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LIVE LOCAL: Gwenyfar chats with political activist Kerry Rini

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Postcards created by Kerry Rini for the upcoming November elections. Courtesy photo

 

Last week the Republican National Committee announced plans to recruit 50,000 election monitors to prevent voter fraud at the polls in 15 states. In essence, they want to turn potential voters away from the polls based on appearance. And based on the determination of “suspicious activity” by non-election officials. And to intimidate people into not voting.

When news like this breaks, I tend to go through the stages of grief pretty rapidly. Because I have a problem solving-oriented personality, once I get through shock and anger, the next question tends to be: “OK, what to do about it?”

Go to the polls tomorrow, and if you find the negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns.” – Col. Alfred Moore Waddell, directing poll watchers in the election of 1898 in Wilmington, NC

The answer is citizen activism. Not intimidation or anger or nastiness, but sharing a message with others that there are alternatives, that we have rights and that as a collective we can make a difference.

Kerry Rini seems to epitomize all of those qualities.

The Wilmington political activist maintains a consistent and powerful postcard and letter-writing campaign, often seen on her Instagram (@krrrini). I reached out and asked if she could share with encore readers her experience with this kitchen-table movement.

encore (e): Are you with an organization? If so, which one(s) and what is your title?

Kerry Rini (KR): I volunteer to write postcards and letters for a variety of organizations, mostly aimed at increasing voter turnout. I am currently writing for Postcards to Voters,, Stamp NC Blue, Vote Forward, and Postcards to Wisconsin and Michigan—and, very close to my heart, I’m writing for Kyle Horton and Leslie Cohen for New Hanover County Commissioner and Marcia Morgan for NC House District 19 Representative.

e: Your postcards seem to fall into two categories: those aimed at elected officials (especially Senators Tillis and Burr) and those aimed at potential voters. How do you decide whom to write to and which topics to address?

KR: I write a lot of postcards to Burr, Tillis and Rouzer, usually about topics I think I can fit on a postcard. I recently sent postcards encouraging them to save the USPS, for example.

For longer messages I use Resist Bot. Frankly, many of them are about their support for and enabling of the Trump Administration. Mainly, I want them to know their constituents are paying attention to all the shenanigans, and we are their bosses. They seem to believe they work for Trump.

The addresses for the recipients of the postcards are provided by the organizations for whom I write. The goal for Postcards to Voters is to send handwritten messages to targeted voters to increase Democratic voter turnout across the country. We write for various political candidates, and also currently to encourage Florida voters to sign up for vote-by-mail.

According to “Tony the Democrat,” the founder of Postcards to Voters, “Nearly nine million Postcards to Voters have been sent by a growing volunteer base (over 75,000) since we began in March 2017.”

I started writing with them about a year and a half ago, and have written over 3,000 postcards just for that organization. They provide addresses and what the campaigns we’re writing for would like us to highlight; the writers provide the postcards and the postage. Some people get very artsy with their postcards and some just use ballpoint.

e:  When did you start your correspondence projects? What made you decide to do this?

KR: The first time I wrote letters to encourage people to vote was for the [2004] Howard Dean presidential campaign. We call postcarding “activism for introverts.” I’m not very good at canvassing (although, I went way out of my comfort zone and did that for Dean), but I want to be involved. Writing to voters allows me to do that.

I’m privileged to be a stay-at-home mom now, so I have the luxury of time to devote to volunteering.

e: What do you hope to accomplish? Do you have a way of measuring success?

KR: There have been studies and experiments that have shown direct mail does increase voter turnout, so that’s our goal. It’s a bonus when “our” candidate wins an election. We wrote last year in support of John Bel Edwards for governor of Louisiana and Andy Beshear for governor of Kentucky, so their wins were pretty exciting. Although, usually, with Postcards to Voters, we’re writing for smaller campaigns: state senators or school board members, for example.

The Vote-by-Mail campaign is another success story. Studies have proven voters who receive a ballot in the mail participate at a higher rate than those who vote in-person. For our local election (Horton/Cohen/Morgan), my postcards are asking people to go to the website bit.ly/HelpThemWin to learn how they can volunteer for the campaigns. So success there would mean lots of people helping out on the campaign! I hope!

e: How can others join this project? Do you have any advice for them?

KR: Absolutely!  Visit any of the websites to sign up at Postcards to VotersVote Forward, and Postcards to Wisconsin and Michigan. Postcards to Voters requires you send them a picture of a sample postcard you’ve written. Once you’re signed up, generally, you tell them how many postcards (or letters) you can write. It’s your decision, based on how much time you have available, and you can do them at home or wherever you may be, on your own schedule. There is typically an assigned “mail by” date, which varies for all the organizations.

It’s just a great way to get involved in the political process and it’s very cathartic to feel like you’re doing something, like you’re not helpless—to have your voice heard and encourage others to do the same. We have a little online community (especially on Twitter and Instagram) where we share pictures of our postcards, and many of the writers have designed their own postcards, which they sell on Etsy (search “postcards to voters”).

So it’s very person-to-person oriented, and allows you to be as creative as you want. It’s a very positive experience. Writers will share on Twitter, for example, that they’ve reached a milestone of so many cards written, and others will cheer them on.

e: Do your postcards to elected officials typically get a response? How long have you been sending them?

KR: I’ve been writing to officials for 20+ years, but just started sending postcards over the last three or four. I don’t receive responses to my postcards because I don’t include my contact info. I do include it when using resistbot.org, and I’ve never received a response from Senator Burr; Tillis and Rouzer do respond, at least.

e: When did you start writing to potential voters? Have you ever heard back from anyone?

KR: We do not write our return addresses on postcards/letters for security reasons. 

e: On social media you frequently post pictures of your kids helping take postcards to the mail. Do you think it’s important for them to be part of this? What do you hope they take away?

KR: Yes! I want them to understand democracy is not a spectator sport, and we as citizens have the right to vote and the responsibility to—and in every election. The down-ballot candidates often have a greater impact on our day-to-day lives.

e: Any thoughts on the possibility of poll monitors in the upcoming election? Will future postcards address this topic, either to elected officials or to potential voters?

KR: I think it’s voter intimidation, and an attempt to cause chaos and confusion, which seems to be Trump’s go-to strategy. He is already posting ads on Facebook, claiming Democrats are poised to commit voter fraud and “steal the most important election of our lives.” So deploying an army of poll watchers is meant to legitimize the idea there is fraud afoot.

I don’t know of any organized campaigns to address this issue—other than encouraging people to vote by mail. I will probably bring it up on my own with my elected officials. Everyone should. Free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy.

 

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