By Sarah Traugott
This is where you belong by Melody Warnick
I’ll admit that in the days, months and years since the 2016 election I’ve often wondered if I was doing myself, and particularly my young family, a disservice by living in a red state.
Despite all the things we love about Austin, the insidious conservative backlash of 2016 (with legislative attacks on LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, First amendment rights and human rights) had me re-evaluating my sense of place attachment and connection to my community. Like most people, I indulged in some magical thinking that everything would be better if I lived somewhere else…some place more beautiful, more progressive, more tolerant, more blue. But as every good Texan knows by this point in the long, hot summer: the grass isn’t any greener on the other side of the fence; it’s only greener where you water it.
So I sought advice where I always do: in books! Melody Warnick’s really smart, well researched and persuasive book, This is where you belong, showed me there is a lot I can do right here! I can both change my perceptions about my community and actively effect the changes I want to see take place.
Her advice, it turns out, is something that I was doing instinctively by joining groups like Blue Action Democrats:
1. Lace up your sneakers. (Take a walk around your neighborhood to knock on doors.)
2. Say Hi to your neighbors. (I’ve had many terrific conversations with my neighbors and even folks in neighboring communities about our shared political predicament and how we need to engage in positive change.)
3. Do something fun! (I’ve attended picnics, parties and community building gatherings all over Austin to raise money and support for Democratic candidates.)
4. Volunteer! (Volunteer Deputy Registrar…it's in the name! Volunteer at the Democratic HQ on Old Fredericksburg Road. Volunteer to write postcards, throw a fundraising party, etc.)
5. Get More Political. (See above!)
6. Eat Local. (Torchy’s breakfast tacos before block walking!!)
This book, and reflecting about how we water the grass under our own feet to make it greener (and hopefully blue-er) is what’s saving my life this month…what’s saving your life?
Tell us what's saving your life right now. Drop a summary and photo to
Editor's note: Southwest Austin wasn't always blue. Barb Colvin was one of the first Democratic precinct chairs in SW Austin to organize her precinct with Block Captains. As Democratic chair of Precinct 354 (Travis Country) for about a decade, her grass roots organizational efforts were absolutely instrumental to turning her precinct into a Democratic stronghold, as well as setting an example for others neighborhood-level organizing.
What was Travis Country, Precinct 354, like politically when you first became the precinct chair?
Bob and I moved to Texas to be near our daughters and granddaughters in 1997 after I retired from practicing law in Illinois. In 1999 we moved to Travis Country in Precinct 354. Although I had always been a faithful voter, I had never been involved in politics; but when George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, I knew I had to do something. So I asked some Dems I knew from Austin Newcomers to join me in volunteering at the TCDP office. From that grew the women’s organization Women for Good Government (WGG) and my efforts in Precinct 354.
I did some research and learned that Precinct 354 is large— it has about 4800 registered voters. A map showed the borders of my Precinct, and from Glen Maxey I got a list of voters (in 2004 the Voters Activation Network did not exist). Info from the Travis County Election site showed that in 2000, Precinct 354 Republicans voted 18% straight ticket versus Democrats voted 11% straight ticket; Bush got 56% v. Gore 34%; Rs won all down ballot races except for Lloyd Doggett (US Congressman) and Gonzalo Barrientos (then State Senator) and a few judgeships. It was thought by TCDP to be a reliably Republican stronghold.
How quickly were you able to organize your precinct - what was that like?
The Precinct 354 organization model was made up as we went along, although I attended several workshops along the way and found some good stuff from Colorado. The first thing I learned about Precinct organizing is that you can’t do it alone. I found about 20 enthusiastic yellow dogs (a term I’d never heard, but soon learned was pronounced “YELLA — yella dogs”), and we set to work. We divided the precinct into 43 Blocks and looked for Block Captains for each Block. The BC job was: 1. Find Democrats, and 2. Get them to the polls. We came up with a detailed BC handbook and Andy Brown (TCDP Chair) asked us to write the handbook for Precinct Chairs.
Which election did 354 flip?
In 2004, after working a few months, Precinct 354 Rs still won the most straight party votes and most down ballot races, but by smaller margins than in 2000 (see above). But In 2006 (off year election), Ds turned the tables and won the straight party vote by 8% as well as a number of down ballot races. Dems didn’t field candidates in many judicial races. In 2008 we hit our stride in P354 -- Ds won the straight party vote by 30%, plus almost every race in which they fielded a candidate. Rs didn’t field candidates in most of the judicial races.
Over 500 Dems attended the Precinct Convention and 69 of us represented P354 at the County Convention. But I think the biggest high for me was in September, 2008 when we organized our first COMING HOME picnic and 300 P354 Democrats attended. People looked around in disbelief, saying “I thought I was the only Democrat in the neighborhood". Except for one year we’ve had a picnic every year since. (This year's picnic is Sunday, September 29.)
How do you feel about being held up as the "example" of how to organize a precinct?
I am so proud of the work of literally dozens of Block Captains, Steering Committee members, everybody who has pitched in with block walking, delivering flyers, suggesting great ideas, and served on committees. I want to thank our Picnic Angel, Jerry Walker, our great Precinct 354 Chair since 2014, Lynn Kurth, and most of all, the Democratic voters who have stood in lines, sometimes for hours, to turn Precinct 354 Blue since 2006 — and kept us there all these years!
What is it like to see SW Austin become a solidly Democratic area?
A dream come true! Many thanks to Blue Action Dems!
Are you ready to become a block captain? Contact your precinct chair - it is easy and fun -- and will make a difference in the next election! Join Blue Action Dems to support our work in getting more Democrats elected.
Paul Kurth and Barb Colvin at the annual Precinct 354 Picnic.
On August 11, 20 Blue Action Democrat volunteers joined forces with Austin Allies and Hindu Charities of America to assemble over 1300 backpacks full of school supplies for underprivileged kids in AISD, Manor ISD, and Refugee Services of Texas-Austin.
Some volunteers took their positions at four assembly lines, providing items to fill the backpacks to specification...
...while some volunteers carried and filled backpacks through the line...
...while some volunteers performed quality control to ensure that no items were missing!
Finally, the finished backpacks were loaded into vehicles to be whisked off kids headed back to school. Check out this load of backpacks headed to Refugee Services of Texas-Austin!
While it started out crazy (like most volunteers events), the leadership team put us to work and we made it happen. It was heartwarming and comforting to come together with an incredibly diverse group of people, all making a difference in our community!
Thanks so much to Erika Nowlin for coordinating the event and everyone who joined us to GSD!!
Blue Action Democrats Social and Service Committee
By Jennifer Voss
Chair, Precinct 339
I met Phyllis Fitzgerald-Morris nine years ago at her home while attending my first neighborhood association meeting she hosted with her husband, Chris, who was on the board. Phyllis was the type of woman who makes an immediate impression on you. She was friendly, gracious, kind, full of energy, witty, happy, and engaged. Over the years, she and I became closer friends who could always share a laugh and like-minded thoughts.
In 2017, when the 2018 mid-terms were upon us and Blue Action Dems were starting up, Phyllis was ready and rearing to go, attending meetings and hosting block walking parties as early as the primaries. We were in frequent communication about our drive to make a change in SW Austin and Texas.
In March of 2018, I learned that Phyllis had been diagnosed with late stage cancer and I was devastated. She obviously had to pull back from her volunteering to pursue treatment. But…get this…Phyllis re-emerged several months later and was dropping lit on doors and filling out postcards. She did this even while getting chemotherapy treatments and battling cancer. She kept her spunk and passion for seeing a blue wave take hold in November 2018. I was amazed by Phyllis’ tenacity and strength; she kept a positive outlook every time we communicated. As time passed, she became quite ill but she stayed tough and even lamented that she didn’t have the energy to do more volunteering. I thought to myself that if we had more people in this world like Phyllis, what a world it would be. Here she was fighting for her life, but she didn’t give up fighting for what was right. I will always be in awe of Phyllis.
Phyllis passed away on Sunday, April 14, 2019. I haven’t cried that hard in a long time. A friend shared a sentiment with me when I told her about Phyllis’ passing. She said, “Hopefully the changes we make outlive us all, but it is devastating to lose someone along the way.”
Let’s honor Phyllis’ legacy and keep pushing to make a difference even when challenged. Let’s encourage our friends and family to find time to volunteer despite obstacles. Phyllis would be so proud.
Phyllis and Chris
Park Day with Texas Conservation Corps
During the morning hours of Saturday, June 1, Blue Action Democrats teamed up with Texas Conservation Corps and City of Austin Park Rangers to assist with a National Trails Day volunteer event at nearby Stephenson Nature Preserve. The 17-strong GSD! crew was by far the largest group of volunteers.
Six of our kids pitched in, the youngest being only five years old!
Covered in bug spray and sunscreen, all endured the heat, humidity, and chiggers to improve the Stephenson Preserve Loop Trail.
The rock squad, led by Kennon Wooten, collected and hauled ten tons of stone to fill a washed out ravine. The closers, led by 14-year-olds Ally Frisch and Kate Bryant, closed off an old trail by filling in washout ruts with branches and rock and planting the improved surfaces with native seed. Finally, the drainage team, led by Mingfei Yi and CJ Zhao, created four rolling grade dips to create erosion free drainage on the main loop trail.
We all learned a lot about trail maintenance and all of our assigned tasks were completed ahead of schedule. Trailboss Paul Stuffel was quite impressed, even with a team bragging that we GSD!!
We encourage you to visit the preserve to view our work.
Blue Action Democrats thanks all of our hardworking volunteers for walking the walk and helping our community!
Precinct Number: 351
When did you join Blue Action?
Joe (Gilliland) and I came to the first meeting, mainly interested in the VDR training. We attended many fun events as VDR's, like Beers for Beto, sitting outside Homeslice Pizza, that kind of thing.
What's your favorite volunteer activity?
It's definitely registering voters. I think getting people aware of the issues and registered to vote empowers them to make an impact and then they will vote. Nothing will change without that.
I approached the Sunset Valley Farmers Market and we started registering voters there. It was pretty slow until the last few weekends before the election. Then it was crazy busy. So I think that's been my favorite activity, Voter Registration. Joe likes to do it with me. (Side note: Katy and Joe totally spearheaded the registration efforts at Sunset Valley Farmer's Market and registered dozens of voters before the election. They're back at it this year.)
We also block walked a lot. Some of that is enjoyable, but it's a bit exhausting sometimes. Also uncomfortable facing strangers at the door.
The weirdest feeling in block walking was feeling like we "outed" some kids as progressives living in conservative households. When we knocked on doors and asked to speak to specific democrats to GOTV, a couple of times a parent answered and assured us that no Dems lived in THAT household. (oops!)
What issue spurred your involvement?
As far as what got me involved is probably the assault on women's rights and the election of someone who seems incapable of kindness or truth. So many other issues have reared their ugly heads as this administration has continued.
I marched against the war in VietNam. If I'd been a man, my birthday was the first picked in the draft lottery. We didn't have the vote, but could be sent to die. But then I thought everything was solved and raised my children, had a career. It took Donald Trump to really get active again.
Where would you like to see the club in five years?
I'd like to see people involved in the group actually running for office. Maybe getting more involved with promoting specific issues, like the environment, women's rights, etc. I'd like to see more direct assistance to immigrants somehow. I like the volunteerism programs. The food bank night was great!
Join Blue Action Dems today to help volunteers like Katy and Joe register voters!
Precinct Number: 339
When did you join Blue Action?
I was at the inaugural meeting but didn't join until the meeting at the new TCDP SW office. Not sure what took me so long!
What's your favorite volunteer activity?
I love hosting gatherings — postcard-writing parties or phone bank/canvassing events — whatever brings people together working for the cause. When the SW office was open, I enjoyed working shifts there, meeting people and encouraging their participation.
What's the issue that got you involved?
Which time? Once I ended my journalism career, I was free to let my political freak flag fly. I've always been involved in education issues, sitting on a number of AISD committees over the years.
In 2007, I was so inspired by Obama that I canvassed for him for a week in New Mexico. In 2013, a friend asked me to go to a Saturday hearing about reproductive rights at the Legislature, and that snowballed into being there almost every day leading up to the Wendy Davis filibuster and cemented my desire to advocate for things important to me.
On October 1, 2017, my younger son survived the Route 91 massacre in Las Vegas, and that month I joined Moms Demand Action. Nothing like getting a phone call from your child in the midst of a mass shooting to spur you to action. Blue Action Democrats was a natural extension of the work I already was doing.
Where would you like to see the club in 5 years?
I'm a little selfish; I don't want the club to grow too much. I've seen that be the downfall of other efforts. However, I would like us to expand our reach by teaching others how to fish ... Show groups throughout the state and/or nationally how to replicate our success in their areas.
Join Blue Action Dems today to support the work we do, from postcard parties to funding a Democratic office in Southwest Austin.
The Austin American Statesman published a shot of LaDonna at an Obama rally in Austin.
"Can" Do Attitude on Display at Central Texas Food Bank
On February 25, twenty of our fellow Blue Action Dems met at the Central Texas Food Bank to volunteer to help feed hungry Texans. With no training and minimal instruction, our team assembled 115 healthy Power Pack boxes in 20 minutes flat!
And that just whet our appetites. Next came the true test of endurance. We took our positions on both sides of a conveyor belt, and during the next 100 minutes, assembled hundreds of emergency food boxes. When needed, these boxes will be promptly shipped to communities who have experienced an emergency and are in desperate need of relief.
I’m proud to report that our efforts were instrumental in generating 3,729 meals! Our kids also rolled their sleeves up – notable was seven year old Willow Brown (Carrie’s daughter), who filled boxes for two solid hours with not so much as a water break – I can’t say the same about my 17 year-old .
Bottom line is that we had a great time and made a difference for our community, all in the spirit of GSD!
Blue Action Dems will continue to support our community through the newly minted Social and Service Committee, which will plan and execute three more volunteer events and two social events throughout 2019. A plan is currently in the works for an outdoor, family-friendly volunteer event to be held in April/May timeframe and a happy hour in June. If you get excited about volunteering and socializing, please stay tuned for these events and even consider joining our committee!
BAD SSC Chair
There's no doubt we all worked really hard this year to get more voters to the polls in the 14 precincts that made up the Blue Action Dems Super Precinct. (Precincts 301, 302, 303, 339, 344, 350, 351, 352, 354, 356, 357, 362, 363, 366) The precincts were assigned to our group by the Travis County Coordinated Campaign. Even though we assisted with turfs in other precincts, the results that follow are based on these 14 Southwest Austin precincts.
Our goal for these 14 precincts was to capture 80% of the votes Hillary Clinton earned in 2016. (That's represented in the green bar in the chart below). Blue Action Dem precincts actually exceeded Clinton's vote total by about 2,400 votes. Not only did we meet our goal, we were 28% beyond it!
The other goal we had was to increase turnout in a mid-term election. We wanted to increase voter participation, especially among the "sometimes" Democratic voter. Blue Action precincts averaged about a 20% increase in voter turnout this year, compared to the last midterm in 2014. Overall our turnout was stronger than Travis County as a whole.
Voter Turnout 2018
There were seven Blue Action precincts in Congressional District 21, where Democrat Joseph Kopser came within 9,000 votes of defeating Republican Chip Roy.
The chart below shows how we grew the vote in those precincts over the Democratic candidate in 2016, which was a presidential year.
In Congressional District 25, we're also comparing data from 2016. Look at how the number of votes in Blue Action precincts grew -- even when compared with a presidential year election! Williams vote total went down, which tells you our area is growing bluer.
Even though our turnout numbers in Travis were amazing, Republican turnout state-wide was also very strong in the rural areas, putting victory just out of reach in this seat.
There were just two Blue Action precincts in HD-47, which makes the gains here even more remarkable. Again, comparing 2016 (a presidential election year)to this year's results, not only did Vikki Goodwin grow the vote total for Democrats, she earned 900 votes more than Paul Workman in these two precincts. She won the seat by 4900 votes, so these two precincts definitely contributed to the winning margin!
We knew it was important for Steve Kling to get as many votes in Travis County as possible to be competitive in SD-25 due to gerrymandering. Blue Action had seven precincts in SD-25 and grew the vote total by more than 1,000 votes. Note that we're comparing the last midterm election in 2014 to this year's election. Senate seats are up for re-election every 4 years.
There's no sugar coating the fact that we only flipped one of the four seats we were targeting. Gerrymandering proved to be a serious head wind and with Republican turnout was also stronger than the previous midterm, we came up short.
However, in both TX-21 and TX-25, the margin was much, much closer. For example, Joseph Kopser cut his opponent's margin of victory to just 9,893 votes from Lamar Smith's margin of 73,202 in 2016. That's an astounding improvement. In TX-25, Julie Oliver cut the margin from 63,915 in 2016 to 27,000 votes in 2018. Williams got 18,000 fewer votes this year compared 2016.
When you compare our precinct results to our goal of increasing voter turnout among Democrats, we hit it out of the park - even when compared the last presidential election.
What we thought was a lofty goal of getting 80% of the Clinton vote in a midterm election was quickly achieved (we very close to it in just the early vote numbers in our precincts). Election Day produced another surge, which overwhelmed polling locations and pushed our numbers even higher.
What we've built - what we've achieved with our collective efforts - is a turnout machine for 2020. We know how to do this. We're trained and ready to share our knowledge with others. We can share our lessons with other communities, while continuing to keep our neighbors and friends engaged.
Tell us what you think about your experience in our post-election survey. Then, make sure you become a member of Blue Action Dems to help us continue our work.
Blue Action Dems Board
I want to share with you how energizing my Saturday morning was.
Blue Action Democrats President, Carrie Collier-Brown and I joined about 25 other people block walking for Joseph Kopser, who's running for Congress in TX-21 and Steve Kling, who's running for Texas State Senate.
Carrie and I completed a list of about 50 houses south of William Cannon near Escarpment, working together at first and then splitting up for a few blocks. You might have seen our Facebook live.
One of our first houses was a woman who didn't realize how many Democrats were active in her neighborhood and is planning on attending one of our meetings. We met folks who were excited to vote and others who didn't know there was an election coming up! And even one member of Blue Action! #GSD
But the most amazing moments were the doors we knocked where lifelong Republicans told us they were voting Democrat for the first time in their lives. We heard others say that our visit convinced them to vote for Kopser and Kling.
We were able to talk about important issues like rising property taxes, education funding, and reducing the chaos in Washington.
There are signs that the blue wave is building. But we need your help to make it happen. Each person we reach could cast a decisive vote in November.
Will you join me for a block walk in Southwest Austin?
If you're not ready to step out on your own, you can opt to be a block walk assistant, where you'll be paired with someone experienced.
If you can't walk at all, consider a donation or become a member. All the money we raise goes to get stuff done before November!
Thank you! See you soon,
Communications Chair, Blue Action Democrats