Welcome to Louisiana Lefty, a podcast about politics and community in Louisiana, where we make the case that the health of the state requires a strong progressive movement fueled by the critical work of organizing on the ground. Our goal is to democratize information, demystify party politics, and empower you to join the mission. Because victory for Louisiana requires you.
I'm your host, Lynda Woolard. On the final episode of season three, I speak with Liz Leger from Avoyelles Sleeves Up about organizing in rural parishes and small towns, whether for electoral politics or community engagement. We recorded the day following the leak of the Supreme Court draft threatening to overturn Roe v. Wade. So our conversation is framed by that bombshell. I'll also note that Liz is located in a remote part of the state, so our connection was occasionally unstable. Nevertheless, the content of the interview was important. Her team's organizing work in Central Louisiana is a great blueprint for how to put progress above partisan ends, how to build relationships in more conservative communities, and how to leverage the local media to accomplish big goals.
Liz Leger! Thank you so much for joining me on Louisiana Lefty today.
It's an honor.
Well, I always start the podcast with how I know my guest. And I want to say that I think we met at a training with the Louisiana Democratic Party. Did I make that up?
Absolutely, that's where we met. We met trainings when they taught us about VAN data and how to organize and how to work. They had a name for them: Power Up.
Power Up. That's right. Was that the one in Lafayette that we went to?
Yes, yes. I saw you at several and I met you at several but we really got to talking at the one in Lafayette.
Okay. Well, Liz, tell me your political origin story, what got you involved in politics in the first place?
I have to be honest with you, I worked in state government all my life. So you cannot be involved in politics if you work in state government. That's a well known fact. And after I retired, I wanted to work in my community and do things in my community. And I tried different things. But I'm not really a person who's very attached to this community, I should say, I have a lot of different values, different ideas, different type of education. So I hadn't spend a lot of time in my community. My husband had a business here, so everybody knew him. But the first thing I tried was a neighborhood watch. And I'll never forget, when we invited people to come in, everyone spoke to my husband but said, "Who is she who is that woman?" They'd never even seen me before, because I'd literally just slept here and worked all over the state. So I started doing different things in my community and connecting with people, but nothing political. I was I was a Democrat, I believe in democratic principles, and I believe in what the Democratic Party stands for. And then I had a very, I guess, life altering thing happened to me.
I was having a surgical procedure done at a large medical center in the United States. And someone accidentally overdosed me and I had a cardiac arrest. And that's pretty life altering. I was on a ventilator and very ill and very critical. And what nobody knew was that even though I was in an ICU for quite some time, I could see a television, and I understood what was on the television, and I saw Donald Trump come down the escalator, and saw everything going on in America and became very frightened. Well, nobody in my medical team realized that I had that level of comprehension, or that I could actually see this television or see what was happening. They thought I wasn't conscious enough. So when they removed the ventilator, they said that I had to talk to make sure that I had enough air in my lungs and no damage to the vocal cords. And I wouldn't speak. So one of my doctors who knows me very well said, "Something is terribly wrong with Liz, she never shuts up. If she's not going to talk, we have a problem." So every time they'd say talk, I would shake my head no, because it's very frightening to come off a ventilator. So finally I mustered up enough courage to say this and all the doctors fell on the floor and I said, "I have a very important question: Is Donald Trump really running for president?" And laughter broke out across the room and they said, "The girl is with us. She's here. She understands everything."
The frightening feelings I felt when I saw that man coming down the escalator made me know that I had to take a stand in my community. I saw what was going to happen to women, I saw what was going to happen. And so I started attending meetings and getting trainings from the Democratic Party. And then as you know, I got very involved a certain little campaign. And then I just became very active. I started an Indivisible chapter in Central Louisiana and led an Indivisible chapter. We did a lot of protests, we went to a lot of marches, we did a lot of organizing. And then along came the pandemic. And I took a totally different path with the pandemic, but it was still organizing and all the things I learned at Power Up, and all the things I learned, being a grassroots organizer with Indivisible. I could parlay those things and use those skills to do some incredible things in my community. And that's where I am today. So I'm from watching Mr. Trump come down an escalator while I'm on a ventilator to where I am today. It's all connected.
Well, and I was laughing at that I was trying not to laugh over you, though, so that people could hear you. But it's a funny story. And it's not funny. It's terrifying, right? I mean, where we've ended up has been quite the journey. So in 2017, when I was doing the statewide calls, the Resistance Leadership calls, we called them, which was a weekly table call where we had all the leaders of different groups that were doing all the actions at that point in time against the travel bans and the health care repeal and all of that, you were a regular. I don't think you ever missed a call every week that year.
No, I never missed a call. Because living in rural Louisiana, I had no one connect to. Lynda Woolard's calls were a lifeline to me, okay? They gave me direction, they gave me hope, they gave me ideas, because I literally live in the middle of a cow pasture. It's very hard to organize, it's very hard to meet women, it's very hard to meet other people. So the obstacles that we have as organizers in rural America are very different from the obstacles that you might find in other parts of America, or other parts of our own state. When you stopped the calls, I don't know if you remember my cry out for, "Oh, please don't stop," because I met incredible people on those calls. And I've connected with some of the most incredible women in this state through those calls. And I took their phone numbers down, and I took their names down, and I took their organization's down. And I started to connect with those women, and to meet those women, and to work with those women. So you know, it doesn't matter how we connect, it's connecting is what's important.
And I'm glad we've already mentioned that you're in a rural area. As we mentioned, on the video we did for Facebook, before we started recording, your connection to the Zoom may be a little off from time to time, as you said, there may be a cow in between you and the internet. Well, before we get into the work you've done on the pandemic, you mentioned you worked on a little campaign, you started with one CenLa campaign group, but that's kind of morphed. Each time there's been a new campaign, you've adjusted that group to kind of make that transition. So what did you start with? And then what has been the progress of that group?
The first campaign we worked on was the campaign for Governor John Bel Edwards. Okay. My group became very involved in that campaign. And we just decided one day, we'd go down to Alexandria and run the campaign headquarters. And so we did. We worked at campaign headquarters and made incredible connections, made 1000s of calls in phone banking, 1000s of texts, and we really began to organize there with the purpose of re-electing Governor Edwards. And at first, we weren't really interested in the campaign because we, you know, really feel that we were pro-choice folk, and that we didn't know how we felt about a pro-life candidate. And we sort of sat back on that election because we felt strongly about that issue, because women love to say, and people say, "Oh, it's just one issue." Well, that is a big obstacle that people don't understand that that's not just one issue. Okay. Women's rights are not just one issue. When a candidate says, "I'm pro-life," that's not just one issue. So we struggled with that campaign. And then we did what women always have to do, we always have to say, well, we have to pick the lesser of two evils here. So when we saw after, you know, a while who Governor Edwards' opponent was going to be, we knew we had to jump into that race, and we're glad we did because John Bel Edwards has been a wonderful governor. Thank God we had him during the pandemic. So we jumped very deeply into that race.
We also jumped into a sheriff's race. And we jumped into a district attorney's race, organizing and campaigning and doing a lot of the things we learned at our Power Up trainings. So we got into political campaigning, and I don't think we did bad, we won two out of three. So that wasn't bad. And then I became extremely involved in the Biden campaign. And as I think you know, how many hours I spent working in the Biden campaign through my Indivisible chapter, and worked very hard in that campaign. And it was an incredible, incredible feat. I just think that was a brilliant campaign, because we had to do it all over the internet. And I mean, if you didn't know what Zoom and Slack and ThruText were, you found out if you worked on that campaign.
Then at the same time, I worked very hard on the Warnock/Ossoff campaign. And because I live in a rural area where people either don't have a good internet connection, or they can't afford it, we started a huge postcard project where we had women in this rural part of the state writing hundreds and hundreds of postcards, for Ossoff/Warnock. We got really, really involved. We met women where they were and said, "Well, what can you do? Can you can you send texts? Can you make phone calls?" And we had women, we gave them choices. We call it the big things and the little things, you want to do a big thing, or you want to do a little thing? So we did a lot, a lot of postcardsfor Ossoff/Warnock and we were very proud of the work we did in those elections. So I guess you could say we did better than three out of five. Okay, we actually did four out of five, because we won those as well.
So we just kept working and kept working. And we saw the power of organizing, we saw the power of meeting people where they were. And we realized that even though we live under big oak trees in cow pastures, that we still have passion, and we still have the ability to organize, and we still have the ability to get work done. So once once you get one set of skills developed, you can develop other skills and you can connect people by their skill set. You know, we had an 82 year old woman come to John Bel campaign headquarters who'd never used a computer and one of my incredible trainers trained her to phone bank. I had two 84 year olds in my group here in my rural area, who didn't want to touch a computer but did hundreds of postcards. They loved it. They thought postcard parties were the highlight of their life every month. So finding people where their skills are and where you can reach them is very important. So even if you live under a big oak tree in a cow pasture like I do, and like many of the women I work with, there's still so much you can do. There's still so much you can do. It's out there.
So you were CenLA for John Bel Edwards?
CenLa for John Bel! We had a Facebook page, we stood up a Facebook page called CenLa for John Bel, and it worked like magic. We drew people into those headquarters to work from eight different parishes with that little Facebook page. Got the signs out. It was just incredible how well the Facebook page worked. And we you know, brought our own laptops, our own tablets, setup phone banking rooms, taught people how to text, taught people how to phone bank, you know, we ate cold pizza, we ate peanut butter, and we cleaned the bathrooms ourselves. But that's okay. That's okay. We did what we had to do. We did what we had to do to get that election. And we will we treasure those moments. We treasure those relationships. And I think what's great about when you do something, it gives you something to build on.
What did I learn by doing this? The first race we worked in was a race for Congress. I forgot about that race. Our congressman was a very far right candidate. And we went out on our own and found a candidate to run, and of course, we knew he couldn't win. So people came to me and said, "Why are you wasting your time?" and I'd say, "It's not a waste of time. By working in this campaign, my group's gonna learn how to work in a campaign." Okay, no matter what job you have, having experienced helps you. So we joined that campaign and worked really hard in that campaign to learn the skills to learn how to use the VAN data, to learn how to run phone banks, to learn how to hold organizational meetings. It's like anything, you know, you can't learn to ride a bike unless you practice. So the very first campaign we jumped into, we jumped into it strictly to learn to learn skills because none of us had ever worked at a campaign in our life. And we parlayed those skills into working for the governor in a big way. I like to say that our CenLA group had a big impact on that election because we made a lot of calls, did a lot of texts, we brought a lot of people into that little headquarters in downtown Alexandria. And they were from the rural parts of central Louisiana. They were all they were from rural areas. We had more women from rural areas who came to work at CenLa for John Bel than we did women from urban areas because Central Louisiana is mostly mostly rural.
Where in Cen LA are you?
I live in Avoyelles Parish. I don't really live in a town. I don't live in an incorporated area. I literally live under some big oak trees. In fact, yesterday, as I was leaving, I'm not making this up, I saw two cowboys rounding up the cattle and I had to take a picture right next to my house. Our county or parish seat is the town of Marksville. And so I live near that town. When people ask me where I'm from, it's a joke in my group, I've always been a big Saturday Night Live fan. And I've always been a big fan of the Coneheads. So the newspaper does a lot of articles on me. And they were doing one pretty big article on me recently on an award that I was awarded in the parish. And when they ask where I was from, because where you're from is a big thing in this parish, I always say I'm from a small town in France, like the Coneheads.
Tell me the award you just got.
I was voted Avoyellean of the Year, which is a big honor in Avoyelles Parish. So I am the 2021 Avoyellean of the Year.
Yeah, we think so. I don't feel it's my award, I feel it's the award of my team. And I'm so glad that the newspaper got the quote out there. It was a big surprise. And they really surprised me, they gave it to me out in the parking lot of our office. And I said, "This doesn't belong to me, it belongs to my team. They do all the hard work." So I feel that my organization is the Avoyellean of the Year and not me.
I love that. Did your organization, is the core of that organization, did that start with the Indivisibles, is that who stayed with you through most of this?
Well, my Indivisible core is people who live all over Central Louisiana and live sort of 30 to 40 miles from here. The core of the organization I have now I'm really proud of our women from this rural parish. Because of distance and because of pandemic, we had a group here of progressive women who worked on campaigns, who worked on all the campaigns I'm talking about. So I took that core group of progressive women, and I parlayed it into a nonprofit to work on the pandemic. And that's who we are.
Let's talk about that. Because you have morphed from the beginning as Indivisibles, and then CenLa for John Bel, and all the races you've worked on subsequently. And then when the pandemic hit, you decided you wanted to help vaccinate the population in your area. So tell me how that came about. And how did that happen?
There was no one to run, okay, the only thing we could run was the virus out of town. Okay, that was our campaign, like people would say, "Liz, what are you running for?" I'm running the virus out of my town. So we became very disheartened, because we were used to being active, we were used to seeing each other, used to always working on something. So we had a big article appeared in the newspaper that our vaccine rate was only 16%. Well, that was very upsetting to us. That's an extremely low vaccine rate. And people were dying in our communities, people were dying in our neighborhoods, dying in our towns, dying in our families. So we had a Zoom one night, because the pandemic was so bad, we couldn't be near each other. And our positivity rate was so high, our death rate was so high that the only way we couldn't eat was on Zoom.
So we very naively, you know, got in the car all mashed up and went to the regional public health offices and said, "We're a group of women who care about our community, who care about others. And we know the obstacles we're facing, and we have to raise our vaccine rate." And thank goodness, the director of our public health office in Central Louisiana is a wonderful individual who jumped in there with us to help us. But we still laugh about the first day that we went to see him, I feel sure that he said, "Oh, I hope I don't see those women again," because we were so passionate, and so we have to do something. So we just got to work, identifying what the obstacles were. And once we identified the obstacles, then we had to find ways to get around them.
So we looked at how vaccines were being given and we said, "That's not going to work in rural America, you're not going to be able to get on the internet and make an appointment." So we set up a hotline on the front page of the newspaper, and we had people call us and we would make your appointment for you. So we got a bunch of numbers, put it on the front page of the paper, and we started getting calls. But those calls were not to make appointments, they were to tell us the obstacles. So it was the most valuable thing we did. In small towns, newspapers are still powerful, because everybody wants to know who grew the biggest tomato, okay, who had the giant pumpkin, and whose kid won the baseball league this summer. So local newspapers are still very powerful in rural America. Thank goodness they are in this part of rural America.
So we began to form relationships with the newspaper, with the radio stations, the television station about 30 miles from here. We began to forge relationships, we began to discover what the obstacles were. And without knowing what the obstacles were it we could not possibly get around them. So once we, you know, had an idea of why people weren't getting vaccinated, we began to work to get around those obstacles. And they ran the gamut from lack of transportation to lack of internet, to lack of interest to fear, to everything you can imagine. So once we identified those obstacles, we got a game plan. And we started working and you know, masking and working and just working alongside the National Guard, giving shots, giving vaccines, and then we thought the best thing we could do is form a nonprofit.
So we stood up a nonprofit, and the name of it is Avoyelles Sleeves Up. The state program is called Sleeves Up. And the state program is called Bring Back Louisiana. We purposely didn't call it Sleeves Up Avoyelles. We purposely called it Avoyelles Sleeves Up. Because we didn't mean just roll up your sleeves to take a vaccine. We knew we wanted to be here to stay. We wanted to be a group that roll their sleeves up to work on anything that our community needed. So we named ourselves Avoyelles Sleeves Up. And we are a freestanding nonprofit. And we wrote a grant. And we're funded very nicely by the LDH with the grant. But we did a lot before we ever got a dime in our hand, just from donations. As a matter of fact that people oversee my grant call me the queen of donations and say, "We're gonna quit sending you money if you continue to everybody to get you things for free."
We started building a system, a system of community teams. We moved to every rural spot in the parish, every little, every little area under every tree we could find, or every bridge we could work near. And we formed teams of people and trained them and put tools in their hands to help us to get to educate people and get information to people about the vaccine. And we partnered with people who had medicine, we partnered with the local doctor here, who is very far from where we are on the political spectrum. But that didn't make any difference. We had a common need, we needed to save people's lives. So we started to set up events and actually get shots in arms. And today, we have 40 people on those community teams that work throughout the parish in an incredible infrastructure of community teams. We set up events where we actually go into the tiniest places that you can imagine to administer vaccines to people. And we raised our rate from 16%. And according to the CDC, we're over 55%. Now the state doesn't have that number. And we believe that we're over 55% we do from the data that we've collected.
From the data you've collected, you said from the CDC, not the state.
Right. And we think that's very valid data. Because we keep our own data and we see it at about 55% that's completely vaccinated. Right now we're boosting people. But the relationships we've made, the trust we've formed, you know, what we've done in this community, the footprint we have made as women who care about that community, as women who took action, as women who made differences, as women who change things. So we have our own offices now. We have an office in downtown Marksville. Okay, we have a website. And we've made a big footprint. We're very well known. We do a lot of television, we do a lot of radio, and we do a lot of newspaper. And choosing me to Avoyellean of the Year gave us even more attention, even though that award belongs to my entire team. It doesn't belong to me, so they know who we are.
We were smart enough not to put a sign in our window that said Avoyelles Sleeves Up Vaccines. So we call ourselves Avoyelles Sleeves Up Health Resources. And today, I just had to run out of a meeting just a few minutes ago, we've been meeting all day long, we're turning our focus to health disparities, because giving vaccines in rural America really opens your eyes to health disparities. So we're turning our focus to health disparities and addressing health disparities. And we're fortunate enough to have a lot of people across the state want to work with us noq. They want to work with us, they see what can be done in rural Louisiana, they see how it can be done. They see that, you know, we really set forth a model here for rural Louisiana vaccinations. So we held the first ever summit on vaccine acquisition in rural parishes in Louisiana here in Lawrenceville. And it was very successful, and we drew agencies and people from Lake Charles to Shreveport to our little conference. And so that was very beneficial to us.
Now we have so many partners that have a hard time counting them. So we're very excited about turning our focus from vaccines to health disparities. In fact, this morning, our team made the decision on the areas we're going to be covering in health disparities in rural parishes. And we're, you know, fleshing out a plan for that. And we're because, you know, it's getting harder and harder to vaccinate people, because we vaccinated a lot already, the virus has reached the vaccine, and we're just not real popular right now. But the relationships we've made, and the connections we've made, and the infrastructure we have in place, leaves us open to address many, many things in this parish. So we're gonna start with health disparities. I mean, you know, we were talking today about someone's sister in law has stage four cancer now, that started as breast cancer and now his spread. Well, you know, a little bit of questioning, she found out that the sister in law likely never had a mammogram. So the obstacles that we face in rural parish are not obstacles, we can't get around. But someone has to step up to the plate and address those obstacles. We don't have public transportation here. We have people who live 30 and 40 miles from a hospital. So you know, we all hope in America, that there's something that we can rally around and something we can come together on. That's what we have to find in America.
So here in my parish, we found that health, everybody wants to be healthy, okay, everybody wants good health. Everybody wants their kids to be healthy. But if you take it out of a political stance, and we did that, and that's what I'm the proudest of. I'm so proud that we learned to work political, but not partisan. That's what we learned. And it was hard at first, because it was like, "Gee, I don't know, you know, that guy could help us. But you know who he voted for." Well, all that had to wipe, because the most important thing was keeping people alive and keeping people from serious illness. My passion for my interest in the vaccine was that I'm a person who was kept alive on a ventilator, and I don't ever want anyone to be kept alive on a ventilator. You know, I'm asked all the time, "What drew you to this?" That's what drew me, okay?
I had the skills as a grassroots organizer that had done a lot of grassroots organizing. And we found that out to that getting shots in arms is grassroots organizing, okay? Medical people have their skills, and they have their abilities, and they have the things that they have to do to get the medical piece of this where it needs to be. But actually getting shots in arms is not a medical issue. And it's not a scientific issue. It's related and interconnected. But it's grassroots organizing. It's good old boots on the ground, grassroots organizing is what we use to increase our vaccine rate. Nothing else. There was no magic to it. It was just organizing, organizing, organizing, and making partners. One of my favorite partners here is the Burger King. Sometimes I embarrass my ladies, because they say," Liz does not know what not to ask for. She'll ask anybody for anything for free." So I went to the Burger King here and asked if they would give an ice cream cone to everyone who took a vaccine. No problem. We've given out literally thousands of ice cream cones to people who've had vaccines. So you know, that's what grassroots organizers do. We use what we have to do to draw people to the conclusion that we need to draw them to.
I had lots of corporate partners who give me all kinds of free things. I'm very fortunate to have an excellent partnership here with the Tunica Biloxi Native American Tribe. They have a large casino here and a large resort here. They have been overwhelmingly supportive of our vaccine efforts, overwhelming. Did we ever think they would? We had no idea, we didn't know till we asked. So we really try to use our diversity as a very, very good thing about our community. And that's where the strength of any community comes from. It comes from its diversity. So we honed in on that diversity. We have a Latino community here, we have Vietnamese here, we have Native Americans here. We made sure that we were inclusive in our grassroots efforts.
So we're tired, but we're proud and we're not stopping, we're gonna go right on. And it was a sad day in our office today, it was a very sad day for women in America today. So everybody got five minutes to cry. And then we had to take out our yellow pads and our paper, and we had to start addressing health disparities, because we know that access to birth control is likely to become a very serious issue for women. So that's what I'm making on my next t shirt is "You have five minutes to cry."
I love that. Well, and I love all of that story that you just shared. You mentioned to me before today even that rural organizing really has to be person to person, that people aren't on the internet, or they may not even have internet access. So they're not on social media, they don't get a lot of that information that we share that way. That also means to me that those people probably aren't on the radar of candidates or parties. So they're not being reached that way politically.
They're not reached at all. One of our proudest stories is a 91 and 90 year old couple that we vaccinated and we gave them their fourth shot Friday night. When other people are out having fun on Friday nights, we nerds are in small towns giving vaccines. And we had a wonderful function in a little town this Friday night, we had a fish fry. And we drew people in and we gave vaccines. And we're still drawing numbers that people can't believe, you know, just by doing simple things, but you're right, they're not reached, which is why every single person who got a shot from us, we have their name, how to contact them and their phone number. So we have a database of these people who have never been reached.
Now, we were very ambitious when we started and we decided we were gonna do voter registration while we had them at the vaccine event. Well, after we did our first vaccine event, we saw how busy vaccine events are and how we don't have time to register people to vote. We tried it and it was too busy. If you've never put on an event, done an event or been the organizer of a vaccine event, you might not understand that. But a lot of plates have to be in the air from the time that door opens to the time you give that first shot to that last shot. You're working with medical people, you're working with clerical people, you're working with community people. But we talked about that this morning, as we turn and pivot toward health disparities, we're definitely adding a voter registration booth to all of our events, because we can breathe a little bit, we can breathe a little bit until the next surge. So these are opportunities to reach people.
You know, you would not believe some of the roads we've traveled and places we've been. When I took my car in for service, the guys who service my car said, "For God's sakes, Miss Liz, where have you been in this car?" I said, "You wouldn't believe it if I told you." And I often get phone calls from agencies while we're traveling and meeting people and working with people and they get a kick out of, "Where are you, Liz?" and I'm not making this up, I'm sitting under a tree eating a peanut butter sandwich, because that's what we vegetarians have to eat when we're mobile. We can't find the food that we need to eat. So there is a lot of peanut butter. A lot of peanut butter was spread across the malls, fairs, and it's a big joke among our group about "Oh God, Liz is going to have a banquet and serve peanut butter." We just had an appreciation banquet for our volunteers that was hugely successful where we recognized our volunteers. And my staff was afraid I was going to serve peanut butter, but we didn't we served jambalaya.
Well, I've always said, Liz, and I don't mean this in a cynical way at all, but in a state like Louisiana, where you've got some blue urban areas but a huge swaths of red rural areas, and a lot of folks listening to the Fox supposedely news channel, where they talk about how Democrats are the devil all the time, and how horrible Democrats are, I've really always thought that these civic engagement things like you're doing and these nonprofit things you're doing are the only way we have really to go back and humanize Democrats for those folks that live in the rural areas. And so I'm not saying that you do those things... you're doing them for the right reason, you're doing them because you care about your neighbors. But it's also important because you are making those human connections with people that, were you not having those conversations with, they may be able to see you as "the other" always. And I have to assume, in small town areas, people get to know you and get to know who you are, and get to know what party you are at some point, and what candidates you're supporting, even if that's not really the real reason, you're there to talk to them. But they're going to know that about you because you all know each other.
Right. And we were worried about that when we started because I mean, you can't hide your politics in small town America, or in rural America, especially when you are the person who hosted a huge event for the governor when he was running. And if you remember, I did that, hosted a huge event in this little town. It was all over the newspaper. And people knew you know what my political leanings were. And so we were kind of concerned about that. But we felt that, you know, we were not going to go out there as one political party or another. We were going to go out there as Americans who cared about our community. And I think it's the biggest lesson we learned from what we've done in the past year is, first, that politicizing an issue kills people, and politicizing the vaccine killed people. Okay. And the second biggest lesson we learned is that you can work politically, but it doesn't have to be partisan, and you can still accomplish things.
So we made sure anytime we were in a meeting, or anytime we were anywhere, and politics came up, we were quick to say, we do not bring politics into the vaccine, because that's what happened to the vaccine. So we had to be very careful and keep our focus on people and meeting the needs of people. And I think it's the only way forward in America. I think there was a time when we had two political parties, and one party leaned to the left and one party leaned to the right. But those parties could get together, and they could come to decisions, and they could look for what was the better good of the people of America. All my life, that's what America looked like. And, you know, that was Republicans were just people who had different ideas than Democrats, and Democrats were just different.
But that's not what I see in America today. I see a dangerous, dangerous, dangerous movement occurring that is eating up the rights of Americans. And I see a group of people who are trying to push that back. Okay, I'm sorry, but I don't see anything in between that. It might be there and I don't see it. Where I live that doesn't exist. So I think the only way, the road back to America, is for us to talk to each other, get into relationships, do things for each other, and do things that people need. And that's what I think we've done.
Working in campaigns is exciting, it's rewarding. It's fun when you when it's fun when you lose, okay, you learn things both times. But you know, there's nothing more incredible than saving lives. I mean, we're not medical experts, we have no medical training, but we saved a lot of lives. And that's a really good feeling. That's a really good feeling. We kept our hospital rates low by getting people vaccinated and keeping them from being seriously ill, you know, our hospital rate stayed low, I think a lot because of our efforts. And the most incredible thing is the relationships we formed and the infrastructure that we formed in our community teams. That had never been done in this parish. It might have been done to get someone elected. And then everybody went home, you know, you're gonna be this team and the team here and you're gonna knock doors and you're gonna do this. And then the election was over, everybody went home, and never saw each other again. Well, we have formed a sisterhood here. We have a few males in it. But we have a strong sisterhood of people who are working towards the same goal. And I think that's hard to find anywhere in rural America today. I think that's really hard to find. And we're not letting go that sisterhood.
We don't know everything. We're certainly not perfect. We don't have the answers to everything. But we do know that listening to each other, understanding each other and meeting each other where our needs are has solved a big problem. I mean, 16% was really bad. Okay, in one week, in one week in this little parish, that's not very populated, we had 12 People die. And I mean, they were your neighbors. They were your friends. They were your next door neighbor's daughter. You know, we had an entire family die in one week. You know, so how can you not go out and do something about that?
We're gonna keep on going. We're very excited about this pivot towards health disparities. But it's not just in my parish, there are horrible health disparities in rural parishes in America. And we didn't know there was so many wonderful programs that we could plug into. And there were funds we could plug into. And there were things that we can do to address these health disparities. We're learning and we're learning fast, and we're working as quickly as we can. Thursday night, we have a community meeting where we're going to get community input about health disparities, we actually are developing our own survey and using a survey about health disparities. That decision that leaked last night is not going to stop us from being the incredible women that we are and using the incredible skills what we have. I think we're just getting started.
As you're building these relationships, have you found any legislative champions or any champions in your local elected offices?
The only elected officials that we found to stand by us and help us and have been incredible are mayors of very, very small townships. They have really stepped up. We call them our League of Mayors. They really help us. We have to have a name for everything. So our League of Mayors is incredible. They're wonderful. They've stepped up. I mean, most people here don't have a mayor. But we have some tiny little incorporated areas that do have a mayor. And the district attorney really stepped up to help us. He's been fantastic and served on our coalition. Took his shot in public right on the street, right in the town square, where everybody can see him taking a shot. I mean, that's incredible. That's powerful. That's powerful. "It's not gonna kill me, here's my shot, I'm taking it." Let us put his picture on the front page of the newspaper. And an elected judge here was the very first one to arrive at our very first coalition meeting and sat on the front row, and actually sentenced people to their community service to work with us. Everyone in town laughed and said, "We think the judge feels that if someone spends 30 days with Liz, they'll never commit another crime."
Liz, what do you want folks in blue parts of the state and those cities where we vote Democrats and all the time, what do you want them to know about organizing in your part of the state or even just living as a Democrat, and you're part of the state?
I want them to know that there are progressive people who live in rural areas, and you're not talking to them enough, and you're not listening to them enough. And you're not reaching out to organizers, and you're not training any organizers, okay? Had I never been to a Power Up meeting, I would have never gotten started. But I learned at Power Up meetings. I learned how to organize, I learn what the VAN data was, I learned things. So we're out here, we have to be drawn out, we have to be trained, we have to be taught like anything else. So I would say, I think that people need to be reached in rural America who are progressive and who will vote blue. But we have to reach them, we have to talk to them.
And we can't talk to them in terms of what we think they would like to hear or what we think they would like for us to say, we have to talk to them in in terms of meeting their needs, rather than, "Are you pro-life or are you pro-choice. And let's go to church and let's sit down and you know, quote your bible quotes." It should be, "What is not happening right here on the side of this Bayou? What's happening that's important to you that you don't think anyone is listening to?" Those are the conversations we have to have. And I think the political leaders need to have those conversations. And that's why I think I was a supporter of the governors because he had the ability to do that. I mean, he came to my tiny little town, and did not leave until he shook everyone's hand and got a picture with everyone. And I remember writing a letter to the governor and saying, "It's important for you to raise money. And I know when you come to my town, you have to meet with people who raise money and have money. But you also need to meet the people who cut those people's grass every week, and clean their houses every week and take care of their children every week, and sweep their porches every week, and take care their mothers who are in nursing homes, and who work at the grocery store and check them out when they come to buy the expensive groceries that the clerk can't afford. So I think you need to come meet with everyday people,"
And he did, he accepted that offer and he came. And it was one of the most successful things that this group of women in my parish had ever done. A sitting governor had not visited this parish in 30 years. This is not a commercial for the governor, by the way. But it's just an example to tell you that you have to come here, you have to come. And when you come here, you have to pay attention to and talk to everyday ordinary people. I understand you need money, but you have to talk to those people who are going to knock doors, who are going to make phone calls for you, who are going to vote for you and are going to tell their sister and their brother and their brother in law and their sister in law to vote for you. So I think we have a huge opportunity. I think we have a huge opportunity that we're missing in rural parishes.
And I'm not one of these "Oh, well, rural America is forgotten" people. I think that people, you know, get forgotten sometimes because they don't step up enough themselves. I mean, I live in the middle of a cow pasture, and I figured out how to get to a Power Up training. I know I have resources that a lot of other people don't have. But I think that I would certainly be very, very aware and I think that's kind of old time politics in Louisiana, you know, that people walk door to door and talk to people. And they depend too much now, I think, on Facebook, and my organization, my nonprofit, Facebook became a fast enemy for us, because that's where the most misinformation was being placed, and who people were listening to. So we actually started a program called Mythbusters, where we had to bust the myths that they were finding out on Facebook, and we couldn't bust myths on Facebook, we had to go door to door and talk to people and hold town halls and hold community meetings and walk neighborhoods and tell people, "That's not true. We're living proof." We had people tell us everyone who had the vaccine died. We had the vaccine, we're alive, you know, touch us, pinch us, we're alive. So nothing like face to face. It's hard. It's hard. It's not easy. And it's not an easy thing to do. But you can't form the relationships I think you need to perform for people to understand that you are concerned about them without that face to face contact.
This town will never forget the day that a sitting governor came to meet with the ordinary everyday people and there had not been a governor, a sitting governor visit this little town in 30 years. 30 years is a long time. They shake their hand and eat a piece of cake and drink a glass of punch and listen to that school teacher who said, "Thank you for raising my pay." And it was one of the most phenomenal experiences I've ever had. I'll never forget, we ran out of chairs in our little town in our community center and people actually brought their own lawn chairs and said, "Oh, that's okay, I've got a chair in the car." And unfolded their chair. And I actually had a nun there playing guitar. And I remember someone asked me, "Did you find a nun costume? I haven't seen a nun dressed in a habit in years." We have real nuns here who dress in real nun habits. So it was a great day that I think this town will always remember. And I think it set an example for who you need to be if you want to reach people. You have to be someone who's interested in everyone, and who talks to everyone, and treats everyone with the same respect. And that's what we've tried to be as a nonprofit,
You raised a good point that not only are those votes that people are getting, but they are the people who will make calls for you, the people who knock doors for you, to send texts for you, to speak at the community meeting for you. That's really important. I'm also a very big believer, and we've talked about this before on the show, that those face to face conversations are perhaps the only way we can combat disinformation at this point in our nation's history.
They work for us. We had no other way to combat the misinformation but face to face. I mean, we had to fry the fish, to give the ice cream cones, we had to give the gift certificates for the tea and the Cokes. I mean, sometimes there's no other way. I think there's been missed to some extent because we're all so busy, and because we're all so used to using other ways in the society we live in to connect to people.
Well, it's a program I didn't get to run very long, but for a brief period of time, when I first went to work for the Louisiana Democratic Party, I had a team of organizers that were statewide. I only had them for about a year. We made an effort to make calls into the state that didn't ordinarily get contact from Democrats or probably from anyone. And people were so excited to get phone calls, they were so excited to talk to somebody, and we'd call them not to tell them to vote for someone, but to ask them what issues mattered to them. And they were very eager to speak to us about that. And that was very valuable, very valuable data we were collecting.
Well, look at the example you gave of the statewide call that I never missed. Okay, it was my lifeline. Nobody had ever invited me to talk about political issues, or talk about issues concerning women or talk about changing my community until I got that call, you know, "Would you like to join it?" And oh, it just was the most wonderful thing to me, it was just absolutely wonderful. And, yes, I led an Indivisible chapter. And Indivisible is an incredible organization. But it didn't connect down to the community level.
I know this is corny. And I know that not everybody in America believes this and wants to hear this. But you have to really work with people who love one another, you know, and we all think it's the most wonderful habit that we have in our little nonprofit's office is we use those words with each other. When someone is walking out the door, we say, "Bye, I'll see you tomorrow. And I love you." And I think that's real, real important. And I think it's a great way to solve differences. Because you know, we're not a perfect organization, we have differences. But because we have that connection of truly respecting and loving each other, we can work out those differences. And I think you have to start there with really loving the people that you work with, and finding that spot that you can connect. And I think if you can't find a group of people to work with who you love, it's probably not going to work out. And I know I pick a time to say that a couple of days after Naomi Judd has left this earth, but I think it's so appropriate that the last thing she did was to sing a song "Love can build a bridge," you know, it certainly can't build a wall.
How could people plug into the work you're doing? How could they find you?
Sleevesupavoyelles.org, we have a website. We have hired someone to set us up a Facebook page. When we started, someone in the parish had set up a really successful Facebook page about the virus and the vaccine, relating to those issues. So we plugged into that Facebook page, but we're standing up our own Facebook page, we have a website. And we have offices at 138 South Washington in Marksville, but you can go to our website and connect with us. You can also communicate with us at email@example.com.
I will put all that information in the in the Episode Notes so that people have easy access to it. Liz, last three questions. What's the biggest hurdle against progressive change in Louisiana?
Oh, gee you would have to ask me on this day of all days. I would think the biggest obstacles to progressive change in Louisiana is a lack of concern on the part of so many of citizens in our state and lack of information and lack of knowledge of how things connect and how things impact people. I think there's a huge lack of that. And that makes it hard for progressives. And I like to laughingly refer to it as the thigh bone's connected to the knee bone, that all of these are connected. And I think we have a lot of that in Louisiana, where people don't know that domino effect that can occur around issues.
And what's our biggest opportunity?
Organizing! Organizing and plugging into people who have organized. Our biggest opportunities come through the organizations, we have so many wonderful organizations in our state, that you can pick up the phone and say, "Hey, I want to be a part of you." We don't have enough in rural parishes. And we need to start more of that in rural parishes. But I think organizing and you don't have to plug into an organization, you can start your own organization. But I think the greatest opportunities come through organizing.
And I, of course, agree with that. Liz, who's your favorite superhero?
Well, I'm not a comic book girl. My superheroes are not fictional. They're real. If you asked me this yesterday, I may have had a different answer. But today, I have to say, you know who I'm gonna say. I'd have to say RBG. She's my superhero. I followed her all my life, okay. And on this day, I think of her more than I've thought of her on any day, because I always look to her and at her as the woman who paved the way for my generation and so many generations of American women. So I'm a like real, real person. Fictitious people are not people who chart a lot of attention to me. And she's always been my hero, one of my great heroes.
I have a lot of them in my life, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of heroes, my husband being a huge one, a huge one. I just have to tell you this funny story that's related to this question. At my appreciation banquet the other night for my volunteers, the doctor who is the regional administrator over the public health, after all this year had never met my husband. So my husband introduced himself as Mr. Liz Leger. And you know, what the doctors reply was? He's the Regional Medical Director, he said, "So am I."
It's not a day for bashing men, because there are wonderful men in our lives who support us and want us to succeed. And I've been a fortunate lady to have a superhero that I happen to be married to. But RBG just I mean, she just led the path for us. We should honor her and send her a message that no, we're not going back. We're not going back. We're not going back on the promise we made to her to keep moving forward.
That's a real life superhero. You're a real life superhero. Thank you again for joining me, Liz. Thank you for the work you're doing in Cen LA and good luck with your next big project.
Well, thank you, Lynda, you're one of my superheroes. So we're mutual on that. Thank you for the work that you do. You keep working. You keep leading and we'll keep following. Thank you, Lynda.
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