Encouraging voters, one postcard at a time
By Lindsay A. Powers | The Gazette,
In an age of e-mails, phone calls and text messages, participants in a campaigning project for President Obama have reached a unique goal — creating more than 75,000 handwritten postcards sent to seniors in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia encouraging them to vote for the president and the Democratic candidates for Congress.
Although about half of those postcards were written by residents of Leisure World, where the project began, tens of thousands more were written around the state and country as the project spread to include about 1,000 active volunteers.
Shirley Bieri was one of more than 300 participants from Silver Spring’s Leisure World, a private, age-restricted community with about 8,500 residents.
Bieri, a Leisure World resident for 28 years, said she wrote about 10 postcards per day since the Obama Postcard Project began in April.
“I actually made it part of my everyday life,” she said. “I would sit down every day and write a certain number so that I’d reach my goal of 1,000, and then I ran over.”
Bieri said she wrote “quite a bit” in each postcard, including messages about women’s rights, fair taxes and other issues.
As a team leader, Bieri said she not only worked with other residents in her building, but people she danced with as well.
Even though she is done writing postcards, she said she plans to “keep my mouth going.”
“We’ve still got a way to go,” she said. “We’ve still got to work.”
Peggy Capozzi, also a team leader in the project and a resident, said she helped recruit individuals, and although some people were hesitant, many responded positively.
Capozzi said she thinks a postcard has “a personal note to it” and many residents are not fans of political phone calls or repeated requests for funds.
“This is a way of reaching out to people that most people seem to be receptive to,” she said.
Each card was supposed to include the message to vote for Obama and Democrats in the Senate and House, but card writers were able to include a personal touch as well.
“Our cards are really revealing about all of us, all the people who wrote them,” said Martha Robinson, the project’s leader and creator who was involved in a similar, though smaller, project in 2008 directed toward Virginia swing districts.
The original goal of 100,000 postcards turned out to be a bit high, but Robinson said 30,000 cards already had been distributed to participants by early June, prompting additional orders.
Robinson, also a Leisure World resident, said she considered Tuesday — the day she planned to send out the last batch of 250 cards — the project’s final day.
“It takes a long time to write these cards,” she said.
A writing marathon during the Democratic National Convention helped boost the total, and as the election has neared, Robinson said she saw “a thrill” and “a spark” among the project’s participants.
“I have not seen one [postcard project] on this scale at all,” she said.
Robinson said she realized that postcards were a good way to allow residents to “participate heavily” and could activate a lot of people.
The project, which was partially funded by the Democratic Club of Leisure World, jumped the boundaries of the Leisure World community. Residents’ families and friends as well as other interested individuals and groups began asking to join and setting up their own “outposts” for the project, Robinson said.
By the end of the project, 18 states — including Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida — and the District contained card writers.
Two YouTube videos about the project also helped spread the word and motivate participants, Robinson said.
“It was contagious,” she said.
Robinson described a Democratic club in Austin, Texas, that sent her a picture of one of their last postcard-related gatherings.
“They are just so enthused about what they’ve done and what was possible,” she said.
Though the Leisure World participants were broken into teams, Robinson said “it’s been a very cohesive group,” although one team leader decided she wanted her team to write the most cards.
“They wrote over 3,000. She won,” Robinson said, laughing.
A group of six card writers became the “Go Blue Singers,” who wrote musical parodies with titles such as “Bye Bye Romney” (to the tune of “Bye Bye Blackbird”).
Carole Portis, also a resident of Leisure World and a project volunteer who said she wrote about 300 postcards, said she will be at the polls Nov. 6 with “bells on my toes.”
“I’m a disabled veteran. I’m a senior. All the issues regarding Social Security and Medicare affect me,” she said.
Portis said that she also has called relatives outside Maryland to vote for Obama.
“Oh yes, every last one of them,” she said.
An Oct. 11 event held by the Democratic Club of Leisure World included appearances from government officials, including U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and state Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s) of Landover, whom Robinson said were among the politicians who helped the project in one way or another.
They and others asked the community residents for their support at the event.
“We’re up against Republicans who will do anything to win this election. We’re up against Republicans who have a lot more money,” Cardin said. “And what do we have? We have you.”
Benson commended the participants of the postcard project and called for ongoing participation from Leisure World residents in what she called “probably the most serious election in the history of this country.”
“We need to get busy, we need to get up off our chairs, we need to call Lottie, Dottie and everybody and tell them it is time for us to get busy,” she said.