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Western Mass. activists fan out across state lines for change in House

  • Robert Freedman, a volunteer with Take Back The House, out side the office in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Diane Garey, a volunteer with Take Back The House, places a picture of a candidate on a map showing the 84-plus swing districts identified as potential Democratic winners in the November election. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



For the Gazette
Wednesday, October 03, 2018

BOSTON — Western Massachusetts progressives are mounting a campaign: They are canvassing door to door, working the phones, and pushing voters to elect Democratic candidates to the U.S. House of Representatives — but largely across state lines.

With Democratic victories expected in Massachusetts next month, activist groups have formed a Take Back the House coalition in the Pioneer Valley to “flip” House seats in more contested areas. The campaign is focusing on districts in nearby New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Incumbent Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, is facing Republican Tracy Lovvorn of Grafton for the 2nd District seat that includes much of the Pioneer Valley.

Take Back the House Western Massachusetts now has an office in downtown Northampton where volunteers gather to plan canvassing efforts, set up phone banks, and strategize how to swing as many votes as possible by November.

“Having pulled together these different committees has given us some strength and cohesiveness that is unmatched,” said Elizabeth Silver, chairwoman of the Northampton Democratic City Committee. She is one of the coalition’s primary organizers. “Like everyone else that lives here, I’m doing whatever needs to get done.”

A recent poll by The Boston Globe and Suffolk University Political Research Center showed all nine House seats in Massachusetts currently held by Democrats will likely stay blue. Canvasser and local activist Robert Freedman said that has led some area residents to look to make an impact elsewhere.

“Everyone is just trying to get involved,” said Freedman, of Northampton. “This place has always been a hotbed for activism, ever since the time of the Underground Railroad and Sojourner Truth, so it makes sense for us to be involved now.”

The coalition officially started on April 7, when around 400 activists from advocacy groups like Swing Left and Indivisible gathered at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton for the Take Back the House 2018 Summit. Since then, numbers grew; the coalition reached out to area college groups, and by July, it established its Northampton headquarters.

The coalition is targeting a number of congressional districts, from Maine’s 2nd District to New Jersey’s 5th District. Freedman said he and other western Massachusetts volunteers are traveling to Keene, New Hampshire, to support Annie Kuster in that state’s 2nd District.

They have also developed a map that shows closely contested congressional races across the entire country. Silver said volunteers utilize it when they travel, in case they are willing to canvass and work with Democratic campaigns elsewhere; “political tourism,” they call it.

The Take Back the House effort has been assisting the local collegiate population as well. Pamela Matsuda-Dunn, an organizer from Easthampton who often reaches out to students, said they have become valuable assets to the campaign.

“In past elections, we have seen a huge portion of the student population register, but not vote,” she said. “We’re not initiating anything, but we’re trying to support them.”

Matsuda-Dunn gives a lot of credit to student organizers like Ben Gilsdorf, field director for Amherst College Democrats. Gilsdorf said being a part of the coalition has helped everyone: Students are able to provide lots of bodies, while other organizations have provided resources. Sometimes it’s as simple as making sure people have rides to districts, he said.

As elections near, activists in Take Back the House plan to make several more trips out of state. Freedman said he plans on going back to New Hampshire. Matsuda-Dunn said she will continue reaching out to students and organizing more carpools. Back in Northampton, the office will grow busier, as Silver and others continue to concentrate and centralize the group’s energy.

Patrick Lovett writes for the Gazette from the Boston University Statehouse Program.