Volunteers with the Berkshires Brigades collect letters being sent to swing states urging people to use their right to vote. The nonpartisan effort was expected to mail 150,000 letters nationwide and well more than 5,000 from Berkshire County.
The letter writing effort was nonpartisan — the recipients are simply being urged to vote — but the Democratic Berkshire Brigades also had signs at the letter collection endorsing their candidates.
Kevin Thomas arrives in North Adams with 280 letters for Texas.
Martha Freedman of Lanesborough hands off her letters in Pittsfield.
Volunteers in North Adams mailed hundreds of letters on Saturday morning.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Thousands of letters are on their way from the Berkshires to election battleground states urging citizens to vote.
"The Big Send" is a national campaign by nonprofit Vote Forward to encourage participation in this year's presidential election. The Berkshire Brigades, a local Democratic organization, North County's Greylock Together and Left Field in Great Barrington were among those across the country depositing handwritten letters at local post offices on Saturday.
"I feel like everybody in Massachusetts is looking for a way to do their part across the country, and this was a little something I could do over the last couple of weeks," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier. "The idea is that when you receive a hand-addressed letter, let's face it, that's so unusual that people actually open it and what I wrote to my people was how your voice counts so please use your superpower of voting because it will make a difference in this country."
Bouvier wrote 50 letters to individuals in Florida. She wrote information about the voting policies in their area because there are different rules about voting in different places.
Members of the Berkshire Brigades collected other letters in front of the Pittsfield Post Office on Fenn Street while holding signs reading "your vote is your voice" and "I vote because I believe in democracy!"
A major reason the local groups are participating in this project is because research shows that handwritten letters increase voter turnout by between 3 and 4 percent. Approximately 40 percent of potential voters did not cast a ballot in the 2016 election.
"We are motivated, as Democrats, to encourage more people to vote because we believe that expanding the franchise is in keeping with a fundamental democratic value enshrined in the Bill of Rights, that holds that every citizen has, and should be able to exercise, the right to vote. In addition, every vote should have equal weight," said Frank Farkas, the group's recording secretary.
Vote Forward's Big Send was expected to mail around 15 million letters on Oct. 17 by 150,000 volunteers across the country to underrepresented voters in swing states. The non-partisan organization organized this project in partnership with Indivisible, Swing Left, People for the American way and other groups.
These letters are non-partisan: recipients are not directed to vote for one party or any candidate. The intent is that people will receive these letters and make the right decision about which party and which candidate best represents their interests and values.
"We trust the people to determine which party can provide the responsible leadership needed to unify the country, and to overcome the threats to our country's future from the pandemic, the economic downturn and longstanding systemic racism," Farkas said. "We also trust the United States Postal System and our local post office to deliver these letters on time, owing to the heroism of the army of essential postal workers, in whose support we demonstrated on this same street just two months ago."
In North Adams, about a dozen people gathered to send off their letters, some from the progressive Greylock Together group though Michael Bedford said a number of letterwriters found out about the initiative through other sources.
Bedford said he and his wife, Sarah Sutro, had 250 letters going out to Texas, Florida, Arizona and Michigan.
"Part of it is just in response to the frustrations of just watching the news. And this is a small way, I feel, that we all can make a difference and to have an influence in this election," he said. "The national numbers was that 150,000 Americans participated in this with 15 million letters going out 30 million. So it just feels good.
"And then they have a bunch of people all join them together to do it. I love it."
Letter writers could select the number of letters and the states they wanted to write to through the Vote Forward website. Each form had a space for a handwritten communication on why the letter was being written and why elections are important.
Kevin Thomas had 280 letters to mail in North Adams, all going to voters in Texas.
"Democracy only works for everyone when everyone participates, so I want more of my neighbors on Texas to vote," he said.
Volunteers had taken months to write these letters in preparation for the Big Send.
Virginia O'Leary is a retired professor of psychology and active member of the Brigades who sent 1,000 letters to infrequent but registered voters. She was eager to engage in this project because of the evidence-based effectiveness of this method.
Virginia O'Leary, accompanied as always by her poodle Wynton, brought 1,000 letters she'd written over the past few months.
"Once I began, I realized that it was the perfect job for a multi-tasker like me as I could write and address envelopes while watching the news or a documentary on TV. So, I resolved to write 20 a day up to the date of the Big Send," she said. "When I reached 600, I issued a challenge at a Berkshire Brigades Big Send letter-writing party to anyone who was motivated by competition and offered to reset my count to 0. No one took me up on the challenge but I was able to get a number of other people, four or five, to join the effort."
Her message was that she votes because she believes in democracy. When asked why she wrote the letters, O'Leary responded, "Because I believe that the soul of this country really is at stake."
Even though the Big Send deadline has passed, Farkas said there was still time be become involved in the election through phone calls, postcards and texts, distributing literatures and signs, and as poll workers and watchers.
Brigade Chair Megan Whilden said the enthusiasm for the Berkshire Big Send has been overwhelming.
She wrote postcards to voters in Georgia and Florida urging them to use their power of voting. She said taking action in this way can be therapeutic for people who are overwhelmed by the current political climate.
"Democracy is a participatory sport, so everyone needs to participate actively to make a difference," she said. "I also think that in these stressful times taking action to affect the outcome is really inspiring and healing, so people really feel better when they can do something about the situation our country is in."
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