This past July, with only three months to go before the midterm elections, Marisa Kabas and a group of “political nerds” launched an initiative with a modest goal in mind: to protect democracy and send President Trump a message. Crush the Midterms is a website and podcast that helps people get involved in Democratic campaigns in ways that make the most sense for their lives. By answering a few questions (What issues do you care most about? Do you prefer texting people or meeting in person? How much time do you have to volunteer?), Crush the Midterms will formulate a personalized plan with actionable items you can do to make a difference in the midterm elections.
The organization’s been making waves, getting a shout-out from none other than Hillary Clinton on Twitter:
Make a plan to vote, volunteer, make strategic donations, and turn out friends with https://t.co/2eWwr3g8D9.
Just answer a few questions about where you vote and how you can help and they’ll send you a personalized plan of action.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 16, 2018
We caught up with Marisa, a 31-year-old Jewish New Yorker, to talk about convincing people to vote, what it’s like when Hillary freakin’ Clinton tweets about you, and how her Jewish background influences her work.
What was the moment you knew you needed to start Crush the Midterms?
Crush the Midterms is a labor of love created by a small and mighty team of politics nerds who’ve been dreaming of the 2018 Midterms since, well, November 9, 2016. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when we knew we had to do this, but I do recall earlier this year feeling like this wave was building, and we had to get on top of it. We felt we needed to create a way for Americans everywhere to feel like they had some sort of control over our country’s future.
What is the single most important message you’re trying to reach people with?
Our message is this: You can’t expect a Blue wave to just materialize. You have to help make it happen. And you make it happen by knocking doors, making phone calls, sending texts, and writing postcards for campaigns. Putting in the work isn’t a guarantee that your candidate will win, but it certainly increases their chances.
How do you convince someone to vote who says they’re “not political” or their vote “won’t count”?
It’s easy to feel like your vote doesn’t account — especially when it comes to the Electoral College used for deciding Presidential elections (don’t even get me started on that). But in a midterm election, every individual vote really does carry weight.
Here’s a story from last year that I’ve shared with people who feel their vote doesn’t matter: A Virginia House of Delegates race was forced into a recount because the final tally was so close. It ended up in a literal tie, and the winner was chosen by — I kid you not — writing the two candidates names on slips of paper, placing them in a bowl, and giving the win to whoever’s name was plucked out. Some people might see that as undemocratic, but I see it as motivation to be the one vote that might help avoid a mess like that.
What was it like the moment you saw Hillary Clinton’s tweet about Crush the Midterms?
Pure shock. I kind of just stared at it for a solid 15 minutes. It’s been incredible to get validation for our product from users and others in the tech/politics community, but this was the ultimate validation. This was like if you’re a singer/songwriter and Beyoncé tweeted she liked your song. Simply put, it was everything.
Besides Hillary, if you could get one celebrity/prominent figure to endorse Crush the Midterms, who would you want?
We would love nothing more than to get the Jonathan Van Ness seal of approval. (For those unfamiliar, he’s one of the new Fab 5 on Queer Eye.) But more than that, he’s a whip smart political activist with a widely successful podcast and a gift for conveying important issues in his inimitable way. Jonathan, if you’re reading this, help us Crush the Midterms!
How does your Jewish background influence the work you’re doing now?
I’m the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, and that’s made me feel especially distressed that communities are being targeted and marginalized by our government. I feel that because my grandfather survived, because he was able to make it to America, meet my grandmother, and have my mom, I’ve been able to have a safe and prosperous life — one that I am so grateful for, and one that has compelled me to promote people and policies who believe all human beings deserve safety and prosperity.
After the Holocaust, we said “Never Again.” To keep that promise, we, the Jewish people and all other compassionate Americans, must keep our eyes wide open for signs of coming danger. And we must protect our neighbors, regardless of race, religion, sexuality, and borders.
Do you ever find you need to take a break from the internet/news cycle/thinking about politics, and if so, how do you do that?
Yes, about 50 times a day. It’s exhausting, and I’m honestly quite bad at it. I even had a dream the other night in which I was screaming at a white supremacist. It’s all-consuming. I do try to unplug whenever possible. Going to a movie or a concert has become a real luxury, and I enjoy putting my phone in airplane mode. Sometimes I’ll just decide that I need an entire weekend day sans news. But as we sprint towards the finish line, it’s going to be tough. My main objective at this point is to just remember to breathe.
What’s your plan for after the midterms?
Things are brewing. You’ll have to keep an eye on my Twitter feed 🙂
What does having chutzpah mean to you?
Chutzpah means calling it like you see it. It means having a strong point of view, and sharing it — even if that scares you. It means having your feet on the ground, but dreaming big.