Even after President-Elect Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election, Donald Trump falsely claimed victory in a race he definitively lost. ''I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!'' Trump tweeted after Biden surpassed the 270 electoral votes required to become president. But, as Trump continues his pointless tirade, falsely insisting voter fraud occurred and demanding validly cast ballots be discarded, organizers have been fighting to defend the integrity of the American democratic system — or what is left of it.
In Pennsylvania, one of the pivotal states in Biden's victory, grassroots organizers have been fighting hard to protect voters' rights. From Lancaster to Harrisburg to Philadelphia, groups of organizers launched rallies to make sure that thousands of absentee, provisional, overseas, and military ballots were counted. Their actions were not put together at the last minute, once it became clear that the state would be a point of contention. Rather, many elected officials — along with unions, faith leaders, and largely women-led organizations — had been planning for something like this to happen, having played out every possible scenario for months right until the 2020 election.
This effort to protect voting rights was led by a steering committee of groups including Pennsylvania Stands Up, One Pennsylvania, CASA in Action, Make the Road Pennsylvania, and SEIU, who worked along with dozens of organizers around the state mobilizing under one mission: Count Every Vote. “As we saw Trump and his allies trying to undermine our democracy in the lead up to the election, we knew grassroots mobilization would be essential,” Hannah Laurison, the Executive Director of PA Stands Up, tells Refinery29.
This was no small effort, either: While poll workers warded off "stop the vote" protestors barging through their doors, and millions threw street-side dance parties, these groups in Pennsylvania were organizing gargantuan movements including protests, marches, and calls to action that would get people to pay attention. It required hiring artists, making signs and Count Every Vote clothing, and putting together potential responses to violence and corruption.
“Behind the scenes, what it looked like was people like Nicolas O'Rourke and Nelini Stamp of the Working Families Party tirelessly planning the Joy to the Polls initiative, dozens of organizers from different grassroots organizations meticulously coordinating food, art, and public safety, and our union family showing up every day to protect our Democracy and demonstrate the power of the labor movement,” explains Kendra Brooks, Philadelphia City Council-member.
Similar to what we saw in Georgia with Stacey Abrams, the organizers behind this were primarily Black women and women of color, Maegan Llerena, the state director for Make the Road Action Pennsylvania tells Refinery29. Llerena was among those who worked for years, especially in the months leading up to Election Day, doing deep canvassing and having long conversations with voters in order to bring Latinx, Black, and other communities of color into the Electoral system.
And while all eyes were on major hubs like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, this work was especially crucial in places like Reading, in Pennsylvania's Berks County, where Latinx people make up more than 20% of the population, but have largely been ignored as a voting bloc. Before the election even began, Make the Road made 3 million attempts to contact Latinx voters and not only make them feel seen and heard, but to bring them into a political home for future organizing beyond Election Day. The same kind of work was being done by other progressive organizations across the state. And as a result, counties like Northampton flipped blue, and Biden’s margin was increased in Lehigh Valley and other counties.
Ashleigh Strange, an organizer with Lehigh Valley Stands Up, also did deep canvassing. After Election Day, Strange was among those who took to the streets when Lehigh officials paused counting. “When we heard that they paused vote counting, we were able to get 40 people outside demanding that they hire more people, and the next day they got 30 more people because we were able to mobilize so quickly. I’m ridiculously proud of that,” says Strange. They also showed up with donuts, coffee, pizza, and other food for election workers and offered support to urge them to keep going.
Organizers were prepared for all kinds of reactions from Trump and his supporters, and had legal teams at the ready. When the votes were finally counted, all of their planning finally paid off, and parties on the street emerged from what had once been protests. “There was a lot of uncertainty but we just knew to over-prepare and over-organize. So we were really able to keep that energy and those three words plastered everywhere. You can’t organize around hope. It’s necessary to have hope, but you’ve also got to have a plan organized underneath that, to make the things you hope for real. Right now, our legal team is looking at filing amicus briefs and all kinds of things to protect the vote,” Strange explains.
What was most emphasized by the organizers who spoke with Refinery29 is that none of the work they’ve done is for Democrats, specifically. “Few of us endorsed President-Elect Biden during the Democratic Primary and we know that when he takes office we will need to fight hard for our vision of a just Philadelphia — for well-funded education, healthcare for all, a Green New Deal, and workers' rights. Still, what was clear was that Trump and his hateful, white supremacist base were a threat to our very existence,” Brooks says.
Notably, the election came only one week after Walter Wallace Jr. was murdered by police in Philadelphia. “We know that the system that killed Walter Wallace Jr. is the same system that actively worked to silence Black and brown voters,” says Council-member Brooks. “Black people showed up to vote because we knew that our lives, our communities depended on it. But the work doesn't stop here. We will continue fighting for a world where our neighbors can live safe, healthy, dignified lives free of police violence. We will ensure that President-Elect Biden hears the power of our movement and knows that he can no longer take Black voters for granted. We're not going anywhere.”
The Black women and women of color who have been leading the charge say they don’t want praise, though: They want help and solidarity in non-election years. “We don’t need any saviors and we don’t want to be called saviors. We’re survivors. We will continue to fight for our communities as long as we have to. Inequity is harmful, strategic, and leaves people feeling lonely,” says Llerena. “Black folks, Latinx folks, Indigenous folks, and folks of color have invested in each other and their communities, and that’s why we’re the ones who got out the vote, and have fought to protect the vote. We need white folks to do that, too, because then we will have a better world and the inequities uplifted by the electoral systems and the systems that affect our communities won’t be so heavy on the shoulders of Black women and women of color.”