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How Voting Activists Brought about Change in Republican stronghold in Pennsylvania

By Jack and Kathie Hendrick, Communication Volunteers, Fulton/Franklin Democratic C  Posted by Joan Brunwasser (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   2 comments
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How Tony Barr became the Democratic Candidate for Congress in the 9th District of Pennsylvania

Joan, Kathie and I are communications volunteers for the Fulton/Franklin Democratic Club, a two year old organization which meets regularly and participates in community education, political organization, and communication with other grassroots democratic organizations in our part of the State of Pennsylvania. The area we are in is as Republican as any region in the country. Two years ago we didn’t even know the other members of this club, each of whom thought they were the only Democrats in Fulton County.

We came here to Fulton County 35 years ago. At first we noticed that there was a small first floor apartment in McConnellsburg with a sign in the window that said Democratic Headquarters; nobody was ever there, the door was locked, so we forgot about it.

Two years ago in October 2004, we went into town to participate in the annual Fulton Fall Folk Festival…..and saw to our surprise….Kerry sign on the porch, the door open, a banner hoisted in front. We went in, met the lady there, thanked her for a yard sign and went home and scratched our heads. An hour later, we went back to town, grabbed some signs and paraded through the street of town as Democrats out of the Closet for the first time ever. Other people came through that door, we stayed there and took names, and that is how the Fulton/Franklin Democratic Club formed. Our Founder, Joy Dasher, had hunted down the chairman of the local Democratic Committee, hounded a key away from him, rounded up some Kerry Campaign materials all by herself and opened this town up for Democrats.

In the past two years this organization has grown strong and new friendships have formed among Democrats who didn’t even know each other existed. It’s wonderful. We meet the second Tuesday of each month and hold seminars between on Social Security, Medicare; have guest speakers, hold fundraisers, invite candidates to present here, and in general keep an active calendar of events between meetings.

Our most recent project is the most wonderful event of all…when the deadline for candidates to register for the May 16, 2006, primary passed, no Democrat had filed for the nomination for the 9th Congressional District of Pennsylvania. The incumbent, a Republican, was not a person we wanted representing us, and here were, stuck in a district in which the Republican was being given a free ride. We agreed that wasn’t acceptable.

We found out what had to be done. We needed a registered Democrat willing to serve in congress, should we be successful, to try for getting 1000 registered Democratic voters in the 9th congressional district of Pennsylvania to correctly spell his or her name on the blank on the ballot or other voting device on primary day. Professional politicians seldom try that one! But we’re naïve, so we set about to find a candidate. We tried convincing a former candidate to try again, but that didn’t work. Finally we put out a general call for candidacy, using email address from other grassroots clubs and committee clusters all across the 9th. We hit pay dirt.
Kathie and I had been traveling to events, picnics, campaign announcements and the like all over this part of the state just to meet other groups and make contacts. One place we went was to the Altoona announcement of a candidate for state legislature, where we sought out two people we had never met, but with whom we working for the same candidate for the U. S. Senate nomination on the Democratic ticket.

After we sent out our all call email, we met them again at a fundraiser for that candidate, and they agreed with us that Tony Barr would run, and Liz Barr, his wife would manage the campaign. It was May 1, the primary was in 16 days.

Fortunately, Tony is a natural, and the grassroots groups all over the district came to life and we began the work of getting Tony the Democratic nomination. Exchanging information and resources as we went, inventing methods, the groups began the process of learning about where all the best polling stations were, what to put on handout cards, where to get lists of the best homes to mail material to, printed the cards and materials on home computer printers, distributed them, assigned volunteers to stand at the polling places….everything we had to learn how to do right then, we did it.

Tony traveled around to Democratic Committee Meetings, County Dinners, Club Meetings, Area Breakfasts….wherever Democrats gathered during the 16 days he was there, usually the featured speaker, easily making friends. Everyone seemed to be flocking to him!

Our big advantage, if we had one, is that we were all newly activated and all tired of living in a Republican-dominated world…..and had already joined and participated in organized Democratic activities, each group on its own. Because Kathie and I had traveled around the previous year and a half, we easily connected groups together by introducing people to each other through email, and the rest just happened.

Primary Day was blustery, showers came and went, but we sent the volunteers we had to the stations where we could get the most potential votes, and held on. Kathie and I were confident, but many were worried. Now the results are pretty much in, the vote count of the easily verifiable write in votes are holding at 1776, and I expect we will make 2000, so I don’t have to eat my hat, which is what I have promised to do if we don’t. It’s a nice hat, “I am proud to be a Democrat”, it says on it, and it’s the one I happened to be wearing the day before the primary when I was with some of those worry worts. I said don’t worry, “if we don’t get 2000 I’ll Eat This Hat. Tony Barr will be on the ballot, he will be the Democratic Nominee for U.S. Congress.” We made it.

There is certainly a big challenge ahead of us now, but the momentum has shifted here right into the Democratic column.

It happened here. There was a point last year when we were wondering whether to hold a candlelight vigil over the war here in this super conservative town, right in the public square, and I was bugging people I knew in nearby cities I wanted to announce one first, to give us some cover. They were holding back. Finally I decided to just do it anyway, without cover. Everybody came and it was great.

Within an hour of our announcement, the cities had their groups holding vigils too….they had been holding back also, and could no longer do so when they saw that a place much smaller, more rural, more republican was going right ahead anyway. We called that event by the name:


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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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