Apathetic before Trump, Seattle-area activists rise up | KUOW News and Information

Apathetic before Trump, Seattle-area activists rise up

Apr 9, 2017

Embracing political activism can be tough on a relationship. Just ask Kevin Tubbs and Pauli Bailey. Both are liberals who felt a huge wake-up call from the presidential election.

They're part of a surge of people are jumping into political activism for the first time in the Puget Sound region. All while trying to determine which tactics are most effective and whether this a temporary or enduring response to the presidential election.

Tubbs and Bailey have reacted in different ways.

Tubbs will give a blanket and food to homeless people he meets. “I’d love to say I would have done that stuff before the election, but I’m not so sure I would have,” he admitted.

Bailey’s activism is mostly online. For years she had a Twitter account she never used. Until last fall.  

“One day I just clicked on it and remembered my password and went on there, and that’s where it got scary,” she said.

Now she’ll spend 12 hours at a stretch, battling bots and trolls. People laugh at the idea of bringing truth to the internet, but Bailey said she can’t bear  to see misinformation go unchallenged.

“I know it’s not going to change the troll’s mind, but it’s like,  if you point out how they’re wrong, anybody that might be reading it – that’s the audience,” she said.

Increased activism has been documented in a new Elway poll. It found that since the election, Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to have donated money or attended a political event. That includes the women’s march in January and meetings of local chapters of the new group Indivisible.

Tubbs lives in Tacoma; Bailey is in the process of moving there from Oregon, where she was working for Nike. But her despair over Donald Trump's election has delayed life decisions.

“Let’s just say if the election had turned out differently, I would have gotten another job before moving here,” she said.

Joe Hochwalt of Auburn sends postcards to elected officials every chance he gets.
Credit KUOW photo/Amy Radil

Other people say they’re using every possible moment outside of work to text, call, write or march.

Joe Hochwalt lives in the Lakeland Hills neighborhood of Auburn in Pierce County. He spent eight years in the Navy and left the reserves in 2015. 

“I’ve always been engaged. In the Navy you kind of have to be aware of the bigger picture, the geopolitical picture,” he said.

But Hochwalt said he wasn't politically active before, except maybe for backing a school levy. But he’s worried about what he sees as a lack of facts informing public policy right now. He’s weighed in on issues in a variety of ways. He wrote an in-depth letter to Trump on national security. He dashes off postcards to elected officials whenever he can.

“They’re handwritten,” he said. “I don’t do anything pre-printed. So I’m hopeful that someone in an office who’s getting these says, ‘Someone’s writing these by hand, they’re taking the time to do that, they must be agitated about something.’”

Hochwalt contacted his member of Congress, Republican Dave Reichert, and asked him not to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Reichert was undecided on the final version, which failed to pass Congress last month.

“The broader response probably did have an impact,” Hochwalt said. “I think some of my cards pointed out that many of the people – his constituents – would be negatively impacted by the revised health care bill that was being proffered.”

Colleen Wise urges members of her group to give Congress a call.
Credit KUOW photo/Amy Radil

Reichert said in interviews that his office was overwhelmed with phone calls on the issue. It’s clear from Republican gatherings in his district that Reichert was hearing from both sides. Colleen Wise heads the East Pierce Republican Women’s Club, which gathered in Puyallup last week.

“Team,” she told those assembled, “we need to let our congressman and senators in D.C. know how we feel about this health care debacle and what happened with that.”

Wise said new members have joined the club's ranks since the presidential election. One of them is Sheree Justice of Eatonville. She said she wants a full repeal of Obamacare in hopes of bringing down insurance costs.

Justice says her opposition to abortion and concern for the future of her grandchildren motivated her to jump into politics right now. She’s become a precinct committee officer. But Justice says things are a little more complicated for Republican activists.

“I feel energized,” she said, “because of who Donald Trump is, and he’s kind of leading the way of, ‘your voice can be heard,’ and he is listening.” But she added, “I don’t always agree with what he’s doing.”

Justice might find herself reflected in that latest Elway poll; it suggested that more voters across Washington disapprove of Trump’s leadership style than of “the changes he’s bringing to the country.” 

Sheree Justice has jumped into activism on the Republican side.
Credit KUOW photo/Amy Radil

Many of these activists on both sides were part of the torrent of phone calls to members of Congress since January. The call volume to members of the U.S. Senate doubled the previous record.

Is a phone call an effective step for people to take? The Congressional Management Foundation surveys  congressional staffers to find out. Those staffers say phone calls are significant, but personal letters, emails and local “letters to the editor” are seen as more influential.

Foundation President Brad Fitch hears people say “it makes them feel better” to call.

"If your goal is to feel better, great, you know. But you could also go get a massage or do something else," he said. "If your goal is to influence a lawmaker and engage in best practices in citizen advocacy, it’s better to take the time to study the issue to understand the impact it’s going to have on the district or state, on the lawmaker, and go meet with them.”

His guidance: Call or write to your representatives. Request a meeting with them or their staff when they’re home on recess. 

As for social media, Fitch said commenting on and reacting to a legislator’s actions on Twitter or Facebook, as a constituent, is also highly effective.

Between them, Pauli Bailey and Kevin Tubbs have the activist bases covered.

Tubbs prefers to call his members of Congress. Pretty much every day, during his drive to work.

But he’s concerned that activist energy is already ebbing.  He says the wait time to reach Senator Patty Murray’s office, for example, has gotten shorter lately.

“Either they’ve hired more people or less people are calling,” he said. “Because I call at the same time every day -- I have a long commute every day. And now I get through pretty quickly.”

And they feel that fatigue themselves. Sometimes Bailey says it’s hard but necessary to break away from it all. “He just sometimes really gets like … let’s not talk about Russia today,” she said laughing.

But Tubbs says he has no desire to revert to his pre-election self.

"I think I’ve dedicated myself to saying: You know what? Even if things turn around, not to lose that kind of passion. And to stick with it and continue to do as much good as I can.”