Postcards From Left of Center

Since the beginning of this never-ending U.S. election season, writing postcards to voters has been part of my daily domestic hygiene routine. It’s right up there with hand washing, flossing, making my bed, and listening to Brian Lehrer on WNYC. The act of hand writing positive messages, over and over, has both given me solace and offered an antidote to the onslaught of daily—somehow still shocking—frightening and egregious news. 

I’m one of thousands of volunteers who joined Postcards to Voters to send handwritten, friendly reminders, encouraging Democrats to vote in key races up and down the ballot—in every state. Tony McMullin, known to us postcarders as “Tony-the-Democrat,” founded the group in 2017. It began with a handful of people trying to support Jon Ossoff’s first congressional race. It’s swelled into a movement with more than 75,000 volunteers writing for 238 campaigns, and this year, creating a river of more than 8 million postcards; 1200 of them are mine.

What used to get me out of bed in the morning was a bagel and cream cheese. I never would have imagined the thing that would jump-start my day was saving our Democracy.

“Mom, are you wearing the KN95s I sent? Promise me that you and dad will wear them when you go to Publix or Costco, or when you pick up a hot-pastrami special at Flakowitz Deli.”

“What do you mean you have a bridge game? With who? Oh, it’s online, okay good.”

“Mom, listen, gotta go, I’ll call you later—I’ve got to flip the senate!”

This was the most important election of my lifetime, and after the relentless havoc of the past four years, I was wiped out—and didn’t know what to do. My friend Suzanne, who I often run into when we’re walking our dogs for their morning constitutional, told me about Postcards to Voters

I went to their website, followed the instructions, and emailed a hand written practice postcard as part of their approval process. Postcards to Voters is a self-service, get-out-the-vote interactive enterprise. Once my handwriting sample was deemed legible, I was introduced to Abby the Address Bot. I text HELLO, and my bot-bestie cranks up her address machine, sends addresses, instructions, and even words of encouragement:

Nancy, thanks for all you do

Nancy, keep up the great work

Nancy, I really like your style

Nancy, I know you’re going to make voters smile

This postcard project requires that the card’s imagery be issue-neutral, and that we hand-write them and incorporate a three-sentence script. If I write small enough, and there’s room leftover, I can pick and choose from a list of additional items that they trust me to reword or combine, as long as the message remains the same:

-Relying on science, not politics to beat COVID-19

-Taking climate change seriously

-Taking big money out of politics

-Voting is your Superpower!

– I’m volunteering to write this because the stakes are so high

-Thank you for being a voter

Although I’ve been postcarding in a pandemic vacuum, just knowing that thousands are doing the same makes me feel like I’m part of a team. Though I’m more alone than ever before, somehow it evokes the cooperative nature of a quilting bee, crossed with pen-pal correspondence—even if one-sided. 

A number of friends are also part of this solitary, do-it-yourself mission. On the phone, we’ve compared methods and procedures while we’ve written our way through the campaigns: presidential, congressional, and then the Georgia runoff. 

Finding the right postcards felt like an important decision. A “voter postcard” industry has popped up and flourished to cater to all your get-out-the-vote needs. Postcards to Voters sells volunteer-designed cards and there’s a wide assortment on Etsy. But what message to chose? YOUR VOTE MATTERS, or CHANGE REQUIRES ACTION, or YOUR VOTE = YOUR VOICE, or BE A VOTER?

My friend Melissa is a brilliant designer—she was the driving force behind a blue and white billboard on PA Highway 81 that said, “IF YOU’RE SEEING THIS, THERE IS STILL TIME TO VOTE THEM ALL OUT!” Okay, it wasn’t exactly issue-neutral, but it was pretty darn good messaging—depending on which side of the billboard you stood. She designed a series of graphically elegant and succinct cards on thick, refrigerator-worthy stock. They are my preferred cards.

With a tall stack of Melissa’s cards, rolls of 35-cent stamps, and a book bag’s worth of back-to-school supplies, it was time to begin writing. I settled in at my claw-footed, drop-front writing desk to do my part to protect our Democracy—one postcard at a time.

The next decision was what pen to use? As a left-of-center lefty, I always have to mind the southpaw-smudge, as I drag my hand across a once perfectly good and fresh sentence. Consulting with another left-hander, we concurred that the quick-drying, quotidian and dependable Sharpie is the only way to go. Black or blue Ultra Fine Point, of course. 

Another handy tip I picked up from Melissa was using an assembly line method to get out the message. I’d start with the salutation, Dear Partner in Democracy, on a stack of maybe 10-20 postcards. I’d then write the next sentence on each card, which for the last 500 cards has been: Elect Democrats Ossoff + Warnock for Senate. Then on to the next sentence, and the next, until I wrote my way down to the signature, then over to the address, and lastly the stamp.

At first I balked at this almost robotic process. I felt disconnected from the message. I hoped that the recipient wouldn’t sense the impersonal nature of conveyor-belt campaign correspondence and toss it in the trash. It was a leap of faith to write to someone I didn’t know, even if a fellow Democrat. But the trade-off of not being deeply involved in the narrative was that I was a postcard-writing machine, and mailed hundreds of postcards.

The process evolved. A watershed moment came when a friend asked if I was using highlighters. Highlighters! I grabbed a KN95 mask, ran over to CVS and bought a few packs of vividly colored, chisel-tipped markers. I found that when used judiciously, the graphic power of highlighters grabs attention, punctuates the message, and declares a call to action.

I also began to color-code. The word “democracy” was usually blue—though as a nod to changing one’s colors, I sometimes used purple. Green was for a candidate’s platform on environmental issues, neon yellow was for election dates and times, and fluorescent pink was for imperatives! 

Though really, who was I kidding? Highlighting, underlining and coloring with a rainbow palette’s worth of felt tip markers is just a whole lot of fun.

But as I was writing, I couldn’t help wondering about the effectiveness of this pursuit, the hours spent, the millions of cards landing in mailboxes across the country? Tony the Democrat thinks it’s falls somewhere in between door-knocking and phone-banking. 

So what prompted me to write these postcards?  Why did I spend so much energy on this sequestered citizen-activist pursuit? I wrote because:

Kids ripped from their parents and held in cages.

Black Americans murdered while driving, while jogging, while sleeping, while holding a sandwich.

You can’t negotiate with white supremacy.

Hundreds of corpses stacked in refrigerator trucks.

Drilled decimated wild lands.

People have lost their jobs, their health insurance. 

Fellow citizens are hungry, and they’re being evicted.

Inequality, the suffering, the hypocrisy, the grift, the lying, the hatred, the violence.

Because, because, because…

Because we can do better.

I wrote postcards nearly every day from the first week in September until December 29th, which was the mailing deadline for the January 5th Georgia runoff election. While I had no way of knowing what direct effect my cards would have, the act of writing them had a surprising effect on me. I became personally invested in candidates and campaigns that had nothing to do with me. Or so I thought. I wrote for Ohio’s Supreme Court Justices, for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, and for Alabama’s State House District 49—to name a few.

I had become an engaged American citizen.

As I signed and stamped my last postcard, I hoped for a world where everyone can make a living wage and had access to affordable healthcare. A world where the needs of people and the planet take precedence over corporate profits. A world ruled by empathy and kindness.

I hoped for mailbox magic.

Yours in Democracy,

Nancy—a volunteer.