Visualizing the person who lives at the address on her list, Lisa Rosen writes a personalized postcard to the receiver. The message is to vote blue.
“I imagine who they are. I imagine where they live. I see this address. I color it, make it fun. And I really send it with enthusiasm. And I want them to feel that,” said Rosen.
She is one of the few hundred volunteers at Hang Out Do Good (HODG) writing postcards in an attempt to elect Democrats across national, state and even local races. In the months leading up to the election, this grassroots organization sent out up to 7000 postcards per week to voters registered as Democrats.
HODG is a Los Angeles-based community organization that started in early 2017 in response to the election of Donald Trump as the United States president. Realizing that they hadn’t done enough to ensure Hillary Clinton’s win in 2016, a handful of liberal-leaning individuals and Democrats came together to effect change.
“Most of us had realized that other than writing checks and maybe doing a little bit of last-minute canvassing in places like Nevada, we hadn’t really done a lot,” said Andrea Rothschild, a core team member at Hang Out Do Good. “We [HODG] formed initially just to try to start to learn about how we could participate more actively.”
Jennifer Levin, a resident of the Hancock Park neighborhood, was one of the founders of this initiative. It started with small weekend gatherings in the backyards of members' houses, with guest speakers going over ways to influence the government. Levin circulated a newsletter listing various activities.
Rosen, a long-time activist and an entertainment journalist, also disappointed by Clinton’s loss in 2016, started looking for ways to engage. “I had a couple of days of wallowing in my misery before I was reminded by my friends and fellow activists that this work is never done and giving up is a luxury,” she said. That’s when she came across HODG.
“I am used to really kind of scruffy activism, and I’m not used to seeing it in a community that I’ve seen with HODG, which is a more well-off community,” Rosen said. “...I’ve had my own biases about people who are very well-off and they have blown those biases out of the water.”
The first few months of meetings made it clear. No significant change was possible without “flipping the house.” With this realization, they shifted their attention to local and state elections to boost the blue wave.
Inspired by Tony the Democrat, aka Tony McMullin’s Postcards to Voters, HODG continued Saturday backyard lunch gatherings, often combining them with speaking events and postcarding.
In 2017, McMullin, along with five other friends, began writing postcards to voters. While their efforts were not always fruitful, the activity created a national movement. The result: millions of handwritten postcards supporting several campaigns. Subsequently, various other organizations, including HODG, adapted this campaigning method.
“People don’t get a lot of mail these days. And so when you get a postcard that’s handwritten, you kind of are forced to really look at it,” said Rothschild.
“Postcard writing is an easy, fun and positive way to make a difference and protect democracy in our country,” reads the description of Postcards to Vote on New Faces of Democracy. It continues: “It’s great for introverts who don’t like phone banking and knocking on doors. It’s great for extroverts who want to get together with like-minded people.”
They focus on writing positive messages and reminders to vote.
“I’m a writer, so I like the written word. I like the colors and I like the whole process of mailing things,” said Laura, HODG volunteer and a freelance curriculum consultant. In 2018, she started with phone banking but could never get comfortable with the confrontations that came with it.
“When it comes down to the active group, we’re about really doing things and doing it together, making it fun and trying to have an impact,” said Rothschild.
Rosen echoes Rothschild’s view. “'Hang out' is equally important to ‘do good,’” she said. The community and “fun” element, she said, motivates members and helps them to keep going when it gets tedious and challenging.
With the onset of COVID-19, the group adapted to make this a virtual event with designated pick-up/drop-off points at Hancock Park, Sherman Oaks, and other areas spread out across the city.
“It’s a lot more tedious writing 20 postcards by myself in my house,” said Rosen, reiterating the appeal of physically getting together. She also emphasized the social aspect of getting to know new people.
"There’s nothing that really replaces the camaraderie that you can build in person, " said Cohen.
But going virtual with the election approaching helped HODG see an exponential increase in participation.
While Cohen was a regular participant in HODG activities, from the food drives for the homeless to the Saturday lunch meetings, she has been more consistent with postcarding—not missing even a single week since March.
“It really kicked into high gear during COVID because people just needed things to do and we were actually able to increase our output, you know, exponentially,” said Rothschild.
From a few hundred postcards, they went to writing 7000 per week.
“Sometimes, they are candidate-specific. Sometimes they are just specific to check your registration, you know, reminders to go out and vote to make a plan,” said Rothschild.
With their postcarding efforts, HODG reached voters in battleground states and regions with voter suppression over the past two years. They focus on progressive candidates and also support lesser-known and non-mainstream candidates.
“You know, when so many races are being decided by such a small margin, you really have to reach voters, you know, every way you can,” reasons Rothschild
A University of Maryland study examined the Pennsylvania state’s election officials' efforts, sending 2.2 million postcards to unregistered voters before the 2016 election. Researchers discovered a nearly 1% boost in voter registrations—roughly 23,000 new registrants—a significant number in a swing state like Pennsylvania.
Roughly 85% percent of the newly registered voters turned out at the polls. Trump won the state with a narrow margin.
Another sample study by Sister District Project also shows that the voters who received a postcard are more likely to vote in the 2020 election. However, an in-state sender has a slightly higher chance of persuading them.
Rosen said that she enjoys postcarding as it helps her learn about many representatives and races that she otherwise wouldn’t have known.
“I try to do maybe 20 a week and keep that up,” she said. “...As tedious as it is, I’m really sad that it’s going to be winding down because phone banking is harder. I’m doing that, too. But it is much harder. People aren’t mean to you when you postcard.”
In mid-October, the group ended postcarding and moved onto phone banking.