“You’ll see the signs Megan Bartlett had texted me as I looked for her house in Geneva, Illinois, a 20,000-person town about an hour west of Chicago. The note seemed vague to the point of useless until I arrived. In a maze of massive greige colonials, Bartlett’s stuck out: It was the only one bedecked with campaign signs for various local Democratic candidates. It was a Sunday morning in October 2018, and I was reporting on Rep. Lauren Underwood, a nurse turned Obamacare expert waging an underdog bid to unseat the district’s Republican representative. Bartlett, a 34-year old music teacher, had been described to me as “the organizing brain and communications expert” of the grassroots supporting Underwood’s bid.
When I entered Bartlett’s home, I met half a dozen women gathered at the dining room table for breakfast before a day of door-knocking for Democratic candidates. Most of the organizers were a bit older than Bartlett, each of them white, and all, like Bartlett, had become newly engaged in politics since Trump’s 2016 victory. Over plates of eggs, bacon, and scones, I peppered them with questions about Underwood’s prospects. But they were more eager to tell me about what was happening down-ballot—the candidates for county board, school board, and sheriff in Kane County, where Geneva is the seat. “Lauren’s race is really important,” Tina Willson told me. “The reality is she’s not really the one who affects our day-to day lives as much as a lot of other people.”
The Ballad of the Resistance goes something like this: Trump’s win sparked the political consciences of a particular slice of American women— often white, privileged, and well educated. They marched, lobbied Congress to push back against Trump, and, when that failed, flipped House seats, including the one Underwood won. Four years later, there’s a Democrat heading to the White House, and the Democratic House majority remains in place.
But for women like Bartlett, the bigger change may be on the local front. Across the country, the women radicalized by Trump’s election have followed a path similar to the one that Bartlett and her fellow neophyte organizers have taken: They’ve reinforced the local Democratic infrastructure, built a bench of new Democratic officeholders, and channeled the fury of the anti-Trump movement into their local communities—and have done so in the face of local parties and elected officials (usually men) who dismissed their efforts as fleeting or frivolous.
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