As early voting begins for this midterm election, we revisit a variety of key moments surrounding the issues on this year's ballot.
Season 2 of The Resistbot Podcast, hosted by Melanie Dione, features a different interview every week with an organizer working to create change in their community. We aim to elevate voices without a large platform, focusing on their stories. Our pod is brought to you by the same volunteers behind the Resistbot (https://resist.bot) chatbot that's driven over 30 million pieces of correspondence to elected officials since 2017. If you haven't given it a try, pull out your phone and text the word "resist" to the number 50409 to get started. You can text officials from your Mayor to the President, check your voter registration, start your own campaigns, and much more!
Hello, and welcome to this season's fifth episode of The Resist Bot Podcast. I'm your host, Melanie Dione, and I wanna thank you for sticking with me. If you're a first time listener, welcome, get comfortable and go ahead and click on that subscribe button while you add it because you'll love me, I promise.
Trust me, midterms are here. They're gonna be here in just two weeks. And so what I thought this episode needed was a look back a bit, what we examined, how we got. And where we're going. So I used our handy dandy archives from Resist bot Live to examine what our conversations looked like surrounding not only voting, but also the implications of this year's midterm elections.
We're gonna go back to episode 15 when we talked about redistricting, and Rashida Peterson gave us a word on how tireless her mobilization efforts had to be, just to ensure that people were not disenfranchised.
Rashida: So we work with small organizations, um, and most instances, like I said, we're all volunteer. Um, so which, what that means is we all have day jobs and I think that that actually makes us more.
Approachable because we try and make sure that all of our messaging and all of the campaigns that we've worked on and sort of, we did a couple of, um, campaigns around, um, the census and, and now we've sort of taken, um, this issue of redistricting because we've seen how it's affected some of the races that we've been involved in.
And we, we really simplify because as I said, You know, we're volunteers and there's a core of 12 of us, and then we have a list of about 400. Um, but then we then mobilize all around the country and we mobilize them to do different things. And so, because you know, a lot of us have day jobs and a lot of us have other things that we're doing, we have to really, really simplify.
Also, any of the campaigns that we do, we tend to go into a particular region in an area, and we always make sure that we have a local anchor. In that particular state. And so that local anchor then helps support us as we are. We've, we've done some stuff in Louisiana, We've done some stuff in Texas, Maryland, also Virginia.
We supported some candidates in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania. And what we do is we go in, first, we try and evaluate sort of, As a small group, do we have enough capacity, you know, to um, help support a particular either campaign, whether it be redistrict or um, particular candidate. And then we will then do a mapping of who's doing what and try to look at it from a diversity lens, because that's what's particularly important to us.
And then that's how we move. And so all of our campaign materials, and you'll see on our Twitter, we really try and like make sure that we're simplifying the process.
Melanie: The work does not stop. And I appreciate Rashida and the work that she does with, her group. Diversity Matters. , that episode resonated with me because it was just her and a group of her friends seeing a need and pulling together There not a traditional 5 0 1 C3 organiz. They are everyday citizens who wanna make sure that your voice is heard when there's funny business with redistricting, what have you, Rashida, and people like her on the case.
So thank you for that. Now, another thing that happened, we dealt with the passing of SBA in Texas as well as the overturning of Roe this summer. And we were visited by Kia Smith, who's an activist, just a wonderful all around person, and talked about, the subject of reproductive justice and by the autonomy.
And I want you to listen to what she had to say in episode 16 about how religion and right wing politics have been shaping the political conversation surrounding bodily autonomy.
Kia: Because religion and theology has been used to restrict what women do with their body and to dominate women from a sexist and patriarchal lens. But in reality, that's not who I know God to be, and that's not how God has ever showed up in my life. I know God to be a God of love and liberation, and that does not come with controlling that does not come with controlling women's bodies.
It does not come with making paternalistic decisions over other people. It does not come with building a culture and society that truly does not support life. through its structures and systems like our ability to survive and thrive, but wants to force us to give birth into this world without addressing the other structures that we need to live and live well.
Melanie: I appreciate that because when we look at the pushback against abortion, a lot of that, we're not usually dealing with the people who are gonna feel the brunt of it aren't necessarily people with money or people with access we're often dealing with Economically disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized people. you're in Georgia, which, Hey, just flipped blue. Okay. you were you, weren't one of the people who did a lot of work to make that possible. So thank you. because we're able to have conversations like this because there are four for the purpose of advocating for the people who need it.
I think with many of us, especially when we're either women or black or other POC, we can look at things from a part of some level, but we still have to look at how this is affecting. Us. So it's not necessary. goes beyond just Hey, Hey, it's blue, but this is who is giving us the service, who is reaching the people who are giving people the services that we need.
So what stumbling blocks did you come against or do you come against in your work, in a state like that? That is still kind of, You know, We can say blue, it's still probably mostly purple, maybe a lightish. Purple. So what is, what does that work look like in an environment like that for you?
Kia: I think there are two big stumbling blocks that I would need. And one. The way that our Republican legislators have codified power. So that even when legislation is popular with people, voting rights, legislation is popular with majority of the public reproductive justice abortion care is popular with the majority of the people, but we have so gerrymandered in codafide partisan power that.
Republican legislators in states like Georgia have the ability to pass unpopular laws without it having any consequences to them. And it is such, it's such a complex. System to be absolutely honest that a lot of the public doesn't understand it, but you have the money that's at play, the big dollars that they're able to fund into drive their agendas.
You have the gerrymandering of districts so that you are protecting legislators you create districts that protect the power of those who are in power. So despite Georgia becoming more diverse and bringing in younger and more educated voters, Those numbers . We may be able to elect like federal level statewide democratic senators. We may be able to elect Stacey Abrams in 2020, but those legislative seats will still be so gerrymandered that it guarantees Republican control, who are the ones who are passing our state laws. That gets even more complicated when we start talking about how they are Changing electorial board laws so that they also get to decide like how votes are certified in the state that may take power away from the people who are actually voting.
Melanie: When we look at that that's one of the big things. I think last week we talked about it. When we were talking about redistricting the people who support Roe in this country, I think it's something like 60%, if I'm not mistaken polled. And the comment was made that abortion is not a political issue.
It's not a conservative liberal issue. It's a gerrymandered issue.
Kia: It made me think about real world Los Angeles homecoming. So in season two of real world, Tammy Rowan, who we know from like basketball wives and now one of the original, like reality TV stars, she had an abortion on television and as it was broadcast in 1993, it seemed like very isolating. You saw this young black girl who was going through an abortion.
She went through all the emotions that always come up. But as she comes back almost 20 years later to talk about it, what you realize is every woman in that house had also had an abortion before Tammy. So it's something that we all encounter. We all have these abortion stories or were connected to people who have abortion stories across the political spectrum across like lived experience.
It's something that affects us all. So to treat it as. Something that a majority of people don't understand or connect to, or haven't had personal experiences with. it's a way to increase that isolation and shame instead of opening up the conversation and having a real conversation about health here, because that's what the decision is about.
Melanie: When we look at the big boy I'll call it SBA, the so-called heart part, beat bill in Texas, when it addresses the heartbeat of, the fetus. There's nothing that addresses how black infants are twice as likely to not see their first birthday in Texas. It doesn't address how the mortality rate for black women.
I think it's 17.9 for white women per 100,000 births in Texas. It's 44. So it's more than twice for black women. So when you start looking at these restrictions and the lack of care that comes around, it it comes back to it being an attack against disadvantaged people and how that can be segmented.
I mean, I'm a 45 year old woman with health insurance. Even with these restrictions. If I needed an abortion, I more or less have the resources to figure out how to get where I need to get one, someone else, a 25 year old who's, just out of college may not have that, so we're looking at an attack against just another way to penalize people for being poor and disadvantaged.
Kia: Absolutely. And even when you look at what it takes to care for a kid, so let's say for some reason, people have these kids, we don't provide paid leave we have no federal paid leave policies for parents who give birth, we don't provide childcare. Our childcare costs are unaffordable.
So what you're doing is you are creating a system and structure where you're forcing people to give birth to kids and you're not providing them with the structures or supports to care for those kids well. Not From infancy throughout college, If we are truly going to be about life and ensuring that we are able to thrive, we have to build systems to support that and not try to control women's reproductive choices.
That is a backwards way of thinking about it. And it tells me that you really don't care about life or babies. You care about the control of women and their bodies .
Melanie: I think all of us were mostly in, in the same age group, more or less. I think we're all a very close in age. So I like to ask everyone from your personal experience in just having been a woman all your life, do you feel that the conversation has deteriorated?
Because for me, I like, I remember when Tammy that episode and, how it felt like things were progressing forward. It does not seem that way to me. Now. It seems like it's still, we're kind of just in this holding pattern, , I feel like we've been having the same conversation for 50 years.
Christine: I feel like we have to. So, you know, what's frustrating. I think for me, I feel like every time uh, we collectively who are aligned take steps forward, there is. Energy that comes to add us. That pushes us two steps back. This is what it's felt like for the last five, six years.
I think many of us are exhausted, but still it also activates this fighting spirit in us where it's like, no, you're not going to do that because I know what is possible. And I'm just going to keep moving forward. And I think at a time where many of us are exhausted and many of us feel that pressure of, you know, being pushed two steps back what I'm here to show up and be like, what is everyone else doing about this?
You see what I'm seeing? So, that's where I'm at with this in a year of elections. Right?
I'm always appreciative of Kia and people like her who are, In the church themselves and who see the dangers of where the separation or the non-separation of church and state takes us.
So thank you for those good words. Kia. I wanna go just a little bit deeper into bodily autonomy with our next clip because we can't leave out how these conversations impact our trans. When we talk about even something like abortion that's not limited to women, we have to reframe how we look at that conversation and when we talk, look at the broader perspective of bodily autonomy and how our trans friends cannot be left out of the conversation.
In our 21st episode, I got a chance to sit down with Lauren Rouse, Bianca Mack and Deandre Alon, and each of them spoke on what democracy is. For them as people who have to deal with other people attempting to make just their existence a debate point. So let's listen in for that.
Diondra: Folks in the sense of there's this running thing where they just feel like a lot of people are, were assigned male at birth, or just wanting to transition being a woman so they can Excel at sports better.
Cause I guess. Competing against males. Wasn't good. So they're going to try to just go the easy route and try to beat out women and stuff. But I feel like a lot of that is mainly from rhetoric received from like shows and stuff. Like I know south park, they touched on that and they were like, really? went completely over the top. And then I just feel like for the most part, it's like this thing where it's oh, You're not even really basing it off the person. It's just the part they have. So with one part running around with all these other little girls kicking a ball and like throwing stuff, even though the sport at all has nothing to do with that.
And then if that trans person happens to Excel, then it's you got all these mad parents just like back in the day, when a parent would be mad at that, like a black child
was, watch how it was like. Sports over the, the white
child. And so really just the same thing.
Bianca: So one thing I'll say about that quickly is that it's actually a pretty tough, it's a tough reckoning, right? I live in one of 11 states that currently has not passed any anti-trans legislation attempts and the year 2022, so far, 39 states have tried it since January one, at least 25 anti-trans bills have been proposed since March 10th, which is the Thursday before we started. This stuff's coming fast. And one of the easiest things to say is, oh, those silly Bible belt. No, this is an American problem. I'll just say 39 out of 50 states have tried and have attempted, the passage of some level of anti-trans legislation. They've had a pretty decent success rate.
Unfortunately, Iowa, Texas, Florida have all had some recent anti-trans things pass. And so for me watching, from where I'm watching it's it just becomes a thing where it's okay, I'm not writing letters to my own senators. I'm making phone calls and doing canvassing in my own district where I live. I'm having to extend myself to initiatives well, beyond where I collect mail. Beyond where I travel well beyond where I live. Because again, this is an American. Racism, it's an America problem. Anti-trans, trans- negative sentiments is an America problem. It's a product of a number of things I want to numerate here in this introduction moment. What it does is it raises the antenna and it takes me from a local on the ground grassroots advocate to a national 'Oh goodness, we got work to do in Florida. Oh goodness. We got work to do in Texas.' So let's go over to an Iowa and then it's Can I do this? Can I take on the world and still receive dignity in my own backyard?"
Lauren: Yeah. I am the current the young democratic socialists of America chapter at the university of central Florida, which is located in Orlando. And Orlando is this like blue bubble and a. Decently red states. We like to say that Florida is a swing state, but say not really.
So we're, a organization that is fighting for equity and equality for all people, across backgrounds, sexualities, classes, all sorts of things. Every semester, we run a, clothing drive to support transgender and non-binary gender nonconforming students on campus.
and it just so happens that our first clothing drive that we had, ran in conjunction with trans day of visibility. we're also then experiencing this really hateful anti-trans sports bill. we ended up having over 200 people come to the drive, which was awesome because it was like our first semester, we were still in like COVID regulations on all of these things.
We're able to get so many signatures, but then to feel like that it was just completely ignored by our legislators. It's really hard, but that doesn't mean that we still don't continue to do the work. And I think something that happens a lot with people. you have these battles that you face every day and when you lose something it's really hard because You want to make things better for your friends and the people in your organization who identify as trans or who are trans and people who are on your campus, who are trans. it's really hard to then be like, okay, What do we do next? But I think something that we always stress in YDSA is that we need to build a better future for people.
We need to work towards us and we need to work towards it's collectively. we can't stop. We can't lose our momentum. for all of these things. We really want to, keep us moving forward and what we've seen with the, don't say gay bill in Florida, as we've seen just this huge outpouring, not only in the LGBTQ community, but also just across Orlando, across Florida in general.
There's been rallies like every other week. We're also having pretty bad anti-abortion with a 15 week abortion ban, also having anti critical race theory bills. Florida is a hot mess right now. The thing that we need to all keep doing is we need to know that it's not going to get better at these people who say they stand for us.
Don't really stand for us. And we need to do the work we need to, come together and collectively do things with our community because. If we make changes at the community level. If we get these people out of office who don't listen to us, if we move from the bottom up, then we're still able to create change. It just might take a little bit longer than, a situation where we would get an, a result, as soon as we were done with the petition or whatever.
Melanie: Thank you again, Diondra. Lauren and Bianca for that episode. It was again our 21st episode. I highly recommend that you go back and listen to the broader conversations in all of these episodes, because even when these matters aren't directly on your ballot, you are going to be affected by them.
You are going to feel the results of these elections. in episode 26, we've talked about how even. Local government is still finding ways to exact a poor tax, particularly on those who don't have secure housing, basically criminalizing in poverty. This is something that, we struggle with, not on a partisan basis.
This is something that we have to look at societally and how. Poverty is being addressed in the economy that we have right now. So I want you to listen in just a bit on what our unhoused friends are dealing with, the attempted criminalization of their existence.
I'm glad you mentioned that because I'd like to talk a little bit about the breakdown of what homelessness looks like. Like who's, who's out there, you mentioned veterans and that's roughly about 11% of the homeless population. When you look at from the.
Perspective of physical ability, over 40% of unhoused. People are also disabled. And then when you, when you not only look at that statistic of them being disabled, but then you have to start dealing with. What does receiving services look like for them? What does it look like if they get to a shelter and that shelter isn't accessible?
I talked to our friend Vilissa Thompson cause I'm always loving her input and she has done some work on a report with the, uh, with the century foundation., one of the things that she actually said. Was disabled black and Latin X renters were especially likely to be housing insecure.
And that's roughly at 50 52 and 50% respectively. And she went on to say that the significant unemployment and underemployment rates of dis of disabled people in comparison to their non-disabled counterparts, especially. Of color as well as a host of other factors contribute to houselessness of disabled people.
And it goes on ignored and unnoticed in these discussions.
One of the reasons it's so easy to push past this problem is because we're pushing past the people who in other ways get ignored. Anyway, when we're dealing with people of color, when we're dealing with people who have mental illness. Queer youth, 20 to 40% of queer youth are homeless.
And if you just look at New York city, the average age for gay and lesbian youth, 14.4 years old, the average age for trans youth, 13.5. So when you go back to incontinence being destroyed, when you go back to people being rousted on the subway, when you go back to people being rounded up, some of these people are children who need other services who need educational services, who need family services.
And instead they are being forced into more times than not more difficult situations. I mean that nothing, everything is connected, right? When you look at unhoused youth, then you have to look at sex trafficking. It's just one thing after another, and we're not dealing with the issue.
Liberal areas and their relation to homelessness
And when we're talking about liberal areas in liberal cities, It's absolutely the place where we're more likely to find aid and programs.
But one of the things that I've been reading on the New York times had a very interesting, video about the role that blue states and blue cities play in. The wealth gap in the housing crisis. So when we start talking about being housing insecure, when we start talking about homelessness, as much as we want to, you know, point fingers, Tennessee just made this bill, that's basically a poor tax where you for panhandling and encampments, a $50 fine, and you have to do community service.
I mean, it's free labor. You're exploiting unhoused people for free labor, and there's no other way to look at that. But when we start talking about who's really enforcing these policies, even when there are Democrats in, who are basically controlling policy in these states, there are still issues where are still.
California is a huge example of these quality of life policies that absolutely criminalize homelessness. There's no other way about it. These are the places that have what they call, um, hostile construction, where there are spikes on the ground so that people can't sit there. There are gaps in awnings so that you can't be sheltered from the rain or the.
We just had earth day unhoused people are the first people to be impacted by to be impacted by climate change. When we look at how there's been, there's noted, increase in heat stroke there's and none of these things, these aren't the things that are being addressed
Melanie: When I look at all of these topics, I think about how often they touch on criminality. You're gonna criminalize people who seek abortion. You're criminalizing poverty. We just recently saw in Florida, Ron DeSantis literally seeking election police on people . I'm forced not only to think about how the excessive incarceration is an end run around suppression, right? Because we can just call a thing a thing. But also I'm thinking about how there are five states in 2022, including my home state of Louisiana, where the black population is 31.2.
But the black prison population is 67%, and black men are already disproportionately sentenced to death in this state. People are going to be voting to allow slavery as a punishment for crime. I'm not comfortable with those numbers by any stretch of the imagination. We can also look at beyond the.
criminal justice aspect of suppression. We can look at our trans friends where there are 850,000 eligible trans voters, but not all of them are gonna be able to vote thanks to states that have restricted voter ID laws. I wanna leave you with this last clip, and these are the thoughts of friend of the show, friend of ours, Deborah Cleaver with vote.
This goes way back to episode seven, and it is extra evergreen because we were talking about voting rights and she talked about her passion for voting and her concern about what our rights are going to look like going forward and any potential threats. We're looking at, any potential threats toward democracy.
Debra: because one of the things that guides us at vote America is that we reject outright. The idea that people are apathetic and instead say that they are suppressed and that this narrative of people being apathetic is actually a conservative talking to.
That we are accidentally echoing because it's become the dominant talking point. That voters are apathetic, apathetic, apathetic. They're actually not apathetic. They are overwhelmed by voter suppression because no one is apathetic about their future or their family or their lives. And so we started and I should also very brief background.
I have been working at the intersection of technology and democracy since 2004. So about 17 years now. And I just keep starting new organizations. And the one you didn't mention is the one that I'm best known for, which is vote.org. Like I started votes, so like people people know my work if they don't know me, but starting in 2006, I would say to myself, if we reject.
Idea that people are apathetic and lean into the idea that they are actively just like overwhelmed and suppressed. What are we going to do to change that? So our, our theory of change is that if you make voting more accessible, people will vote in greater numbers and more consistently. And if I can, even one group in America that knows we are right, it's the RNC.
And the GOP, they absolutely know, and voting becomes more accessible, more people, both. So what they do is they've been executing on this very smart 30 year strategic plan to make it exceptionally difficult to vote. And they're great at it. They're great. You know, professor brought it up, like they rolled back the voting rights act.
Um, they attack the help America vote act. Sometimes they just outright ignore the laws like Alabama just did not get around. Following the motor voter act of 1993 until 2016, just didn't get around until the DOJ got involved, but I've vote America. We are focused right now on one very specific thing, which is getting souls to the polls.
Like anything we can do to help people cast ballot. So we have our website where you can find just oodles of information, which gets overwhelming. So then we built this entire tool. To help guide you through like the 50 different processes for registering to vote for getting an absentee ballot for checking out your voter registration.
And then we do a ton of proactive outreach to what is called a low and mid propensity voters. Those are people who have been modeled to be less likely to vote. So partisan groups ignore them entirely. And that is our bread and butter. Where like, who are the people in America who will vote? If you just give them a little bit of assistance, don't ignore them entirely.
We do a lot of proactive outreach and I should also say the one thing I'm really known for, you know, those text messages you get largely, largely my fault in 2016, I was like, what is. We buy cell phone numbers of people who are unregistered to vote, and we just text them directly and say, Hey, it's time for you to register to vote.
And we had tremendous success with this. And in 2016, I predicted it would be the dominant tactic by 2020. And I will never be as right as I was. And that 92nd
Debra: Oh, gosh. I mean, if I had to choose the big, bad one right now that is keeping me up at night, I think Republicans have realized that voter suppression is not enough too many people are turning out to vote.
I mean, we record high turnout in 2018 and record high turnout in the 2020 during a pandemic, during a partisan attack on the post office. Like that's no longer working. The biggest attack right now is simply attacking the legitimacy of elections before votes are even counted. They start saying things like if I don't win this election, it's because it was rigged.
That is not only an attack on our voting rights. That is a fundamental attack on democracy and America. Like, those are the underpinnings of our democracy that we get to vote and elect our leaders. And they're just like deciding that it's Illegitimate and it's leading to violence at the polls. So I, I imagine you expected me to say.
Voter ID or the lack of like election day registration or the fact that we vote on a Workday or the fact that we vote in the winter. Why don't we vote in the winter, it snowing and half the states. But I would say honestly, the one that's keeping me up at night, the one that is a hallmark of fascism and I use that word intentionally is simply de-legitimizing elections.
That is so insane about, sorry, I'm trying to be articulate right now. It's insane. It is feeding into the hands of hostile foreign powers like Russia. It is, you know, it is being supported by these like concerted propaganda efforts overseas. It is treasonous to do this and it is a national security. Issue undermining the integrity of our election is a national security issue in the department of Homeland security, which sucks billions of dollars from our budget every year should be taking this a lot more seriously than they appear to be taking it
Melanie: Democracy remains on the ballot. Even the things that you may not specifically see in your state can still be an indicator of where democracy is headed, and where your representatives, where your legislators are going to be looking for ideas. So if you're trying to ready for the midterms, here are a few things that resist bot can do to help.
Early voting is starting already, so if you text early to 5 0 4, 0 9 or it's a lot in the dms, you can find out where and when early voting is going on in your state. We also have this amazing new function. That you're probably seeing popping up from time to time voter pledges. But if you text drive, our drives function is phenomenal.
If you text drive to 5,409, you're doing more than just liking a candidate. This pledges your support, to a candidate, but it also promotes them. It helps the people who are in your area. Learn more. It helps you drum up support for that candidate and get you more involved. So for those of you who are looking to do just a little step more, I recommend those two things, especially utilizing the drive function.
If you wanna learn more about Resist bot, because there are a wealth of keywords. That you can use to help get your movement started to help get your campaign started. Go to resist dot and peruse dot organiz like guide. For those of you who know and love what we do in a look ways for ways to support, you can text Donate to 5 0 4 0 9 and become a monthly donor and get your name announced.
So we really appreciate. I wanna thank each of the past guests for their input that remains timely. I wanna thank Angel for helping with this episode. You are a godsend as always, and thank you for joining me again this week, two weeks to the midterms. We're gonna be ready and I will see you next time.