The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A new kind of grass-roots political organization?

College-educated suburban women are taking political action.

Lorraine Wilburn, who is running for a seat in Ohio's state House, talks with voters in Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 15. (Dustin Franz for The Washington Post)

Full disclosure: I married a Democrat. My wife has always been on the liberal side of the political spectrum. Back when I was a Republican, we had a lovely ritual on election days: We would go cancel out each other’s vote and then grab brunch. It was a simpler time.

My wife has been sporadically active in politics in past cycles, though mostly with local elections, such as an override vote that permitted our town to raise taxes to increase spending on the public school system. In 2016 she supported Hillary Clinton but did not do all that much to campaign for her. She admits that she felt little sense of urgency — there was no way Donald Trump could win, right?

Trump did win, and it would be safe to say that my wife is now very politically active heading into the midterms. Living in the deep blue state of Massachusetts, however, there is only so much that can be done locally.

So what has my darling bride done? She’s attended some marches and protests in the past two years. She’s also given some money to out-of-state candidates. To be honest, however, these things haven’t been her primary activity. No, she’s given something much more precious: her time and her penmanship. Volunteering at the local chapter of Sister District every weekend, she handwrites postcards to voters in a Pennsylvania state Senate race, urging them to vote for the Democrat. (Postcards are apparently more effective than calling or texting, which most recipients understandably find annoying.)

Let me repeat: Her energies have been focused on a Pennsylvania state Senate race.

She had been doing this before Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but Trump’s statements about Christine Blasey Ford pushed her into overdrive. When I asked her how these activities make her feel, she perked up and acknowledged the positive feelings she received from organizing with like-minded folks furious about Trump’s victory in 2016. And by like-minded, I mean college-educated suburban women like herself.

My wife is not the only person I know who has responded to 2016 in this fashion. A lot of female friends, relatives and colleagues who were previously politically passive have been activated, and, boy, they do not like Donald Trump. Because they live in fairly liberal enclaves, however, their political activism has moved beyond the local. Through Sister District or Swing Left, they are trying to target their political energy in areas where it will make a difference.

I bring this up because after two years of unending Trump-voters-in-the-heartland profiles, the mainstream media is starting to profile people like my wife. On Monday, my Washington Post colleagues Michael Scherer and David Weigel took a look at this movement in the Midwest:

Like the conservative tea party groups that rose up after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 and that helped Republicans retake the House and gain power in state legislatures in 2010, this new liberal movement has emerged largely outside the traditional party structure.
It is led by hundreds of thousands of mostly white, college-educated, middle-aged women who trace their inspiration to the inaugural women’s marches in January 2017 and whose ambitions have only grown amid a succession of disagreements with Trump, including over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. ...
National networks with names such as Indivisible, Action Together and Together We Will serve as organizing umbrellas for thousands of far-flung, self-directed activists. New national organizations including Swing Left, Sister District and Flippable have more-centralized operations targeting specific races. Still other efforts, such as Mobilize, are little more than new technology platforms that allow activists to connect to campaigns online. All told, this loosely woven framework has added up to a potentially potent force, new on the political left, with a singular goal of winning elections.

BuzzFeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy reported on the same phenomenon Tuesday:

College-educated and suburban women are also the group perhaps most energized in this year’s election campaigns. If Democrats take Congress, it’ll be suburban women’s interests that get them there: less socialism, more education reform; less Medicare for All, more Affordable Care Act; less political battling, more bipartisanship.
Conversations with more than three dozen suburban women voters across three swing districts in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota illuminate that stark shift. For many of these women, a longstanding personal dislike of Trump has seeped into the Republican Party since the 2016 election — even to many Republican incumbents who have scrambled to distance themselves from the president.
More than a dozen women who said they voted for Republicans in those districts in the past — splitting tickets or even voting straight down a party line — echoed a similar sentiment: Not this time.
The 2018 midterm hinges on voters like them.

Both of these stories correctly note that this is not the only political trend affecting the midterm elections. Maybe Hispanic voters will prove to be less politically active and more pro-Trump than Democrats assumed. Or maybe Trump’s base is now fully exercised to turn out in November. Or maybe the gerrymandering and voter restriction efforts will take their toll.

All I know is that it would be hard to underestimate the depth of anger among college-educated women right now. And in my personal experience, this demographic does not just get angry, they get determined. They write postcards. They organize. They network.

We will see who reaps the whirlwind.