Scaling to universal voting by mail requires immediate work. Read their plan for scaling.

  • Fair Fight. Look, if you're going into a fight, you want to have Stacey Abrams in your corner. Voter suppression, foreign interference, once-in-a-century public health crisis: supporting Fair Fight is always a good idea, no matter what you're worried will keep people from the ballot.

  • Verified Voting. If you hear anyone breathe a word about internet voting in response to this crisis, go give money to Verified Voting. Online voting is fundamentally corruptible and insecure. It cannot happen.

Additionally, if you are a regular donor to political candidates: give to them now, without them asking, without them spending hours on call time, without waiting for an in-person event, without their campaign scrambling to figure out how to do a virtual event. Just go give to them now, so they can focus on serving their communities at this time. Here are my favorite candidates right now. Let me know if I can help facilitate any introductions or help you find a race to be excited about, so that candidates can focus on serving, running, and governing.

Electing Medical and Public Health Professionals

My parents and grandparents live in Montgomery Country, Pennsylvania, and while I anxiety-scroll through my Twitter feed late at night worrying about them, I take some solace in the fact that Dr. Val Arkoosh, as county commissioner, was on top of social distancing before it was cool. She has done her part to keep my family and my hometown that much safer for the moment. (Sidenote: there will be no shortage of Democrats running against Senator Pat Toomey in 2022, including several women, but Val has currently earned my support if she decides to run, which I believe she will.) I believe that having experts of every kind makes our government more functional and our public policies more sound, and that we would be better served in this moment if we had more doctors, nurses, and public health professional in office. (Look, I know Rand Paul is the exception that proves the rule, but there's no accounting for libertarians.)

Here are the candidates we need:

  • Dr. Barbara Bollier, MD (US Senate, KS). Barbara's fellow anesthesiologists will be on the absolute frontline of this crisis as they hold the primary responsibility for intubating our country's sickest patients. She understands the risk and level of commitment being asked of her former colleagues, and she will know how to protect the health and well-being of all Americans. Send her to the United States Senate.

  • Dr. Hiral Tiperneni, MD (US House, AZ-6). A former ER physician, Hiral intimately understand how to respond to medical crises, and as a cancer researcher she understands the need to address healthcare in an enduring, systematic way.

  • Dr. Kim Schrier, MD (US House, WA-8). Kim is the only woman physician currently serving in Congress. As a pediatrician, she deciding to run for office after the former representative voted against the Affordable Care Act. Kim recently held a Q&A session on Facebook Live to answer kids' questions about COVID-19.

  • Lauren Underwood, MSN, MPH (US House, IL-14). Lauren is a nurse and public health scholar who worked in President Obama's Department of Health and Human Services. She is an absolute badass, in one of the toughest reelections in the country.

  • Donna Shalala, PhD (US House, FL-27). Donna (whose name I will never, ever forget because it was the answer to an extra credit question on a 10th grade health class quiz) is not a medical provider, but did serve as President Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human Services. Given her past role, she has an unparalleled understanding of healthcare administration in the US, and the role of the federal government in marshaling resources and services towards public health.

I started to put together a slate of these women, only to find that Stacy and her fantastic team at WomenCount were one step ahead of me. You can support all the women listed above (plus Katie Porter (CA-45), who has pushed to ensure that the cost of coronavirus testing will be covered for Americans who need it) here.

Stay at home. Wash your hands. Be kind to one another. Stay vigilant. Stay well.

My best,
Gretchen

P.S. My event for Dan Feehan (MN-1) has turned into a virtual event on March 26th at 4:30pm PT. Dan is a wonderful candidate, and I love to have you join the call. And if you have any Harry Potter fans in your household that need entertaining these days, Dan's been reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to his kids and mine on Facebook Live this week. (You know he has to be a great candidate if I'm plugging him here despite him being a man.) Let me know if you'd like to join the Zoom event on the 26th.


Donor, sociologist, obsessive researcher. Board member at WDN Action and Emerge America, and steering committee member at Electing Women Bay Area -- but all content here is mine alone and not on behalf of any organization. My goals are to help others find their networks and feel more comfortable and informed participating in the political giving space.