Practicing David Pepper’s Saving Democracy Conversations

This summer I spent visiting with old friends and traveling to Tennessee to meet new activists.  I was reading David Peppers’ new book, Saving Democracy, and thinking about how to strengthen our activism for the upcoming elections. 

I met new activists in Nashville, preparing for the special legislative session called by the Gov. Lee.  There is a lot of energy there – people newly awakening to their political power and learning to use it.  They are planning protests and phonebanks.  They are teaching people to call their state legislators to demand action.  But then they went one step further:  talk to your friends and families in red districts.  Tell them what is happening, ask them to call!

Christine Brown, TP2B Editor

I met my old friends, Democrats all, but strangely disinterested in national politics.  Two I would consider “center left”  and they are deeply involved in their own town’s governance and battling trumpies there.  But they were uninformed about Biden’s accomplishments, or the terrible straits other states are in.  Another friend, a casual voter, voiced the opinion that Trump could beat Biden.  But she really didn’t know any details about what has happened the last three years- either advances or defeats.  

David Pepper’s new book is wonderful at describing specific tasks to Save Democracy.  Of course, our readers are familiar with his major thesis:  that to truly solve this democratic crisis, we must fight harder in each and every state legislature.  We see how Republicans have leveraged gerrymandering to hobble democratic debate.  We see that the federal government imperfectly protects our rights.  We see that the judicial system has been hijacked by radicals using any excuse to fight the culture wars, defined more and more as simply fighting federal control.  We see that we are basically living in two different countries:  One where education and reproductive autonomy are legal and one busy banning black history, queer books, and abortion.  The state legislatures are the frontlines of the battle for Democracy.

In this series, we will look at different aspects of David Pepper’s blueprint to Save Democracy.  First, I want to talk about the why behind his thesis that we need to save Democracy by making it part of our personal mission statement and, in order to do that,  we need to activate our connections in our personal footprints (p 63) to expand an informed voting populace.

Why is this so important?

 The media enjoys the narrative that our country is 50/50 red and blue.   It makes their horse race and poll reporting simpler and more dramatic.  But their ratings frame misses:

  1. There has been a vast realignment after Trump, with Never Trumpers leaving the Republican party and calling themselves Independent.  49% of Americans now call themselves Independent.  
  2. Even after the largest turnout in a presidential election ever (81 million for Biden and 74 million for Trump, 2.8 million for other), there remains another 80 million people who did not vote.
  3. There are significant generational differences in voters within the parties.  The Brookings Institute details how this generational change is dividing the GOP but uniting Democrats.

David Pepper provides useful tools to examine who is in your Footprint in the world, and many ideas on how to engage them, the first being to register them to vote, and get them to vote in every election.

But I’d like to address the elephant in the room, the trumpie.  We all have someone in our lives that falls into this category.  We have seen outrageous posts on social media.  Even as the media elevates them in their both-sides reporting, their numbers are shrinking.  More and more people are describing the phenomenon as a cult. I would like to make it clear that no one is asking you to engage with trumpies, especially on social media.  It’s counterproductive: You will never change a cult member’s mind, and you will waste your time and energy.  It’s one of the reasons they do disgusting things – they want the outrage to soak up all of people’s energy.

mad formal executive man yelling at camera
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

I would like to make it clear that no one is asking you to engage with trumpies, especially on social media.

Take it to the Next Level

To advance in the battle for our democracy, we need to take our activism to the next level.  And by that, I mean talking to people who say they are Independents or non-voters- in my rough estimate- that is a national footprint of 120 million opportunities.  The key is that all of our personal footprints are important pieces of the national electorate.  We know these people, and they will be more likely to listen to someone they know. And maybe they will activate their own footprints!

The Non-Voter.  Hey, this has been me!  I’ve moved a lot, and local and state elections can be baffling when you do that.  It’s hard to find information about the people on the ballot, and sometimes even the job is opaque (looking at you Governor’s Council).  So sometimes people just don’t vote, or maybe they leave part of the ballot blank (undervoting).   In 2020, when I volunteered as a poll worker, a woman came in and yelled at us because there were other races on the ballot.  She only wanted to vote for president.   Undervoting is quite common.

Nonvoters’ reasons for not voting  also include:
  • not being registered to vote (29%)
  • not being interested in politics (23%)
  • not liking the candidates (20%)
  • a feeling their vote wouldn’t have made a difference (16%)
  • being undecided on whom to vote for (10%)

Notice that all these reasons are conversation starters!  In these conversations, listening and then sharing values is key.  Unfortunately, sharing facts does not convince people.  Identifying their feelings, and sharing your own does.

The Independent:  Yes, there are some true independents, but mostly, these are people fleeing partisan negativity.  75% of the time, they lean towards one party or the other, and that shows in their voting.  In these conversations, avoid negativity about the other party as the only reason to vote.  The media is great at covering bad things – not good at all at talking about accomplishments.  Again, listening and sharing values is a great place to start.  Then just add in, “I really liked how Biden, the democrats, the candidate helped people by reducing drug prices, reforming student loans, building factories on American soil….  Lots of choices here- even better if it’s policy that helped you or someone you know personally.

The 14-Month Challenge

In the next 14 months, I know you will continue to postcard, text, canvas, phonebank and donate.  But we will be giving you the tools to take your activism one step further.  It’s small conversations- planting little seeds.  You’ll be talking to people you know:  family, neighbors, dog walkers, Uber drivers, anyone you interact with.  We’ll share some messaging ideas -but remember you are leading with your values and experiences.  

woman writing on white diary
Photo by Anna Nekrashevich on
women sitting on the bench while talking
Photo by olia danilevich on

All our small conversations will contain the seeds to nudge people,  one category at a time.

Your First Assignment

Your first assignment is to start thinking about the policies you care about in terms of your values.  Why do you think voting is important?  Why do you think climate mitigation is important?  Why do you think gun safety is important?  What do your values say about the content of education that public schools should offer?  The list is different for each of us.  Can you memorize a sentence about your values about any topic you want to engage on? Lastly, I want to draw your attention to the graphic at the top of this article.  It’s from an Indivisible workshop on combatting disinformation, and it’s very useful in setting goals and expectations.  All our small conversations will contain the seeds to nudge people,  one category at a time.   Doris Kearns Goodwin, reminiscing about participating in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, said that it was powered by people connecting their private lives to public policy.  I believe that is what is missing in a large portion of the electorate, and that working to change that will make a huge difference in 2024.  So let’s get started!