Gretchen's List: May 2020

Dear Friends,

Well, that was... a month, for sure. Let's do it all again, shall we? But this time, with more masks. (And with this event! Details are below, but I'm plugging it here in case you don't get that far).

If you go back about 10 years to March 2020, and then 10 more to the spring of 2010, you'd find me in graduate school teaching a college course on the "Sociology of Health and Illness." I loved teaching this class, and always assigned Susan Sontag's essay "Illness as Metaphor":

Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.

I asked my students what it meant that Sontag opened an essay arguing against illness as metaphor with her own extended metaphor, and I suppose the answer is that, 10 years later, that is the bit of the essay that remains the most salient. I have been thinking about this passage, particularly as all of us, including those that are well, inhabit the kingdom of the sick in a way that Sontag likely didn't envision. But then again, perhaps she did; "Disease as Political Metaphor" was published a month later:

Illness as a metaphor for political disorder is one of the oldest notions of political philosophy. If it is plausible to compare the polis to an organism, then it is plausible to compare civil disorder to an illness. And the classical formulations which analogize a political disorder to an illness—from Plato to, say, Hobbes—presuppose the classical medical (and political) idea of balance. Illness comes from imbalance. Treatment is aimed at restoring the right balance—in political terms, the right hierarchy. The prognosis is always, in principle, optimistic. Society never, by definition, catches a fatal disease.

COVID is not a metaphor -- and to present it as such is to diminish its non-rhetorical toll on so many -- but, like all epidemics, in relationship to the body politic, it reveals starkly the underlying disorder, polarization, imbalance. As a collective, we are only as resilient against COVID as our leaders (elected and otherwise) prepare us to be, yet the pandemic strains our ability (as voters, as donors) to achieve the governance that we need at times like this. Regarding both I remain, in principle, optimistic.

May Question: Um, what do we do if we just aren't that excited about Biden?

Girl, I get it. I'm not going to give you a pep talk about Joe Biden. I, too, am not really excited about Joe Biden!

Here's what I am excited about:

  • His running mate. Biden has affirmed that he will pick a woman to be his running mate, and I'm hopeful it will be Stacy Abrams. Abrams is a pragmatic leader who will galvanize progressives and communities of color (making her the right candidate), and one of the smartest, most collaborative, instinctively political leaders I've ever met (making her the right Vice President). I know some are hopeful it will be Elizabeth Warren, and while I'd be thrilled to have her on the ticket, 1) I think she'd hold more power in the Senate, 2) I'd like someone younger than 70+ on the ticket during a pandemic. (For what it's worth, I asked Gretchen Whitmer in early March how she'd feel about the job, and she said "I think it should be Stacey, but if having my name on the ticket is the only way to beat Trump, I will have that conversation." So my #GretchensForGretchen PAC might have to wait another few cycles.)

  • Someone being President who is not Donald Trump. This guy is the worst, but you already knew that. Biden will not be the worst!

  • The possibility of keeping the House and winning the Senate and The White House. Biden will be fine, but we can get real progress made on issues if we can control both houses of Congress. Biden being on top of the ticket actually makes it more likely that we can retake the Senate.

Race to Watch: Christy Smith for Congress (CA-25)

There is an election on May 12th! This is a special election to fill the seat vacated by Congresswoman Katie Hill's resignation. So many of us were proud to contribute to Katie's campaign, and crushed that her time in Congress ended the way it did. (Check out Katie's next endeavor to support electing young women to office here.) But Katie proved that a brilliant Democratic woman could win in this traditionally Republican district. Christy is a member of the California state assembly, a former school board member, and a mother of two. She is endorsed by literally everyone, and her opponent is a hyperconservative. Special elections are always a bellwether, and as the first House seat to be filled since coronavirus hit, everyone will be looking to see how it impacts turnout and commitment to a candidate. This race has the potential to shape the political narrative, so it's all the more important that we win -- and small contributions can go a long way to helping Christy campaign in these strange times. As always, you can give to Christy (and all the other women candidates that I'm proud to support) here.

Movement Building: Focusing on Multiple Opportunity States

Remember when Obama was President and (mostly) everything was better than it is now? And so we forgot to pay attention to the state legislatures? During Obama's tenure, Democrats lost 816 state legislator seats, thirteen governorships, and chamber control in fourteen states. It was a disaster.

Because our democracy is deeply flawed (see: gerrymandering, voter suppression, electoral college, etc.), certain states have an outsized impact on national elections -- and this is especially true as we look ahead to 2021 redistricting. Forward Majority has done an excellent deep-dive identifying the state legislatures to focus on to restore Democratic power on a national level: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. Several of these states also present multiple opportunities to not only gain state legislative control, but to gain Electoral College votes, pick up US Senate seats, protect and pick up US House Seats, and influence redistricting. Here are my thoughts on the opportunities in each state, and where to give to build power that will give the best possible chance of winning back state legislatures and taking advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible (largely informed by Way to Win and their data-backed theory of change). As with all grassroots organizing, any level of giving can go a long way.

Arizona Opportunities: Win Electoral College; Gain US Senate seat; Gain one US House seat (Hiral Tiperneni); Defend one US House seat (Ann Kirkpatrick); Win State House. Organization: Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) & Ganamos PAC

Florida Opportunities: Win Electoral College; Gain two US House seats; Defend two US House seats (Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala); Win State Senate; Gain ground in State House. Organization: New Florida Majority & New Florida Vision PAC

North Carolina Opportunities: Win Electoral College; Defend Governor's seat; Gain US Senate Seat; Gain one US House seat (Cynthia Wallace); Win State House and Senate. Organization: Advance Carolina

Texas Opportunities: Gain US Senate seat (MJ Hegar); Defend two US House seats (including Lizzie Fletcher); Gain six (!) Us House seats (including Wendy Davis and Gina Ortiz Jones); Win State House; Gain ground in State Senate. Organizations: Texas Organization Project (TOP) & TOP PAC; Annie's List I would also be remiss not to plug the Sister District Project, which does outstanding work across the country getting Democrats elected to State Houses. (And many thanks to my friend and mentor Andrea Dew Steele for sharing details on Forward Majority's priority states. Go check out Andrea's recent Medium piece on effective political giving.)

May Virtual Events

May 19, 5pm PT: This one is going to be really fun! Join me for an evening with Barbara Bollier for Kansas and Theresa Greenfield for Iowa. We will also be joined by Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen, who will discuss the importance of flipping the Senate this cycle and the particular winnability of these two races. I am so excited about both of these women who are running, and I'm excited to introduce them to many of you. Please contribute and register here.

Emerge #LeadersMatter Salon Series. Emerge's annual fundraiser was canceled this year, so I hope you'll be able to join some of these truly excellent virtual events. The salon series is open for Emerge Leadership Circle members, but I am able to bring a guest to each one (just email me if you'd like to join).
April 30, 12pm PT: "What Happens When You Flip a State" with Virginia Delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy and Danica Roem. These Emerge Virginia alumnae will discuss what it took to change Virginia's House of Delegates from red to blue, and what they've been able to accomplish since gaining the majority (the ERA! gun control!). Register here.

May 5, 11am PT: "Public Safety Amidst a Public Health Crisis" with Congresswoman Lucy McBath (GA-06) and San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani, moderated by Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action. Congresswoman McBath is a political hero of mine; a true testament to using personal tragedy to galvanize a movement. I hope you'll be able to take this opportunity to hear her speak. Register here.

May 14, 1pm PT: "Election Protection" with Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. Secretaries of State are generally under-the-radar policymakers, but they play the fundamental role of ensuring their state has safe, secure, and fair elections -- an especial challenge as they navigate how to protect elections during a pandemic. Secretaries Griswold and Hobbs will share their plans looking ahead. Register here.

Future events in the works include "When Home Is Not Safe" with Suffolk Country District Attorney Rachael Rollins (on domestic violence and sheltering in place) and "Politics and Polls During the Pandemic" with strategists Celinda Lake and Donna Brazile. All upcoming events are listed here.
I hope you all are healthy and well. In the spirit of connectedness in this strange time, if you are a subscriber who I don't know personally, I'd love to hear from you about where you are and what types of content might be interesting and relevant for you.

My best,

P.S. Go buy some stamps.

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.