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Voting’s Not Enough: How to Encourage Strangers to Vote

I’m writing letters for Sierra Club, and you can too!

Darcy Reeder
Oct 3 · 6 min read
Movie theatre marquee with the word “VOTE” and a tree, at night
Movie theatre marquee with the word “VOTE” and a tree, at night
Cropped Photo by Noah Pederson on Unsplash

Want to get Trump out of office, but not sure what you can do besides vote?

Here’s something tangible you can do with the time you usually spend panic-scrolling social media, weighing the probabilities of various civil war scenarios (hey, I do it too).

Write letters to like-minded people in swing states, urging them to vote!

Yes, talk to your friends and family. But right now, I’m talking about writing letters to strangers.

I don’t know about you, but the Electoral College makes my presidential vote pretty worthless. Because I live in a reliably blue state, it doesn’t really matter what I do with my vote. (For the record, I am voting for Biden as soon as my ballot arrives in the mail.)

Sometimes it makes me furious thinking about how all the people in swing states have votes that matter more than mine. And when I think about how “undecided voters” are somehow still a thing, I just can’t even. But now I’m funneling all of that frustration and anger into something positive: writing letters to strangers.

There’s something beautiful about writing letters to strangers, about insisting on forging connection during this time of isolation.

Whether we live in swing states or not, we have the power to communicate with swing state voters, to remind them of the power of their votes.

I’m volunteering with environmental nonprofit Sierra Club to write letters to voters in Florida.

And you can do it too!

Sierra Club has identified a list of “voters in priority states who we believe are highly motivated by environmental issues but don’t frequently vote.”

I chose Florida because I grew up there and my parents and brother still live there. You can also choose to write letters to potential voters in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, or Pennsylvania. Or, you can select “Any state!” and Sierra Club will choose for you.

Once you fill out a simple online form, the Sierra Club will email you a batch of 25 letters to print out and add handwritten messages to. Each letter comes with a name and address to send to.

Using Sierra Club’s state-specific environmental talking points, you write your letters. (You can totally write the same message on every single one.) Then you just need to pack your letters into stamped/addressed envelopes— I’m loving the USPS’s Earth Day and Women’s Suffrage stamps — and hold onto them until the Sierra Club’s official send date.

You can remain totally anonymous, as Sierra Club also provides a return address for you to put on the envelopes.

Photo of a letter I wrote to a stranger, saying, “Climate change is real!” and urging them to vote in this US election
Photo of a letter I wrote to a stranger, saying, “Climate change is real!” and urging them to vote in this US election
A letter I wrote to a stranger in Florida, through Sierra Club’s volunteer letter-writing campaign

I don’t want to look back after this election and desperately wish I’d done more.

I’ll vote (for Biden and for local Democrats and Progressives). I protest. I sign online petitions. But none of it feels like enough. None of it feels like the sort of stuff that really makes a difference.

But if even one of the swing-state strangers I write to decides to vote because of me, their one vote is worth so much more than my one vote. And if lots of people vote because of my letters? If lots of other people decide to volunteer to write letters too because they read this Medium piece? It just might be enough.

Yes, Donald Trump is probably going to lose anyway. Maybe he’ll die from the virus he didn’t do enough to protect himself — or anyone else — from. But maybe not. There are so many maybes right now, so much that’s unknown.

Take those feelings — the fear of the unknown, the powerlessness — and funnel them into something useful. For me, that’s writing these letters.

There’s something beautiful about writing letters to strangers, about insisting on forging connection during this time of isolation.

Parents: Your kids can help out too!

Child’s drawing of a beautiful brown-skinned fairy doing “nature magic” and hearts with misspelled phrase “pretect nature”
Child’s drawing of a beautiful brown-skinned fairy doing “nature magic” and hearts with misspelled phrase “pretect nature”
My daughter drew this “Nature Magic” picture on the back of a Sierra Club letter.

While I write letters, my 6-year-old daughter draws pictures on the backs with colored pencils. Our children are also experiencing this feeling of powerlessness, of uncertainty. They also need concrete ways to feel like helpers.

I suggested to my daughter that she draw nature scenes: trees, flowers, animals. But she’s really brought her creativity, creating a nature fairy character, and making every single drawing unique.

My 1st grader understands why we’re mailing these letters and is extremely eager to work on them every day. Our children are aware of a lot, and giving them age-appropriate ways to help is absolutely essential. Our little ones absolutely can experience empathy if we give them the opportunity to practice it.

6-year-old’s drawings of the earth and two friends outside, plus the edge of a Sierra Club letter to a swing state voter
6-year-old’s drawings of the earth and two friends outside, plus the edge of a Sierra Club letter to a swing state voter
One of my Sierra Club letters to a potential Florida voter, alongside two of my daughter’s nature drawings.

So here’s how to volunteer to write letters urging other eco-minded people to vote.

This is the link to request your first batch of letters from Sierra Club. They’re calling the campaign, “Write Letters to Defeat Donald Trump and Elect Climate Champs,” because this is about the presidential election, but it’s about so much more. Hopefully when these swing state voters get out and vote, they’ll also vote for downballot candidates who prioritize climate justice.

I emailed Sierra Club to ask if we should mention candidates by name in our letters, and they replied, “Our program is working to defeat Donald Trump, so you can definitely include him in your letters. We encourage all our volunteers to write from the heart on this. The studies show that the most effective GOTV letters don’t actually mention a candidate, though!”

The timing of sending the letters is one final push right before election day. If these people have already voted, great! If not, our letters will be in their minds, reminding them that if a stranger can take the time to volunteer to write letters, maybe they can take the time to make sure they use their right to vote.

Sierra Club says, “Studies show that receiving a personalized letter can increase someone’s likelihood of voting.” It doesn’t need to work every single time to be worth doing, to be worth trying.

If even one of the swing-state strangers I write to decides to vote because of me, their one vote is worth so much more than my one vote. And if lots of people vote because of my letters? If lots of other people decide to volunteer to write letters too because they read this Medium piece? It just might be enough.

Sierra Club started this volunteer letter-writing campaign with a goal to send 1,000,000 handwritten letters to swing state voters, and as I write this, we are getting close!

Screenshot of Sierra Club website, showing 982,025 letters have already been written!
Screenshot of Sierra Club website, showing 982,025 letters have already been written!
Screenshot from October 3. See the up-to-date number here.

Fear can be paralyzing. But ask yourself, is this something you can do and/or urge others to do? You don’t want to look back after the election and wish you’d done more.

We all have different ways of helping. Find your way.

Here’s that link one more time to volunteer to write letters urging swing-state voters to vote!

Thanks for reading. I’m not publishing much new writing on Medium right now, as I put my writing career on hold to pandemic-parent and homeschool my kiddo. But I publish a weekly newsletter here: Empathy for the Win!

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Darcy Reeder

Written by

Empathy for the win! Published in Gen, Human Parts, Heated, Tenderly —Feminism, Sexuality, Veganism, Anti-Racism, Parenting. She/They darcyreeder.substack.com

Indelible Ink

Non-fiction that resonates, stories that last

Darcy Reeder

Written by

Empathy for the win! Published in Gen, Human Parts, Heated, Tenderly —Feminism, Sexuality, Veganism, Anti-Racism, Parenting. She/They darcyreeder.substack.com

Indelible Ink

Non-fiction that resonates, stories that last

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