The Ripple: Evanston residents, organizations mobilize for state, local elections

Clare Proctor, Reporter

CLARE PROCTOR: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Clare Proctor. Welcome to The Ripple, a biweekly podcast on the effects of state and national politics on the Evanston and Northwestern community. Coming off the heels of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, we know that the presidential election is on the front of everyone’s minds. 

But on this episode of The Ripple, we wanted to dive into some of the more local elections — what’s happening more on the grassroots-level. This week, we discuss the way Evanston residents are organizing and getting involved in state and local elections and campaigns. 

GREG ANDRUS: I know that the presidency is what sort of gets everybody. It’s what people read about every day. But when you think about your day-to-day life, local government, and especially something like the state’s attorney, is going to have a much more direct impact on your day-to-day life. Most people’s interaction with the justice system is with judges or with cops or with attorneys, like the state’s attorney so knowing who those people are, it’s going to be really important.

CLARE PROCTOR: That was Greg Andrus, the political committee chairman for the Democratic Party of Evanston, or the DPOE. When election day rolls around on Nov. 3, Evanston’s eligible voters won’t only be casting their ballots for who will occupy the White House for the next four years. They’ll also be voting on races for the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Cook County State’s Attorney, the water reclamation district board and more. 

Before choosing which candidates to endorse, DPOE’s members had a chance to hear from candidates running in elections up and down the ballot. Evanston Democrats heard from everyone from Jacob Meister, who’s running for the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County… 

JACOB MEISTER: I’m the only candidate in this room who’s actually practiced in the circuit court of Cook County for my career. It’s important. If you speak to any of the judges or lawyers, it’s a universally recognized truth that this court system cannot continue to operate the way it has. We can’t allow the party machine apparatus to keep holding control of the office.

CLARE PROCTOR: … to U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston), who spoke on behalf of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) campaign.

JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Two reasons why I think we should support Elizabeth Warren: One, I do think she is the most electable candidate. My second reason is that we need an inspiring candidate.

CLARE PROCTOR: But kicking off the meeting was Eamon Kelly, who hosted the event. He rallied attendees to organize political efforts around the Democratic vote. 

EAMON KELLY: You should take your value-based decision about who you support seriously.

But when the primary is over, you have to make a plan and start making a plan now for how you are going to go to Michigan and Wisconsin, and you’re going to have a conversation with voters in suburban Wisconsin and suburban Michigan that have pulled a Republican ballot for 12 years, and you’re going to tell them why this is the election they’re going to vote for a Democrat.

I want you to make a plan right now. How many weekends can you go, how many Saturdays will you give up? Write it in your calendar right now. Which days are you going to give up? And then dig a little deeper because you have to believe that you can make a difference, and you have to believe that you must make a difference.

CLARE PROCTOR: Because Evanston is a very left-leaning city, much of the DPOE’s campaign efforts target red or purple counties in Michigan and Wisconsin. This means doing phone banking events where volunteers call eligible voters in these areas to flip them blue. As we get closer and closer to November’s elections, these phone banking events will increase. Starting in May, volunteers will be at DPOE’s headquarters every night making phone calls.

GREG ANDRUS: Right now, we’re not doing things that are explicitly for the presidential election. But all of the party building that we’re doing right now in Berrien County, Michigan, what we’re going to start doing up in Kalamazoo will eventually work to help get a Democratic president elected. I mean, every volunteer we recruit for (the) Berrien County, Michigan Democratic Party is not just going to work to flip that house seat. It’s going to work to keep Senator Peters in office in Michigan because if we want to flip the Senate, we need to hold that seat, and it will work to get Michigan’s electoral votes for the Democratic candidate.

I think of it as exporting talent. We vote, but as a way to help out, it was really to capture the energy from this bright blue district and help out our neighbors who need it.

CLARE PROCTOR: Kalamazoo, Berrien County and a whole host of other places are a part of the DPOE’s Midwest Alliance of Progressives, or MAP, an initiative to elect and re-elect progressives on a local, state and national level by partnering with local Democratic parties in the region. 

GREG ANDRUS: As a Democratic Party, we’re going to be here forever. A campaign will disappear after the election, so the contacts we make there and the relationships we build there aren’t going to last past the election.

CLARE PROCTOR: While most of the DPOE’s volunteers are Evanston residents, some volunteers come from Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. The group has also had students from Evanston Township High School volunteer with them. 

Andrus himself started volunteering with the DPOE after the 2016 election. He said the excitement volunteers get from engaging in the political process is something he’s experienced personally. 

GREG ANDRUS: It just makes me feel less helpless. I come in, and I make phone calls, and I talk to people, and I get people who might not be politically engaged. I get them to think about politics, or I find somebody who’s a really strong Democratic voter, and then I convince them to go be a volunteer. And whenever I do that, I feel like it’s not just me reading the news and feeling helpless. It’s about doing something.

CLARE PROCTOR: Even before the endorsement meeting, the DPOE opened up its doors to candidates to hold campaign events or meet DPOE members. Kim Foxx, the Cook County State’s Attorney who is running for reelection, came to the DPOE headquarters Feb. 1 to do just that.

KIM FOXX: I need another four years because we’re just scratching the surface. The work that I want to do around drug addiction and mental health is at the forefront. We’ve gathered people from all sectors together to imagine a justice system where we don’t prosecute people for being mentally ill or having substance use disorder. Imagine that. And then tell us, how do we build that? That is the work that’s to be done.

CLARE PROCTOR: After the event, Foxx told us why making a connection with local groups like the DPOE is important to her campaign.

KIM FOXX: It doesn’t matter how much money people put in and put on television. It’s neighbor to neighbor, it’s people who are deeply affected by these issues personally, going out and telling their stories and advocating for people to move. They are the most persuasive — people are more persuasive than advertising. And so it’s important for people to be able to see you, hear you, ask you difficult questions so that they feel a sense of comfort that they’d be willing to advocate for you outside of these walls.

CLARE PROCTOR: The DPOE isn’t the only grassroots organization in Evanston mobilizing around the 2020 election. Indivisible Evanston, a local branch of the national Indivisible movement focusing on local advocacy, formed in the wake of the 2016 election. Here’s Laura Tanner Swinand, the group’s co-founder.

LAURA TANNER SWINAND: I had done some work on the Clinton campaign volunteering but really almost felt like I wish I’d done more. And I was really dumbfounded, honestly, just horrified by the result of Trump winning.

When I read this Indivisible Guide, which was created by two former Congressional staffers — which was a really common-sense, strategic, well-thought-out plan for how citizens could take our own power back and push back on things — the first thing that came up was the immigration policies, the travel bans. It started really with that.

CLARE PROCTOR: Indivisible Evanston has written tens of thousands of postcards to voters, reminding them to register to vote or check their registration status. They also organize phone banking events and attend rallies. 

LAURA TANNER SWINAND: We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We do partner with organizations, both at the national and local level to mobilize people out on the streets. We do our own events here in Evanston, and then there’s larger events down in Chicago where we participate in that as well, like something like the Women’s March, which is a coalition of local Chicagoland-area grassroots organizations. And then being part of the national Indivisible network that also partners with other national groups to do these big nationwide actions.

CLARE PROCTOR: While Indivisible Evanston may be located in Evanston, much of its efforts are focused on the national political arena, rather than on tackling local city issues. 

LAURA TANNER SWINAND: If we don’t accomplish this goal of taking control back, basically getting Trump out and anyone who is going along with his presidency, there’s so much at risk here that is going to have damage for a long time. The energy for local issues is super important, but right now, it’s like the Titanic is sinking. There might be a lot of loose floorboards, but it’s not going to matter if the ship is sunk, so we’re focusing on trying to prevent the sinking, and then we can worry about lots of other things.

CLARE PROCTOR: Whether efforts are focused on the race for the White House or a local campaign, and no matter which way groups are mobilizing, organizers agree that the onus falls on citizens to take action. 

GREG ANDRUS: What people really need to realize is that this election, and really, politics in general — it’s going to be in your hands. If people want to see a change, they have to come and be the change.

CLARE PROCTOR: Thanks for listening. We’ll catch you on the next episode of The Ripple. This episode was reported and produced by me, Clare Proctor, and Maya Reter. It was edited by Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava. The Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Northwestern is Troy Closson.

Maya Reter and Jacob Fulton contributed reporting to this podcast. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @ceproctor23

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