On Keeping it Local: Inspiration From Arizona

The worst thing they could do is not try. ~ Sarah Kendzior

Community organizing is all about building grassroots support. It’s about identifying the people around you with whom you can create a common, passionate cause. And it’s about ignoring the conventional wisdom of company politics and instead playing the game by very different rules. ~Tom Peters

We are a human campaign. ~Jaynie Parrish, ED, Navajo County Democrats

Navajo County, Arizona is geographically the size of Indiana, with a population of just about 100,000 – a majority of whom are Native Americans.

Just driving from one end of the county to the other and back can take the better part of a day.

One third (32.9%) of Native Americans in Arizona live in poverty (twice the state average). Internet and cell service are intermittent – at best. Many Native homes don’t have residential mail delivery … or traditional physical addresses.

In some areas, only one in ten families owns a vehicle. (Read the Navajo Nation’s brief in Brnovich v. Dem Nat’l Comm HERE.) And even if a car is available, it’s often used for work and isn’t available to anyone else in the family.

Packed dirt roads are commonplace – so even in the best of times, travel is taxing and tedious. Traveling in bad weather can be downright dangerous.

You can see why it’s hard to organize in Navajo County.

And as you may expect (it being Arizona), the state doesn’t make things any easier.

Voter registration efforts are complicated because even though Native residents use PO Boxes for their mail (again, they don’t have traditional physical addresses), candidates and voters that use them as addresses have been challenged.

In the online map showing voter precinct locations in Navajo County, someone living in the corner of precinct #7 would have over 40 miles to travel (as the crow flies) each way to vote. (See that map HERE.)

You can imagine how difficult it would be for someone who wanted to cast a ballot. Is it worth spending the gas on the 80+ miles round trip? Worth the wear and tear on the car? Worth the time away from work? What if the weather is bad?

You can see why someone could look at the challenges of organizing in a place like Navajo County … get overwhelmed and discouraged … and give up before they begin.

Huge distances, economic barriers, racial discrimination. So many reasons outreach in Navajo County is formidable.

So many reasons it’s critical.

That’s why I want you to meet the Navajo County Democrats; their Chair Missa Foy, and their Executive Director, Jaynie Parrish.

A few weeks ago I spoke with Missa. And while I didn’t have the pleasure of speaking with Jaynie face-to-face (yet) she writes eloquently about Navajo County and their work on Daily Kos.

Missa was speaking to me from a sunny office with calming and well-loved plants; her seven-year-old twins tried to interrupt her a few times. She remained unfazed. (Frankly, I don’t think much fazes her.)

I met Missa so I could describe to her a project I’m bringing to Arizona; we had been connected by another AZ County Chair who knew I’d be interested in what the Navajo County Dems have accomplished.

“Just wait. The work they’re doing is incredible.” she said.

My interest was piqued. So, while I was ostensibly in the meeting to tell her what I hoped to bring to Arizona, I was very much interested in what they had been up to.

I was not disappointed.

Unbeknownst to me, right then – that very day – Missa and Jaynie and their team were hard at work … gathering signatures.

On March 21st – two weeks before the AZ filing deadline – several area Democratic candidates (who are also Indigenous) did not have half of the petition signatures they needed to get on the ballot.

Undaunted, Missa and over a dozen volunteers and organizers coordinated tabling events, scheduled drop off/pick up points, scripted radio ads, sent over five thousand text messages and hundreds of emails, set up phone banks … and did a lot of driving.

I spoke with Missa on March 29 – oblivious that our meeting was occurring in the midst of this whirlwind of democracy.

By the next day, the Navajo County Dems (and their volunteers, partners, and organizers) had collected over 2,800 signatures for the candidates. Not only that, they had updated over 30 voter registrations, held over a dozen tabling events and one-on-ones and in doing so logged over 48 hours of total driving time (spread out across volunteers and organizers).

Nine days.

After they had successfully gotten all of the necessary signatures, Missa explained that not trying was just … not an option: “What were we going to do? Nothing? We couldn’t say no. This should be a priority for all Arizona Democrats. I can’t imagine our team not giving our all and fighting to get our Indigenous candidates on the ballot. To risk not having our Democratic candidates on the ballot, is not how we roll. This is what we’ve been fighting for for years.” – Missa Foy, Chair Navajo County Democrats

That’s an impressive feat for any county party – let alone one with the challenges faced by Navajo County.

And friend? That’s just what they did last month.

Last year, in 2021, over 80,000 postcards were sent to Democrats in Navajo County.

That’s not a typo. 80,000 postcards have been sent to Democrats in a county with 100,000 residents. (They’re sending more. Don’t forget to go to the actions below.)

They also hired local Apache, Hopi, and Navajo community members as organizers. They’re building up the community from within. Rather than being the outsider pushing the community, bending it this way or that – they’re rising with the community itself.

Their respect for and connection with the community is maybe best shown by their Family Votes program, which trains and supports matriarchs who register their families and communities. (Read more about the program HERE.) Native culture is matriarchal. And, by simply honoring how the community naturally organizes itself, they’re reinforcing their relationship with that community – while expanding voter access and encouraging civic participation.

It’s just another example of how outreach and voter registration efforts are dictated by the people they’re trying to reach – not the other way around. There were other examples, just from our brief conversation. Like signs being written in native languages – meeting people where they are, not where we are. A simple thing, really. But illustrative.

And, as is the case in many rural areas, “the VAN” (the software/dataset that helps create lists of potential voters based upon their address and voting history) is often out of date. That makes targeted canvassing really hard. So what do they do? Knock on every door anyway, and record who lives there now.

They knock on every door.

If I went on to describe all of their initiatives and efforts this post would be far too long. Instead I’ll encourage you to check out their year-end review (available HERE) so you can get your creative organizing juices going.

But before I go, let me tell you three things that really struck me.

First, it was clear that every person mattered. Missa was excited about every new volunteer for the Family Votes program. (She knew the exact number.) She talked with awe about the people volunteering their time writing postcards. We have been able to reach so many people because of those postcards, she explained.

She glowed when she talked about the man who approached her at a signature tabling event with a handful of postcards asking “Did you send these to me?”.

These personal touches matter – and they are very obviously personal. (Did I mention that Missa volunteers her time?)

And that leads to the second thing that really struck me: they never stop. That is by design. As Jaynie said in a Daily Kos piece,

“[W]e made a commitment, years ago as individuals and as an organization, to be there for our communities year round–to build something better. To show our tribal and rural voters we truly do care that their voices are heard and that it’s not just a campaign slogan.

We don’t show up two or three months before an election asking for votes, then disappear. We are trying to break this disposable, ugly, and ineffective style of campaigning in our communities.

We deserve better. We are from these communities and won’t be ignored anymore. So we are doing everything we can now to follow through on our promises and be genuine partners.”

Honestly, I couldn’t say it better myself.

Third, that their work is both morally gratifying and electorally beneficial.

The results speak for themselves.

In 2020, Joe Biden received over 10,500 more votes in Navajo County than Hillary Clinton received in 2016.

Do you know what Joe’s margin of victory was in Arizona?


Of course, Arizona was a statewide effort. No one county “delivered” the state to Joe Biden. But it is absolutely true that had Missa and Jaynie and the organizers in Navajo County done nothing … Biden may well have lost Arizona.

This is what I mean when I say that your efforts matter.

I hope Democrats everywhere pay attention to what the Navajo County Dems doing. Not so they can copy what they’re doing exactly.

But so they can see the power that comes from meeting the people in your community where they are.

This leads me to my final point.

You’re the expert when it comes to your community.

Too often we think we have to do things someone else’s way. That there’s a “right way” that has to be followed. Sure, there are checklists and best practices and books and experts. All of those resources are really helpful.

But being so dedicated to the “traditional framework” or “the way things have always been done” robs you of so much creativity and fun.

And it might just make you less effective.

So don’t be afraid to try something new – especially when your ideas are grounded in your knowledge of (and membership in) the community.

If the Democrats in Navajo County can use their knowledge of and commitment to their community to do so much … just imagine what we can all do if we use them as inspiration.

Let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of April 12, 2022

Support Navajo County Democrats

[Read more about the voter suppression of Native Americans in Arizona at this helpful fact sheet: https://vote.narf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/AZ-Native-American-Voter-Suppression-FactSheet.pdf]

There are many ways to support the Navajo County Democrats, but here are two options.

First, postcards! Go here to their Mobilize link, where you’ll be able to register for 25 postcard addresses. Note that they ask that postcard designs be inclusive and not issue-specific.

Postcarding for these folks is impactful. Here’s their description:

More about why we write postcards to voters on Sovereign Lands in Northeast Arizona:

The tribal lands in Northeast Arizona stretch over a vast rural geography whose population is thinly spread. Most areas receive little to no cellular and Internet coverage. There are few major roads, and seasonal washouts and snowfall complicate driving. Given this geography, Native Democrats organizing their communities turned to large postcards campaigns to reach out to Navajo, Hopi, and White Mountain Apache voters across the region. 

In 2020 volunteers for the Northeast Arizona Native Democrats sent over 18,000 postcards to voters on the Navajo, Hopi and White Mountain Apache Nations. That means volunteers sent postcards to EVERY Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) voter, explaining to them how to make sure their vote counted. Their work paid off. We had a 300% increase in mail in ballots in 2020 over 2016 and yet only a tiny increase in ballots that needed corrections. We know this project increased the number of votes counted on tribal land and extended Biden’s victory in Arizona. 

In 2021, we sent almost 80,000 cards to keep our voters connected to what Democrats are doing in their community – every year, not just when there is an election. Your work has allowed to reach out to every registered Democrat on Tribal lands, while saving us the equivalent of an entire year’s salary for one of our Native organizers. Thank you!

Go here to sign up: https://www.mobilize.us/aznativeorganizingcampaign/event/428361/

Second, if postcarding is not your thing, consider chipping in $5 or $10 to the NE AZ Native Democrats Fund. The NE AZ Native Democrats (a coalition of the Navajo, Apache, and Coconino Democratic Committees) are fundraising with a goal of $50k by May 2022 for their on-the-ground canvassing efforts, communication outreach, and salaries for Native field organizers on Navajo, Hopi, and Apache lands. You can chip in to fund their efforts here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/navajoconativeorganizing

Join their Circle of Friends with a $5 monthly donation here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/neazfriends?recurring=1

Preparing for Post-Roe

Those of us in red states have seen this sort of thing coming for some time, but I think many folks who don’t share our dystopian reality were a bit surprised when a sheriff arrested a 26-year old woman for a self-induced abortion.

The charge? Murder. Bail was set at $500k.

Apparently when she went to the hospital for medical care, someone (staff or provider) contacted the authorities. (Note: That’s a clear violation of HIPAA, because – as noted below – there’s no current criminal law that was violated.)

On Sunday, the DA announced he would drop the charges; there’s no current criminal law that was violated.

But the case snapped everyone to attention. The issue is very, very real in our red states and if Roe goes by the wayside (which everyone expects) things will get very serious, very fast.

You can see the current and potential post-Roe map at the Guttmacher Institute’s interactive map here: https://states.guttmacher.org/

So let’s talk about what resources there are for people who need abortions. The Collective Power Fund distributes money directly to abortion funds so they can disperse it according to the needs of callers in their own communities and support those traveling to or from their home states to get the care they need. https://abortionfunds.org/collective-power-fund/

The National Network of Abortion Funds helps connect people with funds that support the financial and logistical needs that are obvious from these bans. Every state’s local funds are listed, along with what the fund can support (some provide assistance for lodging, meals, and childcare, others provide those funds as well as direct abortion funding). This is a great resource to share. https://abortionfunds.org/need-abortion/

Share Important Reproductive Justice Info

If you or anyone you know needs assistance self-managing a miscarriage or abortion, please call or text the Miscarriage + Abortion Hotline at (833) 246-2632 for confidential medical support or the Repro Legal Helpline at (844) 868-2812 for confidential legal information and advice.


Sign Up For Indivisible’s Rural Project

Indivisible has a great rural footprint – and that’s critical. Why do I say that? Because there ARE Democrats in rural areas.

As I tell people often, I don’t know of a single district that has gone 100% Republican in an election. But many Democrats in rural areas stay home on election day because there’s nothing (or no one) to vote for and they feel isolated.

That’s where you can come in – even if you’re not living in Rural America right now.

Indivisible has a Rural Caucus project that they are recruiting for – and that project has loads of ways to get connected with and boost rural Democrats (including ways you can help push back against the conservative media agenda that are pretty brilliant, if I do say so). Check it out and sign up here: https://secure.everyaction.com/3Y0Wl0ht6E-27KbBGtEE_w2

Clean Your Air (and Advocate for It Everywhere):

The pandemic is not going to get under control until we clean the air of shared, indoors spaces. We now have variants with transmissibility levels that challenge some of the most contagious viruses we’ve ever known.

COVID is spread via aerosols. It suspends like smoke in a room. That means a contagious person can be long gone from a room – but virus particles remain.

All of this is proven, scientific fact. It is also, however, inconvenient. Because it means there’s not necessarily an easy way out.

Vaccinations are essential. But we have seen that people are not willing or able to commit to wearing masks long term, which means we will have virus circulating in indoor air.

The simplest way to get around people being unwilling to filter the air coming out of their mouths (with a personal mask), is to filter the air that surrounds them.

There are a number of ways to do that.

This article does a great job of laying some of them out, so I wanted to share it: https://time.com/6143799/covid-19-indoor-air-cleaning/

The Clean Air Crew also has a great website that includes tons of ways you can improve ventilation and filtration – AND has some great tips for what to do if someone in your family tests positive for COVID and you need to isolate safely. Check it out here: https://cleanaircrew.org/

If you’re a Twitter user, check out Joey Fox @joeyfox85. He’s an HVAC Engineer and has provided lots of helpful information regarding how to evaluate whether your building is providing clean air – and what to look for.

Bottom line: whether it’s a building, residence, school or store – you can ventilate/clean the air. Opening windows and running your HVAC fan help tremendously with ventilation. HEPA filters are incredibly effective and relatively inexpensive. Even less expensive options exist, too: you can achieve the same results as you’d get with a HEPA filter by using a box fan and MERV-rated furnace filters. (It’s called a “corsi” box, and you can find the instructions to build one here: https://cleanaircrew.org/box-fan-filters/)

Installing one or more in your office space will help clean the air – giving added benefits to folks with allergies and decreasing the number of other cold and flu viruses.

Truly, it’s that simple.

The White House has a Clean Air in Buildings Challenge that provides some best practices: https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2022-03/508-cleanairbuildings_factsheet_v5_508.pdf

Now it’s time to take those resources and reach out to your alderpeople, mayors, and state legislators. Ask them what they are doing to modify building codes to ensure that clean air is address.

Talk to your boss, your building supervisor, your landlord. Find out what they are doing to make the space you work or live in safer for everyone.

Ventilation and filtration need to be in the public conversation more – and that’s up to all of us. Let’s make the great indoors safe again!


P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every email! We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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