On November 6, 2018, I sat with a group of about twenty anxious women, all members of Staten Island Women who March (SIWWM), huddled together at Errigo’s Restaurant on the Island’s North Shore with our eyes fixed on the TV news crawl.
At 9:34pm, with 76 percent of precincts reporting in New York’s 11th congressional district, the race between GOP incumbent Dan Donovan and first-time challenger Democrat Max Rose was too close to call. We collectively held our breath, too apprehensive to believe that Staten Island, long considered a conservative stronghold, could be flipping blue this year.
Organizing is a ton of work…
I joined SIWWM in August 2017, having discovered the group on social media while searching for like-minded folks on Staten Island. Feeling powerless and frustrated after the 2016 elections, I was looking to channel my energy into positive action. The group’s mission of amplifying the voices of those most underserved and underrepresented in the community resonated with me immediately.
During primary season, we held a “speed dating” candidates forum where voters were able to make the rounds table by table with each of the democratic candidates in the race, asking targeted questions about issues important to voters in the district. After Max Rose won his primary, our focus switched entirely to voter engagement and turnout, with the sole focus of flipping the district from red to blue.
Through targeted initiatives such as tabling at local events, a massive voter registration drive, and hosting free civics classes for the community, we were able to effectively engage new voters. In total, SIWWM held tables at 13 events, registering almost 300 new voters and obtaining pledges from 600 already-registered voters to show up at the polls in November. We also conducted four civics classes for the community, while holding weekly sessions for SIWWM members.
Our massive get-out-the-vote effort culminated with more than 22,000 handwritten letters from SWIMM members to reluctant voters — and a blitz of more than 12,000 text messages the weekend before Election Day urging apathetic voters to get to the polls.
…But it feels incredible to win
At 9:49pm on election night, SIWWM co-founder Roxanne Mustafa began to read aloud a text from her phone. One of our strategic partners who had been crunching numbers for us exclaimed, “Holy shit! You did it!” Max Rose was up by four percent. Moments later at 10:04pm, the room erupted with tears and joy as the news declared that Donovan had conceded the race.
Rose had won! We did it! We helped flip our district from red to blue. According to the Cook Political Report, it was one of the largest flips of the election cycle. We celebrated our success in this election with the hashtag #WomenTookCareOfIt.
What was particularly satisfying in the election results was that SIWWM’s community outreach and engagement efforts resulted in tremendous increases in turnout among women, immigrants, and people of color. While we are not solely responsible, our internal metrics indicate that our efforts were crucial in the final winning outcome.
Our group has grown exponentially as a grassroots organization and has demonstrated vitality and sustainability in its 22-month lifespan. Staten Island’s reputation as a bastion of political conservatism paints only a partial picture of a complex reality, resembling America as a whole more than other New York boroughs.
After our success in the midterms we are looking forward to continued engagement with the community — and we’ve already begun to plan future events with an eye towards 2020. Our main goal is to build a bench of strong women candidates to run in future elections.
If we can do it in Staten Island, community organizing can make a difference anywhere and everywhere.
Need some help mobilizing people for your cause? Let’s talk about it.