The mood among Democratic organizers has been bleak for a while. Four years of Donald Trump has left the base exhausted, two-plus years of COVID-19 has left activists burned-out, and stalled progress during the Biden Administration on issues like voting rights, climate change, and child care has left Democrats demoralized. Many assume the party is headed for a wood-chipper in November, offering voters a big pile of zilch.
“Right now we have trifecta government and they are doing nothing,” says Amanda Litman, who runs Run for Something, which recruits young Democrats to run for state and local office. “It’s very hard right now to make the case for why Democrats should be in control, besides reducing harm.”
But the case for “reducing harm” got a lot more persuasive this week, with the publication of a leaked document suggested that a majority of the Supreme Court—including three justices nominated by Trump—is on the brink of overturning Roe v. Wade.
Bad as this would be from liberals’ perspective, the prospect may re-energize an exhausted base. “This is probably the best thing that could have happened from an electoral standpoint, in terms of animating Democrats,” says Jess Morales Rocketto, a Democratic strategist who has organized around progressive issues like reproductive rights.
It couldn’t come at a more important time. The grassroots organizers who powered the party’s wins in 2018 and 2020 say that the last few years have left them burnt out. Many of the most devoted members of the anti-Trump resistance were women, and many of those women found themselves carrying the heaviest burdens during the pandemic.
“People were exhausted,” says Carolyn Eberly, founder of a North Carolina Indivisible group that organized Democratic volunteers in the 2018 midterms, a 2019 special election, and the 2020 Presidential race. “Covid really set us back. People wanted to kind of withdraw a little bit, look at the big picture, at what’s important for me and my family.”
Now, Eberly says, outrage has jolted women back into action. “Without this, the midterms were kind of questionable in terms of people’s involvement,” she says. “I feel like there are other women that are gonna jump into this that haven’t been involved before, that are really going to be energized.”
In 2018, many Democrats found community in their local organizing groups, particularly in conservative areas. In 2020, the anti-Trump fervor helped many of those groups power through the pandemic to deliver victory for Biden. But in 2021, people began to get sick of all the many-headed Zoom calls. And in 2022, local organizers were seeing their enthusiasm dry up.
“I’m not sure I would call it malaise. I would call it fatigue, for sure,” says Vicki Miller, who runs an Indivisible group in the Philadelphia area that absorbed another local group after the leaders decided they were done with activism. “I’ve heard from other Indivisible groups that they’ve seen a drop-off in engagement.”
The threat to Roe has the potential to activate these burned-out women, activists say. “People are tired, but they’re more outraged than they are tired,” says Rosemary Dixon, who runs an Indivisible group in Prescott, Ariz. “It’s an apathy remover.”
“It’s a horrible thing to say, but in a way, it’s a gift to progressive organizers,” Dixon adds.
Inspired by Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Aimy Steele founded the New North Carolina Project in 2021 to facilitate year-round political engagement with voters of color. The topic of abortion is still “taboo” in some Black communities, she says, but the leak of the draft majority opinion written by Justice Alito “has had massive impact, especially in communities of color,” she says. “People are being more alert. They’re sounding the alarms,” she says, adding that “they’re engaging in almost George-Floyd-summer-of-protest style engagement.”
And as the last few years have proven, even a small minority of highly motivated women have the potential to tip elections.
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