by Len Lear
“We have an obligation to go anywhere where we can flip a seat. We may soon have a tipping point in this country. Once we have a dictator, it will be too late. This is the year! It might be the last time we can do it. The Republican Party is no longer a party. It is a cult! We have to squeeze out every single vote. The power of activism is so great. Because of it, I am now a lot happier than I was on election night, despite all that has happened.”
Those are the words of Ellen Stevenson, of Flourtown, a 73-year-old mother of four who also worked in hospitals for 27 years. In her last position as a vice-president, she was responsible for medical staff credentialing as well as the development of physician competence oversight processes and much more. Ellen, who retired eight years ago, lives with her husband, Jim, who retired 20 years ago after a career as a phone company technician.
You’d think that Ellen, three of whose four children live in the Philadelphia area, would want to spend her retirement relaxing, traveling, playing with her three grandchildren, Netflix bingeing, etc. But you would be wrong. Ellen describes herself as a “full-time activist.”
In fact, her activism schedule would be daunting for someone 40 years younger than Ellen. Founder of Social Justice Indivisible, Ellen is hosting an open house for Turn PA Blue on Tuesday, March 10, 6:30 p.m., to recruit more volunteers for the November election.
“In 2018 we flipped 12 Pennsylvania House seats from red to blue,” Ellen said in an interview last week. “This year we have nine to flip to get a Democratic majority. Without flipping one of the two chambers (the State House or Senate), the Republicans will re-draw the PA gerrymandered districts. If we flip the house to a Democratic majority, we will be at the table in 2021 when they are re-drawn, so it’s critical to get volunteers out to knock on doors.”
Ellen, who has a face on which emotion can play like a wave on the beach, has been an activist since she was in high school in the 1960s. Back then she protested the war in Vietnam and the pollution of Jamaica Bay, Long Island, where she lived, among other issues.
So it will come as no surprise that the election of Donald Trump was traumatizing and shocking to her, as it was to countless millions of others. “I cried,” she said. “My husband I were so upset. Right away I put an ad on the ‘next door’ website just to talk with like-minded people. We had more than 100 replies, and there were 23 people at our first meeting. It was wonderful. People came with flowers, wine and snacks. It was so uplifting, hugging people I had never met!”
So many people were interested in activism that the second meeting had to be held in a hall the group rented in the Chestnut Hill Quaker Meetinghouse. Seven committees were formed, and a strategy was developed to get out the vote because so many progressive voters stayed home in 2016. The new group, Social Justice Indivisible, ran nine candidates for committeepersons in eastern Montgomery County in the next election, and they won eight out of nine.
The group now has 370 members from Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill and Montgomery County, and they meet once a month. “We also work with Turn PA Blue,” said Stevenson, “and I have to thank State Sen. Art Haywood, who reached out to me. He said Indivisible groups should adopt districts and knock on doors, send out post cards, find new candidates to run for office, etc. We have done all that.”
Once she gets in high gear, Ellen can vent some serious spleen. “It is important to build community and learn from friends. We are in this for the long haul. It is so sad that the Republican Party is now dead. It has become the Trump Party. We are literally at war to save democracy. No sane person is looking at Trump’s actions without worry. My ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, and so many people sacrificed so much, and it is all in jeopardy now. It saps your energy, but being a part of the solution makes you feel energized. This year’s election may be our only chance to save our democracy, so everyone has to get involved!
As Ellen continues to talk about this year’s election, her face fills up with emotion like a balloon in the Thanksgiving Day parade. “People want to know ‘What can I do?’ What I keep in mind is that even if I move the needle one speck, I have to do it. There are people like me all over the country, and we are building a community of caring, sharing people. Getting involved and staying involved can only be a plus. We have people in our group who are going to Kentucky to knock on doors (to try to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell).”
For more information about the March 10 open house: firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-233-2341. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com