VA Women's Summit: 7 Critical Lessons For Us All

Last weekend's Women’s Summit Flip Virginia Blue featured 350 attendees (three from VADF), 50 exhibitors (including VADF), 30 candidates, and a rousing concluding speech by Justin Fairfax. Seven quick takeaways from the event:

1. Summer is critical. As Stair Calhoun, executive director of Network NOVA, said, “No one wins the Super Bowl by practicing once a year.” This summer is the vital time to build infrastructure, get organized, raise money, knock on doors and get ready in the fall when VA voters start really paying attention.

2. New grassroots groups need to coordinate. Literally dozens of groups like VADF attended the Summit—each with its enthusiastic members, candidates they support and causes. But, at least so far, little formal coordination among the independent groups exists. VADF is helping to lead the effort to change that. Indivisible Arlington, WofA, and Network Nova are putting on a joint fundraiser for 25 swing Democrats. VADF has agreed to co-sponsor. But broader coordination is needed.

3. Canvassing works. Stunning insights from “super canvasser” Michael Bizik at a panel. Over five campaigns in VA, Bizik has knocked in 29,000 doors. In one campaign, turnout in the area where he canvassed increased 20 percent. Bizik says supporters need to knock on 10,000 doors to win one campaign. He points out that a dedicated volunteer working two hours a week over 10 weeks can knock on 1,000 doors. His big tip: Don’t just receite the campaign script and leave. Help your candidate by letting a voter know that someone cares about what they think, Bizik said. Voters don’t feel that they are being listened to by the political elite. So listen to them.

4. Don’t give up on white working class women. Clinton lost white working class women to Trump by 20 points. But Lisa Guide of the Rockefeller Family Fund says they are not lost to the Democratic Party. The Women Effect Action Fund has begun an effort to research this demographic, including holding focus groups, and craft a broad economic message and family policies that women across the political spectrum can agree on.

5. Rural voters aren’t lost either. In the debate over whether Democrats should reach out to the Trump rural base, Barbara Leach (founder of My Rural America) and Vee Frye of Rural VA Dems come down solidly on engagement. Frey says lots of ‘closeted’ Democrats live in rural America. Some rural voters simply don’t know their interests are being betrayed by their Republican representatives. Democrats need to reach out to community leaders (such as PTA and local nonprofit leaders) and build from there, Frye and Leach said. Democrats also need to respect the rural culture—talking more about faith – and, yes, seek to understand the rural outlook on guns and find common ground. Rural voters “are feeling left out,” said Frye. “We haven’t talked to them, and that’s not their fault.” Network Nova has a July 6 meeting Rural Initiatives meeting if you're interested.

6. Voter ID laws are a big problem in VA. 500,000 potential voters in Virginia lack government-issued IDs, says Cat Calvin, founder of Spread the Vote. Cat, above right, is an amazing young women. She quit her job and is traveling across the country, living off her credit cards and setting up chapters of Spread the Vote. A chapter is up and running in Georgia and now has moved into Virginia. The group helps people obtain the IDs they need to vote. Support her efforts! It could make the difference in this election.

7. Women need to donate. Another stunning stat: Only 10 percent of the money donated to political campaigns comes from women. Of course, they influence much of the rest of the donations. But they need to donate directly. It’s an critical way to keep political leaders (even progressive Democrats) focused on the issues that matter most to women.

To other Women’s Summit attendees: Add your own takeaways in the comments!

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