The handwritten note is back. This week over 136,000 handwritten postcards is arriving in mailboxes across the state.
Four Northern Virginia women (Lisa Howard, Krystal Henson, Dianne Holland, and Robbin Warner) are, leading this massive grassroots effort. We came together during the primary to do our part to reverse the anemic Democratic turnout that occurs in off-year elections. Calling our effort Postcards4VA, we sent over 7,000 postcards for the primary.
When the June primary had the highest turnout for a non-presidential primary in state history, we set our sights higher. We launched the “100 Postcards Challenge” asking volunteers to commit to writing 100 postcards to help flip the Virginia House of Delegates blue. Our call for this low-tech outreach strategy went viral bringing in a tidal wave of volunteers. “We exceeded all expectations,” said Krystal, one of the founders of Postcards4VA and the designer behind the postcard artwork.
Our volunteers were primarily women new to politics and activism. Shocked and frustrated after the 2016 election, these millennials to seniors felt a need to do something. “Writing postcards let me channel my election anxiety into something soothing and tangible,” said Kathryn Laughon from Charlottesville, VA. Postcard writing was a way to be inclusive to the needs of a diverse group of volunteers. Fran from Alexandria, VA said that at 82 she couldn’t physically participate in marches or protest, but she could make a difference by writing postcards. For others, it offered an alternative to the more traditional ways of volunteering. “For people like me who are too nervous to canvass or call, said Cheryl Paulson from Mosely, VA, “this was the perfect way to contribute to the cause!”
Many were worried they wouldn’t be able to write 100 cards, but in the end, a large group wrote much more than 100. “Our volunteers’ dedication was amazing,” said Lisa, another of the Postcards4VA founders. “We had one who got in a bike accident during the Challenge. Even with two arms in splints, she finished all 100 postcards.”
Volunteers wrote personal, heartfelt messages and paid for the cards and the postage themselves. “I’m blown away by the energy and creativity of our 1500 plus volunteers,” said Dianne, another Postcard4VA organizer.
The volunteers wrote their cards at home and at work. One volunteer said that as a small business owner she couldn’t take time off to help with a campaign, but she could sit in her store and write postcards.
Some wrote postcards alone, but more wrote them in groups through postcard parties. There were pizza postcard parties and happy hour parties. Morning coffee get-togethers became a weekly occurrence for WofA (We of Action Virginia) at Northside Social in Clarendon. There were even family-friendly parties where mothers brought their children who wrote and decorated cards with stickers and colored pens.
No one held more postcard sessions than the Fredericksburg Area Pantsuits. “We got into it and we got good at it,” said Kim Wyman one of the forces behind the Pantsuits. “Besides, we know that a lot of these elections will be decided by a handful of votes. Our postcards might go to voters that change the election.”
The powerhouse group Network NoVA not only held weekly coffee get-togethers and helped huddles and neighborhood groups write cards, they also made sure major canvass days included postcard writing.
Katherine Lowry from Arlington, VA found writing postcards “helped me de-stress after reading all the craziness in the news.” In fact, writing postcards may be good for your health. According to Dr. James Pennebaker, Regents Centennial Professor of social psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the leading scholars on the relationship between writing and health, “Writing these postcards is beneficial to people’s mental health both by putting emotions into words and by building a sense of community among writers.”
The postcards went to districts spanning the entire state from District 1 in the southwest corner to District 81 in the southeast corner. Cards went to District 33 at the top of the state and to District 100 on the eastern edge of the state. Cards were written for candidates in rural districts in central Virginia and candidates in the Northern Virginia suburbs. We started out hoping to be able to write postcards to the most flipable districts, but with the flood of volunteers, we were able to write cards to 28 districts.
The candidates in these districts, many new to politics, appreciated this outpouring of grassroots support. “Very few times have I been rendered speechless,” tweeted candidate Rebecca Colaw, running for Delegate in the 64th District. “Thank you to everyone who donated and wrote cards for me.”
Postcards4VA was not the only group writing to Virginia voters. Some candidates set up their own postcard campaigns. Sister District, Plus 3, Postcards to Voters, and Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy wrote postcards too.
There is currently a lot of campaign focus on hi-tech tools and social media. But make no mistake about it, the mighty little postcard is back with more than 136,000 hitting mailboxes now courtesy of Postcards4VA.