When it comes to engaging voters around Virginia to vote Democratic, the Arlington County Democrats have few peers. With three groups active downstate, Arlington Dems have been punching above their weight for years, organizing canvassing, phonebanking, and postcard writing to support Democratic candidates in swing districts. They're doing the same again in the crucial 2021 elections - and they need YOUR help !!
Rose Fabia, chair of Beyond Arlington, who has been organizing for Democrats since she was a high schooler in ruby-red Kansas, sees it all the time. “When I go to campaign in another part of the state and they find out I’m with Beyond Arlington, a campaign manager will say, `I know of, like, five campaigns that need your help!’ And I just have to say, `We will do what we can!’”
Beyond Arlington, a committee of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ArlDems) that was founded in November 2016 by Steve Baker, certainly accounts for the lion’s share of our renown in Virginia Democratic circles. However, Blue Families, another ArlDems group led by Josh Kaplowitz, and the Arlington Young Democrats (AYD), led by Matt Royer, have become some of Beyond Arlington’s most reliable and frequent collaborators.
Josh says he was drawn to “getting outside of Arlington” after hearing Del. Rip Sullivan say that at least 17 of the Virginia House Delegate districts won by Hillary in 2016 were held by Republicans. “And I thought, `Now that’s how we can really resist Trump, by showing we can win those seats in VA!’” he said.
Blue Families organized canvassing outside of Arlington to help elect Pennsylvania’s Conor Lamb to Congress and postcards for the Senate campaign of Alabama’s Doug Jones in 2017. In 2018, AYD joined Beyond Arlington and Blue Families to ensure that Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton ousted three Republican incumbents from the U.S. House Virginia delegation.
Rose said the Spanberger win remains the one of which she is most proud. “Steve and I were down there working almost every single weekend. I could drive that route in my sleep!” she said.
After hosting almost a dozen in-person postcard writing parties in 2018, in 2019, Blue Families initiated a system of pre-packaging its postcard-writing efforts. As the efficient pre-packaging setup made the projects even more successful, both for voter turnout and for recruiting volunteers, Blue Families plugged it into various grassroots coalitions and campaigns.
The result? In 2020, ArlDems Blue Families delivered nearly a quarter-million (243,000 to be exact) postcards to voters in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Michigan, and Texas.
Says Josh, “I know that during the Trump era, it became common for blue regions to fan out to less Democratic states and counties, but just how many blue counties punch above their weight like Arlington does? If the same percentage of Democrats in the New York metro area, for example, would fan out to Pennsylvania in 2022, it would really help us take that Senate seat.”
Meanwhile, says Matt, the Arlington Young Dems, which he joined in 2016, have been focused on flipping GOP-held seats “for as long as I can remember!”
“Every year, Arlington AYD is tops for doors knocked” among other AYD chapters, he says. “I don’t see it as a competition, but an uplift, a question of `how can we help our fellow Dems’. Arlington just has a way of doing it. There are not a lot of places that go out as cohesively or smoothly as we do.”
“I realized that we are younger, with fewer responsibilities, so we could travel out more to these districts and benefit from having such a tight-knit network with other VAYD groups, such as our council of VAYD presidents,” he said. “So, I said, `Let’s go wherever we can, so we targeted 5 [VA] Senate and 10 [VA] House seats.”
In November 2019, the Democrats took control of the Virginia Statehouse.
“When we flipped the [VA] House and Senate, it was like a huge weight off our chest, and gave us the momentum to say, `Yes, we will take back the White House,” said Matt.
Last year opened with enormous promise for Arlington Dems’ ability to turn elections in our favor. In fact, the trip Josh counts as Blue Families’ biggest success occurred on March 7-8, 2020, about a week before the pandemic shut everything down. “We put together a coalition of people from DMV to bring 40 people to the Research Triangle, and we registered 200 new voters,” he says. “It is kind of bittersweet because we could have registered 2,000,” had they been able to undertake trips throughout the year, he said.
One lesson from the pandemic reinforced the extraordinary influence of canvassing on voters. Rose, Josh, and Matt agree with studies that have shown person-to-person contact to beat all other forms of contact, requiring the fewest “touches” before a voter will act.
Rose, Josh. and Matt also all agreed that not being from the area being canvassed makes no difference. “I think it’s only a positive,” said Rose. “People I canvass say, 'Thank You’, and `There must be something about this candidate for you to drive two hours down here to work for them!’ And I always tell them that “VA is my district,” that whatever they do in the state legislature affects my life in Arlington.”
The key is simply to be in tune with the audience. “You ask them, 'What is most important to you?’,” said Matt, and avoid trying to tell the voter what’s “important.” “The thing is to gear the conversation toward what the person wants to talk about,” he said, and to be ready to explain why voting for Democratic candidates will support their interests.
Getting people comfortable with canvassing is important, says Matt. “With the Young Dems, we get people out of their shell first, then say, come out with us. We had people who had never done anything, now every weekend, they’re doing a couple of packets!”
Meanwhile, the slowdown in downstate electioneering last year clearly did not affect the Arlington Democrats’ reputation as a powerhouse ally to winning races. Early on this year, the campaign manager for Paul Siker, who is challenging extreme Trumpista Dave LaRock for the 33rd VA delegate district, reached out to Arlington Dems for assistance. Says Rose, “We decided to go with the races in NoVa that we knew would be the tightest: Dan Helmer, Wendy Gooditis, Josh Cole, Paul Siker and Briana Sewell, to hold onto Hala Ayala’s seat.”
With Beyond Arlington, Blue Families and the Arlington Young Dems all working for their election, their odds have all improved--especially if you come out and join them! Sign up with the group of your choice, watch this website for opportunities, and let’s all push our Democratic candidates over the line across the entire state to keep Virginia Blue.