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Midterm Takeaways: Pennsylvania Stands Up

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“We made meaning of people’s pain and told a better story that’s true to our values: corporations, billionaires, and their sycophants in elected office are dodging taxes while driving prices up for hard-working people like us.”

Convergence and The Forge interviewed organizers around the country by email, asking for their short takes on the midterm elections. Pennsylvania Stands Up Executive Director Carrie Santoro salutes the electoral victories in her state, and keeps the focus on the organizing wins that add up over time.

At PA Stands Up, our mission is simple: we organize across race and place to build a Pennsylvania that works for all of us. To us, that means investing in proven methods like deep canvassing and structure-based organizing. Our vision goes even further—we want to govern, because we believe working people deserve to have a say in decisions that affect our lives, our families, and neighborhoods.

What’s an organizing success that you had during the midterms that gives you hope?

Every single conversation we had where we were able to move a voter was a huge success. We doubled down on our commitment to deep canvassing to engage people who—through benign neglect or malignant intent—have been left out of the political process. We made more than 150,000 contact attempts on the doors and over 300,000 contact attempts on the phones.

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Beyond election results, our success lies in absorbing our new field contacts into our long-term organizing work. We made thousands of phone calls in the days following the election, inviting people who responded positively to our message to join our organization. We’re kicking off a membership drive in the coming weeks, and we’re holding a multi-day, all-member meeting early next year to map out what we want to win for our people and get real about how we build the power to make it happen.

What was the most effective message or tactic that the other side used? How did you try to combat it? Were you successful?

Our opponents dumped millions of dollars into fear-mongering with racist ads framing John Fetterman’s work to release people serving time for nonviolent marijuana offenses as a threat to public safety. This is how the ruling class exploits race to keep us divided and voting against our own best interests. And it was working—even on our own people.

For the people we talked to on the phones and the doors, all it took was an honest, vulnerable conversation, rooted in curiosity and compassion, to move them toward an understanding that voting for John Fetterman was in their own best interests.

For example, one of our canvassers was calling our recruitment list (people who have taken action with us in the past) to sign up volunteers for a shift for our deep canvass phone banks. She spoke with a woman who was not sold on Fetterman. Using the skills she learned through deep canvassing, our canvasser discovered that this woman was scared about John Fetterman letting “violent offenders” out of prison. She took the time to connect with this voter through curiosity and compassion. Our canvasser even shared that she used marijuana, and asked the voter if she thought she deserved to spend her life in prison. The voter said no, and it gave them an opportunity to have an honest conversation. Our opponents’ racist messaging worked on this voter – someone who has volunteered with our organization in the past. It made her feel scared and unsafe, so we addressed it head-on and moved her.

What did you learn through the midterms that we can use in the next phase of the fight against the MAGA right?

Our strategic decision to address economic concerns head-on was affirmed this cycle. We knew that Republicans would employ their tried-and-rue exclusionary populism messaging to exploit working people’s economic concerns while offering nothing to actually fix the problem. We decided to seize the opportunity, make meaning of people’s pain, and tell a better story that’s true to our values: corporations, billionaires, and their sycophants in elected office are dodging taxes while driving prices up for hard-working people like us. Democrats, by contrast, are passing legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act to bring prices down on healthcare and energy.

Further, our decision to invest in a door and phone program in rural areas, rather than going with political insiders’ suggestion to replace real conversations with mail, helped us win this election for working people.

This election also affirmed the need for independent political action. At a time when corporations have engineered a price crisis and when authoritarianism is cresting, we had a national party structure that thought that real conversations and a bold vision of a new people’s economy should take a back seat to scare tactics and spammy emails. While Dems are passing legislation like the IRA, they fail to own it and talk to people about it. This continues to be the reason organizations like PA Stands Up play a critical part in building real power for working people. To us, elections are not a decision between two candidates. I want to be clear: our long-term work and vision are not about being an extension of the Democratic Party, or even electing just any Democrat to office. We want to govern, unequivocally and unapologetically. We want to have the power to make decisions that impact us, our families, and our neighborhoods—because that’s what we deserve.

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