Volunteer Profile - Doug: Sister District's Focus on State Legislatures

What inspired you to get involved?


I thought I was just going to be watching President Hillary Clinton battle with a grumpy Republican Congress while I watched baseball and just kind of waited for the next development. But instead we had a genuine international crisis. 


When did you first hear about Sister District? 


Right after the election. I wrote to a friend: “What are you working on?” And he sent me a link and said, “Well, here's this new organization Sister District.”  So I went online and signed up.  The first meeting I attended was about a year ago.


What’s Sister District’s goal?


We want to rectify the state legislatures in purple states or states where the Democrats hold a slim advantage— particularly the states like Pennsylvania, where you have a majority of Democratic voters, but gerrymandering has left their state legislatures and their congressional representation all out of scale. We'd like to see some gubernatorial races go back the way they should have gone in the last decade or so, because often governors have a real kind of veto power over legislative action maps and voter rights. 


What are the meetings like?


I've seen Sister District do a really good job of dividing geographically into hub neighborhood groups so that people can just walk from home to their monthly meetings. We have new members every time. So it's those people who are the most important—you want to make sure they get a good welcome, they get their questions answered, and they know that they are in the right place.


What actions does Sister District focus on?


A quarter of it is phone banking, a quarter is postcard writing to specific races and special elections, and a quarter is fundraising. And then, in kind of a burst of activity each fall, there'll be actual Get Out The Vote.


How does the postcard writing work?


Essentially you write a postcard to a registered Democrat in a state district. For example, somebody in a district in Texas that has a good chance of going Democrat. So you just write and say: “I'm really hoping that you're going to exercise your right to vote on Tuesday, April whatever. By all means carpool with a few other like-minded people. And then let's improve the Texas state legislature. Best wishes, Doug.”


What about psychological barriers in terms of people being hesitant to get involved?


I'd say there's plenty of room for the reluctant to change the politics of the country without marching down Market Street or spending their money to fly to Washington, D. C.  You find a Sister District chapter anywhere out there. There's always something for someone to do, and you can gravitate toward that thing that you're most comfortable doing.


Do you have any stories  about the effectiveness of what you're doing?


I think the big answer to that comes straight out of the campaigns themselves. They're very grateful for phone banking done by a support group. That frees up their very tiny volunteer staff of college students or local folks to do the things that they and only they can do. There's a whole metric out there about how phone banking causes a five percent jump in turn out, and as we saw in Virginia, one vote can make a difference.


So how does work at the state level affect the national Congressional races?


The term is called nested or up ticket.  If you work hard at the state legislative level, then the voters are very likely to vote for the Congressional candidate that you would probably have steered them toward. Same with the races for Senator, State Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor.


Where does Sister District fit in to the overall resistance movement?


I think there's a triangle of effort that's going on in the resistance right now. And it's just like that old unit they taught us in elementary school about fire prevention. The three sides of the fire triangle are fuel, oxygen, and heat. In the American political landscape right now we need the heat—and that's groups like Indivisible that are holding the rallies and attending the town halls and showing up at legislators’ offices. We need the fuel—and that's people working on the national level, the Congressional level, the work that people like Flippable and Swing Left are doing. And then I'd say Sister District and other organizations are that third side of the triangle, the oxygen—taking care of things at the state level. Because the state level is where voter suppression has happened in huge numbers. It's where gerrymandering has ruined the rights of the electorate of that state, and all that needs to change. So I'd say that if you can keep that little triangle in your head, you will understand that you can't just go out and vote for president once every four years and then wonder why things have kind of fallen apart. 


Learn about volunteering opportunities with Sister District in San Francisco.


Profile picture for user Haney Armstrong
Haney Armstrong , Mar 11 2018 - 5:39pm
Thanks Doug, for all your work and for taking the time to do the interview.