Welcome to Louisiana Lefty, a podcast about politics and community in Louisiana, where we will 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 assist the coalition building we need to win.
On this week's episode, I talk with former Louisiana Democratic Party Communications Director Kirstin Alvanitakis. Our conversation was recorded during, and those framed by, that surreal moment between the January 6th insurrection and the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Still, the substance of the episode is evergreen advice on messaging for candidates and organizers.
Kirstin Alvanitakis! Thank you for joining me on Louisiana. Lefty. You are in communications, political communications, and that's how I first met you, when you and I first started working for a new administration at the Louisiana Democratic Party. You came in as the communications director, and I was one of their organizers at the time. You just reminded me that I picked you up at your hotel to drive you to Baton Rouge, and that was our first meeting.
Yeah. And I was like, "These Louisiana, people know what they're doing. I like this lady, I may take this job." So it's your fault that I came to Louisiana. For any of my haters out there, blame Lynda.
Ha! So what else is on your bio? What did you do prior to that? What have you done since?
So I'm originally from Pennsylvania. I spent three years working for the State Senate Democrats, I spent three years in the Rendell administration, working for the governor in his press office, as well as the Pennsylvania lottery, which is a 3 billion, I think now 4 billion, dollar a year business, in addition to being a very high profile state agency. So I got a lot of experience with marketing and advertising, as well when I was there. I spent a year working for a labor union. Then in 2012, I moved to Michigan, worked for the Michigan Democratic Party in 2012, when President Obama was reelected, won the state by 8 points. Debbie Stabenow, won the state by 20, and had a number of state house pickups that year. Then 2013, decided I wanted to move to Louisiana. So I went down there to work with the state party during Mary Landrieu's reelection. And from there, 2015 moved to Ohio to work for the Ohio Democratic Party. So that's three state parties I've worked for. So for folks who know anything about democratic politics, I'm kind of a glutton for punishment.
It's the never ending campaign.
Well, look, it's amazing resume that you bring. And those of us who worked with you at the time, were aware that we were having a very special opportunity to get to work with you. I say you're one of the best people that I know that does that work. And you certainly taught me a lot, which I'm very grateful for.
Well, you're very kind. I don't know that any of that was true. But thank you.
You'll hear other people echo my sentiment. At any rate, let's get into talking about the meat and potatoes of what your area of expertise is. I know you wanted to talk specifically about some things, which we can bring in. But you know, one of the big things that's being talked about right now, and I'll let you go off on this in a minute, is the Dems in Disarray narrative that the media likes to push. And they started that immediately. Now, we know that Democrats didn't win as many House seats or as many Senate seats as we thought we could, you can talk about that. Is there something messaging we're doing wrong? Is there something that we should be doing better? But also, I'm just not sure that I really buy into the whole Dems in Disarray narrative. I think that's an easy, lazy narrative for the media.
It is, it is. You know, we actually have a big tent party. I know people joke when I say that, but we actually have one, whereas the Republicans have this tiny, like, I don't know what it is, but it's definitely not a big tent. So we're gonna have disagreements and, you know, challenges. We're a party that has to encompass Joe Manchin and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. That's not a bad thing. But it is challenging, because a lot of those disagreements, which are mainly about strategy and not about goals and ultimately values, those strategic fights often play out in a public way. Whereas the Republicans, again, they don't have those because they all take their marching orders from the top. It's much more rare that they're kind of spats play out in the public the way ours do. So yes, the Dems in Disarray narrative is something that's kind of a trope. And it's almost kind of funny to see when it gets dragged out. Tthe first thing a lot of folks turned to in the wake of the election results this year was, we need a better message, we need a better narrative, we need to communicate better. In certain respects, obviously, that's true. But when you look at Joe Biden's message, which was we're going to build back better, we're going to defeat the Coronavirus, and we're going to restore the soul of our nation, that's a fine message. That's a winning message. It's certainly better than burning down to Capitol. You know? So the the challenge that we have as Democrats is: A) People didn't hear joe biden's message if they weren't living in a swing state, because the necessity of spending limited resources means the people of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, got inundated with ads, making clear Joe Biden's message, whereas I don't think anyone in Louisiana probably saw an ad unless they screwed up or something. So you're just not going to be exposed to the Democratic message if you're not in one of those targeted states, unfortunately. B) The other issue is that some of the people that heard the message didn't believe it, because what we've seen over the past four, six, eight years is a steady stream of disinformation that is pushed a by the right wing echo chamber of Fox News. Now we've got things like OAN, Newsmax, even things like Prager University. There's all of these entities out there that put forth the Republican talking points, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, whoever. Literally, their job is to go out and parrot whatever the talking points of the day are. We don't have that as Democrats. And then the second piece of that disinformation effort is online. And it's somewhat state actors, obviously, we saw a lot of that in the last election, but it's now homegrown, and it's people making stupid memes and distorted videos and all of that. It's hard to break through, when that is something that people see on their Facebook wall every single day. And Facebook obviously privileges right wing content over progressive or even nonpartisan content, because they're scared to crack down on right wing news outlets - sorry, quote unquote, news outlets - because then they go cry, you know, that they're being discriminated against. So sorry, is that good answer?
So, I mean, right. They're banning some of Trump's people now, and there are conservatives who are crying that, "Oh, they're taking away all of our mouthpieces on the far right." And I guess to some degree, I think that's because the writing is on the wall, and Facebook and Twitter, etc. see a new administration coming in, and they're gonna do whatever they need to do to get as little regulation as possible, right? So this is, to me, an effort really to suck up to the people that are coming in, because otherwise, why didn't they go ahead and do this long ago?
Yeah. And I also think there's some efforts inside some of these organizations at Google and Facebook, where the employees are just in open revolt, as well. So organizing your workplace has benefits not just to you, but maybe society at large. But it's something that we don't have on our side. We don't have this vast media infrastructure designed to pump talking points out every single day, and we don't have people making up bullshit memes. We do have some people making it bullshit memes, but we don't have the volume of bullshit memes that they have.
I think some of the difference, I see people on the left making memes, but they're silly and they're funny and they're hyperbolic, they're not flat out lies. Whereas what you do see from the right is they will just make up a story out of whole cloth. And there can be zero truth to it whatsoever. There was a little bit of a story going around the other day on the right wing, by the way, that the Trump video where he kind of sorta conceded that there would be a smooth transition...
But didn't. He didn't mention Biden's name.
There were people calling that a deep fake, right? Look, who knows anymore what to believe? I mean, it is really hard without a trusted source. And I for sure have never considered Trump's twitter feed to be a trusted source.
But I do think he made that video under duress. Let's be clear here. Somebody, a lawyer or someone said, "You might want to stop, and you might want to do something to try to fix this, because there's going to be a new Attorney General in a few weeks."
Right. And I do think part of it, not just because they see the new administration, there was a line crossed, obviously this week with the attack on the Capitol, going after Nancy Pelosi, going after Mike Pence overtly. There comes a point where I guess you really do cross the line and people say, "We've kind of let y'all dance in front of this line for a really long time, but you've crossed it now."
Yeah, but I don't think the cynical view is incorrect either, which is they're scared about their money being messed with, basically.
So I do hope to get some more information - we don't have to talk about it today - but more about how we can make sure we have trusted source of information. Your point about there not being one message for the left, again, because we have that big tent, it's very difficult to get our side on one message. So we do have a sort of clatter of messages coming out all the time. What I will say a couple of things, just as support materials for the things we've been talking about, was I did like the movie Social Dilemma, that really addressed some of the stuff you're talking about, where the employees of these social media organizations have been starting to say, "This is enough." And then the other one that I've long pushed is The Brainwashing of My Dad, which does a really great run through of how we got to where we got with a lot of Americans. This was made long enough ago, it predates Trump, so it really hasn't even gotten into the worst of it. But it really does go into how Rush Limbaugh and Fox kind of created this whole echo chamber that has corrupted a lot of minds. And we do have to find a way to reckon with that, at some point, if we are going to ever unify the country in some way.
No, I think those are good resources to check out because, again, people are like we needed a better message. And in the wake of the election, I want to say, fascism is popular. I don't really know what to tell you. You know, when you look at the circumstances of this year, where we have a global pandemic, where a lot of people have been isolated, and they're getting their information solely from doom scrolling, and then you've got massive economic disruption, where people are desperate. They just want to feed their families. So what the President was pushing clicked with a lot of people, because they were looking for some sort of salvation in a really desperate, desperate time. And he offered easy solutions. Let's just open it all back up. Well, okay, that's fine, but you can't just open it back up, because people won't be out spending money in the way that we need to get this economy going again until we defeat the Coronavirus.
You mentioned that Joe Biden's message played well in the swing states, and they heard it in the swing states.
Played well enough. We would have been happier if we would have crushed it everywhere. But it shifted enough voters in those swing states for him to win. And he won by more than 7 million votes in the popular vote. So, yeah, that's a good message.
For those of us not in swing states, like Louisiana, how do we kind of take that message that's playing well elsewhere, that might do okay here, and make sure that it's being heard here?
Sure. Well, this is gonna sound terrible, maybe people will be offended. But really, you have no excuse. The Biden campaign put out content on a very regular basis. And if you want people to see what the Biden campaign wants people to be talking about, then just go and share from their Facebook wall, go retweet what he's talking about. I will say there is an issue, though, and I know we talked about this when I lived down there. There's a disconnect between what diehard progressives, who are the folks listening to this podcast, want to hear and like to hear, versus what is actually effective in moving swing voters. And there have been numerous studies done. We've gotten a lot savvier about putting money behind things that work and don't work, because the internet actually lets us see in real time what's working and what's not, and the stuff that goes viral online, doesn't affect swing voters. As a matter of fact, sometimes pushes them back to Trump. So when you see a Lincoln Project video, and you're like, "Yeah, that's gonna show him," you know, the Lincoln project stuff was effective in moving one voter and that was Donald Trump. So from a trolling perspective, it was very effective, but like, as far as moving actual swing voters, the Lincoln Project stuff actually was harmful in some respects. What I always say to people when they're like, "Oh, I didn't like his ad," it's like, it's not for you. If he doesn't have your vote already, Louisiana Lefty podcast listener, we're doomed. So, there was a lot of stuff that Joe Biden was putting out that was effective. He was talking about stuff that's like very vanilla, and people probably roll their eyes at it, but you know, Trump's going to cut medicare and social security. This is stuff that even if you're a Trump voter, you'd be like, "But wait, I like Medicare and Social Security." And as a matter of fact, when Trump ran the first time, he said he was going to protect and even improve and expand those programs. So a lot of people that voted for Trump, voted for him because he was out of step with Republican orthodoxy on some of these issues. But as President, the way he governed was cut, cut, cut, attacking social programs that are actually immensely popular, attacking health care. People don't want to lose the protections of the Affordable Care Act. Trump knew that. He's not a smart man, but he's in touch enough to know that, hey, taking away protections for healthcare is probably a bad idea, which is why he promised over and over again, that he was gonna have a health care plan. And still to this day, he still has not introduced the health care plan. So trying to communicate on those issues, where the tax scam that he passed, that was a huge giveaway to millionaires and billionaires and big corporations, actually lead to more outsourcing of jobs and did not bring jobs back. These things are incredibly unpopular. And Biden was pushing that message. But again, if you weren't in a swing state, you weren't hearing it.
Part of what I always hear is that we have to be very clear what we stand for. And that was one of the things they talked a lot about actually, Warnock and Ossoff, was being very clear the things that they stood for. Now, I don't think most of what they spoke about were radical liberal or socialist ideas, but their opponents used those sort of boogeyman words to try to scare people away from them. Is it for candidates or more for parties, or PACs, or IE independent expenditure groups to do the attacks on the Republicans and exposing Republicans as what they stand for and the things that they're going to do, like cut your social programs? Should that fall more to those groups or is that something that candidate should also be doing?
Well, those two things have to kind of operate in tandem. So what I encourage every campaign or candidate, when they're getting started trying to figure out what their quote unquote message is, I encourage them to do Message Box, which is a really useful exercise to set out what you stand for. It's a box, and there's four sections of the box, and in each quadrant you have what you stand for, or what what you say about yourself, the next quadrant is what the other side says about you, the third quadrant is what they're saying about themselves, then the fourth quadrant is what you're saying about them. So you've got four pieces of a square, yes, I've described geometry effectively to your podcast listeners now. Okay, so but the point is, all of those things should work in concert, right? So if you're saying that you are for providing affordable health care for Americans, then your implicit message about your opponent should be they're against that, or they're for taking away health care from Americans. So the negative and the positive message have to be in sync. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense if you're for something that your opponent is also for. There's no purpose in communicating about that, because elections ultimately are about choices, you know, contrasts. And if there's no contrast between you and your opponent, then there's no purpose in communicating about that. And I think that that tends to be something I see. Sometimes folks run into a problem with where they say, "I'm going to talk about what I'm for, I'm going to talk about all these things that I've done." Especially if you're in the minority party, if you're talking about everything you've accomplished, and you're trying to make the case for change, then why do we need to change if you're accomplishing all of this? So I would encourage candidates not to shy away from a contrast message. You should always be truthful and ethical, and, you know, over negativity will turn off voters. But I also think that, again, your message about yourself should be a message that also effectively undercuts your opponent, and then also anticipating the attacks on you, they're going to be attacking you on things that they want to highlight in themselves. So hopefully, that made sense.
Yes. And do you have an image of this Message Box that we might be able to share?
I'll send it. Yeah, I feel it might have been Paul Tully, I can't remember who the gentleman is that created the message box. But there's worksheets that everybody can fill out. Especially if you're thinking about running, it's a great useful exercise to start out. And it helps you kind of get through some of these thorny issues, because we know what they're gonna say about us, right? We're socialists, we love abortion, what else are they gonna say about us, you know, we want to raise your taxes, we want to defund the police. We know what the other side is going to say about us. So your message about yourself should also be designed to counteract and anticipate those attacks as well. And hopefully, we'll get back and we'll do some sort of training. So we can talk more about all this stuff. But there are lots of resources out there for folks who are thinking about running, or thinking about helping a campaign. One of those resources is the Voicing Our Values Guide, which is by the Public Leadership Institute. I'm sure Lynda will provide the link to that in the podcast notes or something. But it's a wonderful guide that teaches how to communicate effectively through values. And the main values that they discuss are freedom, fairness, and security. Those are things that are universal, probably everywhere in the world, but they're certainly universal here in America. There are ways to talk about issues without sacrificing our progressive values. There's a way to talk about defunding the police, but still talking about security. Right? Because everyone wants to be safe and secure in their communities. Do you think everybody feels safe and secure in their communities right now, the way that law enforcement is being handled? No. By starting talking about shared values, that allows you to communicate effectively with swing voters, independent voters, and even Republican voters where you're starting from a place of common ground rather than immediately starting from a place of opposition, because that just creates everybody digging in their heels. So check that out, Voicing Our Values. And it'll be interesting for those of you who are fans of Pete Buttigieg, you will find a lot in that book that sounds familiar. He's one of the people that I think has ingested that book, and just exudes it now. Smart guy. He talks about why he's a Democrat, and he talks about four Fs, which is freedom, fairness, family, and the future, which, you know, it kind of incorporates all of those values that are in this book. So if you like how Pete Buttigieg goes on Fox News and kind of ethers them, a lot of that training, I think, comes from work with this Voicing Our Values Guide. So that's number one. Number two, and there's a lot of resources on the internet for this, Marshall Ganz came up with it, is called the Public Narrative. So you start with your Story of Self, and then you move to the Story of Us and the Story of Now. But for candidates, especially if you're running at a local level, and you're not going to do polling, you're not going to do focus groups, you're not going to do any of that. But you're trying to figure out, "Okay, so what am I supposed to be saying when I'm running for office?" Your message is you. That is that is the message, your Story of Self. You want to talk about why you are drawn to this work, what you hope to accomplish, and by talking about yourself, and, you know, as a woman, I know, that's challenging sometimes, but it's a practice that helps you kind of drill down into, again, why you do this work, and why people will be drawn to you and want to participate and help you in this work by seeing your shared values. So again, Story of Self, Marshall Ganz. Google it. There's gobs and gobs of resources on how to develop your Story of Self. There's worksheets and stuff. But it's really it's a wonderful practice. Joe Biden uses it, right? How many times do we hear stories about his mom saying, "Joey this, Joey that?" and his dad in Scranton?
His dad saying, "Joey, keep the faith!" And his mom saying, "No, Joey, don't keep it, share it, spread it around!"
Right? So Joe Biden has been doing Story of Self for a very long time. And as the transition has been rolling out all of these folks that they are nominating, I've been really struck by the stories that a lot of these folks have shared. For example, Neera Tanden, and I know, folks on the internet are like, "Rah, Neera Tanden, blah blah blah!" But she was talking about her upbringing, I think she was the child of a single mom. And it's like, I did not know that. Anthony Blinken shared an amazing story when he was announced. I'm trying to think of who else, but each nominee has come up and shared their Story of Self, of why they are called to public service, why they are called to work for progressive policies, and it's actually really been moving. So yeah, candidates, your message is you. You are the message. It's simple, but it's actually really hard.
And that was something that they leaned heavily on in the Obama campaigns, as well. And in fact, would bring Marshall Ganz in every now and then to do the training. So that was always a treat, to get to hear directly from Marshall. But certainly they trained a lot of people through that program, so that there are a lot more people who know it and share it. And, of course, one of the themes that we've talked about with everyone I've talked to so far is about creating more of you. Right? So that there's knowledge, campaign knowledge, political knowledge you have, it's kind of like Joey, keep the faith, don't keep the faith, don't keep the knowledge, share the knowledge, spread the knowledge around. And I think, for the Democratic side, our resource is people. We will never be able to match the money of the right. We will never be able to match the messaging discipline of the right. But we do have an almost endless resource as far as people, and I think that if we have a more knowledgeable base of voters and candidates and messengers, that that helps us be able to spread our bounty.
Be empowered! If you're listening to podcast, don't wait for somebody else to do this work. Just pick up a pick up a shovel and start digging.
Right. And I mean to that point, part of why I wanted to create this podcast, and there's a lot of other folks in Louisiana now, across the country, starting out. I don't know if Pod Save America was the beginning of it, but they were at the beginning of it. And certainly they've created a whole media ecosystem there. But I think that's going to be where our energy comes from, is by having all these smaller networks in a liberal media ecosystem, so that we're constantly kind of drilling down closer and closer to the people at home, and becoming more accessible, frankly, to people. I mean, part of what we certainly want to do, I say, I don't want to just talk about stuff, I want to be able to train, I want to be able to do polling, I want to be able to actually have things that we organize. So it's not just about talking about our values, but taking up the shovel and starting to do the work.
Yeah, well, I love what you said there about getting super local, because I think that's really important. You know, even in your reddest red county, parish, city, town, whatever, township, there are Democrats all around you. And I think that was the wonderful thing of the past four years is the connections that these Indivisible groups have made these, you know, finding your people. There are other Democrats everywhere you are, and taking action locally is really, really important. One of the things that I always am really focused on is letters to the editor, which sounds like kind of archaic, I guess.
It's old school!
Yeah. It's like, a letter to the editor, are there still newspapers? Yes, there are still newspapers. Yes, there are still newspapers. And believe it or not, there are people in your community that open those papers every week. And they read them. And they read the letters to the editor. And there's two stories. We've got a group of women up in Jefferson County, which is in Ohio, Steubenville, it's an ancestral Democratic county that has now obviously gone red. But we've got a group of women up there that are hardcore, and pump out letters to the editor, you know, and papers will only take one a month from individuals, so they've got a crew of women. I think they're mostly women, I don't know. But the leaders are women. And they send these letters out there, and they are really exposing themselves to a lot of vitriol. People will look them up in the phonebook and call them. But also one woman said she got a call from like an 80 year old woman who said, "I'm so glad to read your letter. That's exactly how I think. I appreciate you." So believe it or not, when you're out there, it feels like a lot of times you're just kind of throwing things out into the universe, but there are people out there reading them. There are people out there that hear you, and they take heart from those of us who are able to speak out. And I know it's not always easy, especially in a place like Louisiana, where by being a Democrat, you are exposing yourself to sometimes financial implications, if not just social, or interpersonal. So when folks do have the courage to speak out and speak out publicly, it has ripples all through. And then the second one was our Vice Chairwoman, Rhine McLin, she sent an op-ed to the Dayton Daily News and had multiple people write back saying, "Oh, that is exactly what I was thinking, and I'm so glad to read that." Again, it's something very minor. You know, and don't just send to the Times Picayune or the Advocate. They get inundated all the time. You want to reach these little papers in Monroe and Natchitoches and, oh gosh, Alexandria...
All of these places have small papers, and they need to hear from Democrats, they need to hear from progressives. Even if they don't publish your letter, it does help inform the reporting and coverage a lot of times, because a lot of these newspaper publishers and editors don't think there are any Democrats in their town. Sometimes these papers, the only Democrats in the town, they feel like, are the reporters. But the publishers are often very conservative. When they get letters from progressives and Democrats, they're like, "Oh, wait, we do have Democrats and progressives." That does help shape their coverage to be a bit more even handed.
And I always say, if you get more than one person writing about a topic, if you have five people send in a letter upset that Steve Scalise voted against certifying the election, five people writing in represents a lot more than five, and they're more likely to print one of those five. So even if your letter doesn't personally get written, that point of view is more likely to be pushed forward.
That's a strategy as well, that that people can coordinate and organize and use. And you've always said that the the local news is still important, that our local people are still listening to the local TV, reading the local papers, local radio, all of those things are spaces where we really should make sure our presence is known. We always want people to do so in a safe way. And in the same way that, you know, you should be running candidates who are correct candidates for the district, I'm not gonna run Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, in...
Congressional district 5 in Louisiana, right? The messaging and the way you present your message may need to be tailored to your area. That doesn't mean that you don't go promote Democratic values, so that people are continually seeing it and seeing who we are, and what we represent, and that more likely than not, we're more like them than they realized.
Sure. Sure. It's so crazy to me how often Democrats are derided as being anti-Christian or anti-faith, when the hard core block of the Democratic Party is African American women. I don't have any polling data in front of me, but I imagine they are much more likely to be churchgoers than white women of the same demographic. So people don't see themselves reflected in the Democratic Party a lot of times. I think that's why John Bel Edwards has been successful, because he voted for Barack Obama. And he voted for Hillary Clinton, God bless him. And I'm sure he voted for Joe Biden, too. But people feel that John Bel Edwards is Louisiana, probably because his family has been there for what 8000 years.
And to your point about faith, I mean, he's he's able to speak to people in a way that's fair. I mean, some people disagree with some parts of his faith. But I mean, the simple aspects of you know, "God can set your direction, but you have to move your feet," he's able to speak to people in a terminology that fits with where they come from.
Yeah. And his military service, obviously, as well, is a huge asset in Louisiana.
A unique candidate, but not not the only person that has a CV like that.
Oh, absolutely. Yes.
Last thing I really have, I'm happy for you to go on about anything else that you wanted to make sure to mention, I just wanted to say that one of the things that we were able to do when we worked at the state party together, that I thought was so useful, was tp kind of marry communications and field together. That was what made that partnership really invaluable to me. Like I said, you really taught me a lot of things, but to be able to sit down and create a comms calendar, that kind of meshed with the field calendar, and then we kind of added digital communications into that. That, to me, was a very powerful way to go about organizing. So that's something I think people should think about, whether they're community groups or organizations or candidates or local parties, to have a comms calendar that you're coordinating your organizing efforts with, I think it's really important.
Yeah. And it was hugely forward thinking of you to spearhead that effort. Because in 2020, all organizing was digital, for the most part. There really wasn't a lot of on the ground organizing on Democrats' part because of the restrictions of trying to campaign in a pandemic and keep everyone safe and healthy. So seeing as how organizing moved online, that kind of marrying of digital, field, and communications has just been accelerated over the last few years. And it's kind of exciting. What we're seeing, you know, especially young folks, it's exciting to see. I get excited by Gen Z all the time, because they are just amazing. I love them so much. I'm harkening back to Biden the other day talking about one of his grandkids texting him and saying, "Pop, it's not right, you know, if those protesters had been black, they would have been..." It's just like, we've got to listen to the kids. They're trying to tell us something. They're trying, we just need to listen.
Well, it gives me a lot of hope. So I mean, I think being able to give instruction and direction to some of the younger generation is helpful. But often it is their energy that, you know, impresses me to the point where I'm just like, "What do you need from me? What can I do to help you do these things that you want to do?"
They're so adept with digital. They've been editing videos since they were a child, you know? So it's like, "Yeah, I'll throw together a video about whatever." It's amazing. The other thing I wanted to say on that point, the traditional communications press secretary sort of thing of a decade ago, there's a whole bunch of people in my cohort whose only real skill is bullshitting with reporters, which is, okay, good, or they're writers or whatever. But in today's day and age, with how many people have started to discount mainstream media totally, we have to switch up our skill set. We have to be thinking digital first, all the time, as well. We need to be thinking about different voices. And I think that that's where what you were doing was so important, because the organizing work has to be able to identify people whose voices need to be lifted up. It's not just my job as the Ohio Democratic Party to get the chairperson of our party on TV every week. And I would say that's probably what 90% of the people in my role think their job is, is to get their boss in paper or on TV. My job is to lift up voices of people who need to be heard and represented in the political discourse. One of the things we've done over the past year is, I've developed relationships with doctors and nurses, and people with health care stories, because obviously with COVID, the Coronavirus, these are the voices that are trusted right now. These are the voices that people need to hear from. And these are the voices that are actually effective. In these studies where they said the Lincoln Project stuff didn't work. Okay. So what did work? The stuff that worked was a doctor, just off their shift, talking into their cell phone, saying, "We need help, we need Joe Biden." And that's essentially what these ads were, were not produced, ugly, you know. They would slap captions on it, so they were accessible to everyone. But quick, dirty, poorly lit, but messengers. Today, the messenger is the message, in a lot of respects. You know, hearing from those sorts of folks, is important. And if you're a communications person who only knows how to bullshit with reporters, and you don't know how to go out and find those people with stories, then you're not doing your job anymore.
It's great information and a great point. And great for people who are interested in doing that kind of work, for them to think about what kind of studies they're going to go in and how they're going to set up shop when they get their job. And I just want to say, going back a little, tiny bit, the the digital outreach that the Biden campaign did, the digital organizing that they did was amazing. Because I was stuck at home like everybody else during the pandemic, and I wasn't sure what I was going to be doing, there were a couple of options for me of what I might end up doing this year, so between riding out the pandemic and figuring out my life, I was just getting on every conference call, every webinar I could get on, and if there was a digital training or whatever from the Biden campaign, I was on it. And I was just amazed at, not just the trainings they did, but the systems they put together to make sure that they were communicating with volunteers in every state, making sure people had access to the trainings and the information they needed. Some of it was a little complicated, but more often than not, they had someone who could end up walking you through any troubles you were having. So I was very amazed. And I promise you from from what I could see, this was mostly young people coming in and saying, "We're going to create this new program." And as I always say in almost everything I start, I said that about the podcast, you and I talked about that when we started Team Blue Dat, the communications digital organizing work we did in Louisiana, it was very clear that they were building the plane while they were flying it. But it really, over time, grew into this very well oiled machine that was super impressive. That's just me giving them a shout out, but it's also to say that there are young people who, as you were saying are innovative and adaptive and figuring out how to work in the world as it's being thrown at them, because there's a lot to navigate and adapt to right now.
Yeah, yeah. We were doing a lot of that work already at the Ohio Democratic Party before the Coronavirus hit. And I think it really positioned us to kind of move very seamlessly into that, and our field organizing director of the state, Jimmy Dahman, who is from Northeast Ohio, had been with Pete Buttigieg's campaign, in Iowa and had been doing a lot of that digital organizing work there. So he was able to kind of bring that expertise back to Ohio. This is gonna sound frustrating for folks. I'm sorry, this is a contrarian podcast, I apologize. You know, people want to hear - how many parishes are there? Oh, my God, I can't really...
64 parishes! People always want to hear about a 64 parish organizing strategy or 88 counties in Michigan, are there 88 counties? I can't remember, if there's 88 county in Ohio. I can't remember, anyways, there's a lot of counties in every state, or parishes in every state. Everybody always want boots on the ground in every one of those counties. That's never gonna happen, ever again. That is just not the future of organizing. And also, why would I drive to every county when I can reach them through this thing that we are doing right now. The boundaries of counties don't matter. I need to reach people, and if it's more effective to do it this way... Now, obviously, there's going to be a need to be in communities, because not everyone is connected digitally the way that affluent people are. And we don't have broadband access in entire regions of the country. But so there's going to be still a need for traditional organizing, but the days of saying, "I want an organizer in my county," it's not gonna happen. It's really expensive, and it's just not going to happen.
Well, that's right. I mean, even the work I did at the party, and you may say this about your work, as well, I can only speak for myself, was was never fully funded. And so we did what we could do with the money we could get. So it's limited. With the amount of money we had, it would be really expensive to to have or organizer in even every parish. But you know, the caveat for me there is the local candidates. Right? So they should be, in their community, boots on the ground. Their folks should be there.
Yeah. And you don't need an organizer to organize your community. You don't need somebody at the state party telling you what to do. There are outlets. We're going to teach you on this podcast what to do to organize in your community, right, Lynda? That's what we're gonna do. Right?
Yeah. That's part of it, yeah.
So, if you were like, "Oh, I don't like that. I don't like what you just said." The finishing part of - you're not going to have an organizer in your community - is you are the organizer in your community. It's going to be on all of us. We won this election. We did win by 7 million votes, popular vote, but in a lot of respects it was a lot closer than we wanted it to be, and we didn't have the successes down ballot that we wanted. The work of trying to fix this country and pull us out of trumpism and pull us back from the brink of embracing fascism, really, I mean, is going to be the work of everyone listening here, and you know, sharing their faith.
Right? Good, good call back. Part of it is not just telling people how to organize, but connecting them to who's already organizing in your area, because there are a lot of people already organizing - community groups, faith based groups - there are a lot of organizations already out there and doing the work. I think sometimes it's just a matter of connecting to them. There's a Stacey Abrams in any state. I've talked about that a couple of times already, and I'm sure I'll mention it over and over again.
I just want Stacey to be able to watch Bridgerton. Leave her alone for a week and let her binge Bridgerton. I want her thoughts.
I would like Selena Montgomery's take on the Netflix, Shonda Rhimes adaptation of Bridgerton. Can we all just leave her alone for a week? Give her her flowers?
As Reverend Warnock says, "Put your shoes on! Put your shoes on. You do the work, you do the door knocks, you do the marching for a while." I think that's right. But I mean, you know, my point is, all love to Stacey Abrams, but I mean, there are multiple other people working in Georgia. Hundreds of thousands of people...
And have been for a long time...
Working in Georgia. So she is a lovely icon. But to always, as you say, be pulling on her coattails is sort of to miss the point.
Sure, in Ohio, we have two African American women members of Congress, and everybody's like, "Where's Ohio's Stacey Abrams?" I'm like, "Well, you could start with Congresswoman Marcia Fudge and Congresswoman Joyce Beatty." Right? You can start with them. I mean, there's more. I can give you more if you want me to. If you want to lift up Black women, there are Black women doing the work in your community. I guarantee it.
Look, and that's partially right. That's partially a failure of our media too. Right? I mean, because why aren't those women being lifted up more?
I think we all know why. You know.
You may disagree, but my take on this is like, I am not going to let up on the pressure. I'm not going to let up on calling out the media that they need to do better. And I think that's got to be a constant drumbeat, because the right does it all the time. The victimhood of the right of, "Oh wah, it's all liberal media, and nobody ever shows our people," is a lie. I know this is the second time I've mentioned Pod Save America, and I don't know if that's the right thing to do on a on a Louisiana podcast, but one of the things they talked about is how, for the media, when the right complains, and they buckle to the pressure from the right, that proves to them, that proves to themselves, the media's selves, "Oh, look, we're not biased. We're doing their thing." Conversely, when the left complaints to them, "You're not showing our people," and they don't bend to them, same response. We're being accused of being liberal, we're not bending to the liberals, therefore, we're not biased. And it's a difficult thing to get around. But I still say it doesn't stop me from hounding them.
No, I mean, I've hounded reporters for that. There was, oh, gosh, last summer during the convention, there was some coverage... By the way, if you've never been to convention, you should try to go to a convention, it is the coolest thing. The 2020 convention obviously had to be virtual, so we did these delegation lunches. Each delegation has a breakfast in the morning where you basically get your rundown, okay, here are the things happening throughout the day, here are your tickets. So it's an inducement to come to the breakfast, because if you don't come to the breakfast, you don't get your floor tickets for that night. And if you don't show up and get your tickets, they get given somebody else. But anyways, so we did these delegation luncheons, and the reporters are kind of like, "What do we do? What do we cover? There's, like, nothing to cover." You would normally be in a city with a bunch of people getting drunk and getting stories. Anyways, they're covering our delegation luncheons. And each day, the delegation luncheons were sponsored by an elected official, labor organization, corporation, something, yada yada yada. So one of the reporters here in Ohio decided he was going to cover this, and he noted who was sponsoring some of these luncheons, elected officials, maybe folks who were, you know, getting your name out to a bunch of prominent Democrats, kind of raising your profile. So we wrote a story about, you know, this Democrat's looking at running for governor this, you know, this Democrat's may be looking to run for senate, this Democrat's may be looking for this. And they mentioned all the Democratic elected officials who sponsored a luncheon. One of the people who had sponsored one of the luncheons was Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, Black woman representing Franklin County, which is now the biggest county has the most votes. It's now bigger than Cuyahoga County, Franklin County, she represents it. She was not mentioned as someone with statewide aspirations, and I don't know that she was even asked if she had ever thought about running statewide. But she's an enormously popular woman member of Congress, representing the biggest municipality in the state and was not mentioned, as someone potentially running statewide. And I called the reporter I said, "What the heck?" He said, "Well, is she thinking about running statewide?" "I don't know. Did you ask her? She certainly should have been mentioned in this story, as you mentioned this white elected official, this other white elected official..." You know, so I think you do have to call them out, because they're gonna have blind spots. And look, we live in a racist society. It's okay, we can talk about it, right? I'm not always going to get it right. And reporters aren't always going to get it right. But I wanted to make sure that this reporter knew that that's not fair. It's not fair to mention every other elected official who had sponsored a luncheon and not one of the Black women, who may or may not have statewide aspirations, I have no idea, but she should have been asked. So anyway, sorry. That's my rant on that. I don't know if we'll get used.
It's all a good point. I appreciate your sharing that with us, and all of your expertise. And I look forward to you coming back on with more information. But more importantly, I think it'd be great for us to be able to do some trainings for folks. I'm sure people are going to be asking about that. We've had some fun doing some trainings in the past, from training people on how to do Twitter to how to stay on message. Look, one of my favorite stories is the digital organizing, and people do not understand, when we used to do the Thunderclaps, where you had to get a certain number of people, it was an automated message that would go out from individuals' Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, whatever. Back when we had Tumblrs...
I think Tumblr still exists, I just think nobody uses them anymore. Sorry, if you're on Tumblr, I don't mean to offend you.
But I mean, in order for the message to go out, a certain number of people had to sign up. And I don't think people understand that you can't just put the the ask out and have 100 people to sign up. We could put that ask out by email, and on social media, and we'd maybe get twenty-five or thirty people routinely who were consistent, loyal, digital organizers for us, who would sign up. And then you have to make a bigger push to get over to like sixty, sixty-five, seventy-five, you really have to start sharing it. And at some point, you'd get, like, you'd need fifteen or ten more, and now you're down to I've got to text people. I've got to text, like: I. Need. You. To. Sign. Up. For. This. Thing. Now. And it would be always down to the last minute. Because that is the sort of Herculean effort, you have to put into something that looks really simple, but it really takes a lot of work behind the scenes. And then the irony that I'd often tell, you know, it literally was like two clicks, take 15 seconds, two clicks, click here, click here, you're done. You've done everything we've asked you to do. And I'd have people email me back and say, "I just don't have time to do this right now." And I'd always think, well, that took longer than the clicks. So anyway...
No! It's all still organizing, right? Even though it's online, it's still creating real personal relationships, that then you leverage to get people to do shit for you. We always joke as staffers, like, you know, if you haven't shaken down one of your parents or brothers or sisters or loved ones to do something, either give money or make phone calls or something, you're not really in politics, and that's everybody, right? Like, I'll ask my parents, I'm like, "Did you vote today?" So it's it's all organizing. And it's all building these personal relationships that then you again, you know, exert pressure to make people do shit.
And that's right. And it's the relationships you get to keep. Right? So I am very honored and grateful that I have kept your relationship all these years. I'm sorry that we've missed each other - you've expanded your family, and now we're in a pandemic - so I haven't been able to see one person, but this is this is the next best thing. So...
No, I will do anything Lynda Woolard ever asks me to do. That's just I mean, I'm sorry. I think you're stuck with me.
Well, I appreciate it. Thank you so much for coming on today and sharing all your advice.
All right. Thank you.
Thank you for listening to Louisiana Lefty. You can find all of Kirstin's recommended resources in our episode notes. You'll also find the first two movie recommendations on Lefty's Watch List there. Please subscribe to our podcast and follow Louisiana Lefty on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Tune in to our next episode to hear more about organizing in Louisiana from our inaugural Organizer of the Month, Naima Savage. Thanks to Ben Collinsworth for producing Louisiana Lefty, Jennifer Pack of Black Cat Studios for our Super-Lefty artwork, and Thousand $ Car for allowing us to use their swamp pop classic, Security Guard, as our Louisiana Lefty theme song.