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The address is in New Hope, Pennsylvania, 2,862 miles from where I’m crouched over my coffee table in Vallejo, California, gripping a bright blue pen. I’ve never been to Pennsylvania and don’t know much about it, but a story there made headlines earlier this month: “12-year-old with loaded military-style rifle arrested in Philadelphia.”
Abby the Address Bot texted me the address (one of 5) along with a list of talking points.
She’s an automated service set up by Postcards to Voters, a nationwide get-out-the-vote effort started in Georgia last spring. I text Abby every month or so, requesting the addresses of registered Democratic voters in places where special elections are coming up.
Hello! I write. Democrat Helen Tai is running for Pennsylvania State House in District 178. The election is Tuesday, May 15th. Helen is ready to fight: for better public schools funding, long lines and red tape to make the legislature more efficient, and to ban all military-assault style weapons. Please vote and tell your friends!
I sign my name and flip the postcard over. It’s one of a 100-pack I ordered through Amazon, featuring botanical illustrations from the archives of The New York Botanical Garden. The petals on this card are white with yellow buds bursting at the center: Queen of the Night Cactus, it reads. Above the blooms I write in purple ink, Are You Ready to Vote? In the morning I’ll place the completed cards in my mail slot to be picked up and sent — a ritual that brings me satisfaction, if not peace.
None of this was part of the plan. Until last year, I didn’t know what a special election or a flipped seat or a “blue wave” referred to. I followed politics on the national level, not state-by-state and race-by-race. But when I watched Hillary Clinton give her concession speech — wearing that badass purple-lapel suit and telling young girls they are valuable and powerful — something inside me split open.
I moved to the US from Canada in 2012. My American fiancé-now-husband, Joe, and I planned to get married, start trying for a baby, and begin the next chapter of our lives: freelance writing for me, grad school for him. (We met in South Korea, where we lived for two years teaching English to kids.) Obama was re-elected soon after I arrived, and 2016 seemed a distant point in a future that felt promising.
Joe and I did get married, in a tiny town on the coast of Oregon, and a year later I was pregnant, but I lost the pregnancy at nine weeks and there hasn’t been another since. By the time Trump was stalking Hillary on a debate stage in St. Louis, I’d had a cyst removed from my left ovary and been diagnosed with endometriosis. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have a baby, but I was positive (adamant!) this horrific man wouldn’t become president.
A few weeks after the election, my dad called. “How are you doing?” he asked. “You over Trump getting elected?”
I was a little taken aback. My dad is a liberal Canadian who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and he was concerned when Trump won, but I’d woken up on November 9th despondent. This vastly qualified, kind, intelligent woman was supposed to lead the country, and Americans had voted in the pussy-grabbing racist. Sitting in a coffeeshop two days later, I’d found myself looking at everyone who walked in with suspicion: Who did they vote for? What side were they on?
“No, Dad,” I said. “I’ll never be over it.”
Postcards To Voters was started by a guy named Tony McMullin, known more widely as Tony the Democrat. Attempting to boost voter turnout for Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s 6th congressional district last March, McMullin recruited an initial five volunteers through facebook to write five postcards each. Since then, more than 17,000 people, mostly women, have joined the effort, throwing postcard parties for elections across the country and channelling their outrage into action. We’ve written nearly 1 million postcards reminding people to vote in over 80 elections, from school board and city council races to State Senate, State Representative and US Congress. (The organizers work directly with individual campaigns, ensuring the message is unified.) We’ve had 45 wins — including flipping seats from red to blue in places like Florida, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Alabama.
For me the activity has been partly social, mostly solitary. I wrote to New Hampshire voters while watching Rachel Lindsay make out with Peter Kraus in a hot tub on Season 13 of the Bachelorette. (Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh defeated Republican David Boutin in that race, 55% to 44%.) I finished off a stack for Phoenix City Council candidate Kevin Patterson from the air while flying to Chicago last summer to visit Joe’s family. (He lost to Republican incumbent Sal DiCiccio.) I wrote to Alabama voters with my friends Erin and Jyl and Erin’s two kids at a Vallejo coffee shop in November, determined to keep alleged sexual harasser/pedophile Roy Moore out of Congress. (It worked.) At an Indivisible Meeting in March, a group of us wrote 70 postcards for Conor Lamb in Philadelphia. (Also a win.)
The postcards are my chance to be hopeful.
I’ve been trying to repair my spirit in the fateful months since the winner of the popular vote had to concede to that demagogue endorsed by the KKK, but the daily chaos and turmoil of this administration chips away at my resolve. I’m terrified for the planet. I’m no longer sure we should bring a child into this mess, even if we could. (We’re looking at fostering kids.) I write and hike and read and release my hips in pigeon pose and call my friends in Canada and march for women and march for the climate and march for our lives and curl up on the couch with Joe and the cats and send good vibes to Robert Mueller and watch the neighborhood hummingbirds drink from the bottlebrush tree, sustaining themselves as they hover, but every day the weight of this fact remains: Donald Trump is the Goddamn president, governing via Fox & Friends and tweeting the country off a cliff.
They read my message urging them to vote and think: This person cares too.
Writing to strangers, I try to convey a tone of optimism, the subtext being, we can still turn things around! (We can, if people vote.) I imagine them getting home from work in Virginia or Iowa or Oklahoma, people who feel outraged by the ICE roundups or the Nazi rally in Charlottesville or the school shooting in Parkland or cynical about Scott Pruitt’s $43,000 phone booth or confused about Russian bots or disillusioned with alternative facts and government shutdowns and thoughts and prayers or, like me on my worst days, drained of faith in human kindness prevailing over greed. They sift through a stack of mail and spot a single white card, printed with Star Fruit, maybe, or Flower of the Gods. They read my message urging them to vote and think: This person cares too.
I wasn’t able to cast a ballot for Hillary; as a green card holder, I’m not allowed to vote in US elections. One day I’ll apply for citizenship, but for now the postcards are my way of participating in a democracy I used to take for granted. They’re my unity cry — a nod across state lines that says, we’re in this together. They’re proof I haven’t given up.
If you receive one, stick it to your fridge and remember to vote. Someone like me is on the other side of that USA Forever stamp, counting on it.