Jonathan D. Lovitz #012
Get Out The Vote
By Amanda Younger
The election has been called and the nation begins to move forward in a new direction. But with the event industry disabled during a pandemic, it was an unprecedented year of thinking outside the box for canvassing, campaigning, fundraising, and registering to vote. We popped a bottle to congratulate community organizer and advocate Jonathan D Lovitz, creator of PhillyVoting.org, on an impressive voter turnout in his City of Brotherly Love. “We were sitting around and talking about how this is not a normal year and how particularly minority communities, primarily LGBTQ and black communities get their information, get their organizing, get their fire in their belly from going to… all those things where we convene, but that ain’t happening in a COVID world,” says Lovitz.
Talking about barriers they see a solution at their table, the contact-free QR code. So rather than knocking on doors or standing on the street corner with a clipboard, they simply put up the QR code signs all over the city. Lovitz continues, “Just looking at the numbers here, for a grassroots thing, created by a couple of friends sitting around having cocktails, we netted out somewhere around 4,000 clicks to our website and almost 800 clicks to the various voter registration sites.”
In an election year where tight races became full-blown squeakers the voter registration campaign was a success in Philadelphia, but even the way campaigns were held in public this year, drastically changed. Lovitz says, “We don’t need to spend zillions of dollars parading people around town to kiss babies. We can make it about issues; we can make it about right and not; we can make it about connecting intimately with people and not. It was a great era for the Facebook ad…from the nonprofits…that said vote because black lives matter and your body is your choice and my marriage is none of your business and all of those things.”
It seems to have worked as a legislative body built mostly of straight white men over 65 make laws in a majority-minority nation, have a new freshman class of diverse faces joining them. Lovitz states, “It’s amazing that we’re thinking at all levels of government because the most intimate relationships with government are usually our school boards, our city councils, our state legislatures, and we are not represented in that, not nearly enough, and that’s changing and that’s incredible. People are eyeing service as a thing to do again, and that’s really incredible.”
Finally, we talk about how fundraising came in the form of virtual meetups with Star Trek, Marvel Avengers, Cher, and so many others. Lovitz continues, “Look what Zoom and all these other platforms have done to democratize how we connect with each other…This is the future of fundraising, it makes it personal.” As those that made a living doing personal appearances to inspire and motivate, we are using the virtual platforms to reach so many more for far less money to do the same thing. The new form of fundraising will be without the black-tie affair, and organizations can re-imagine the funding of movements for a true return on investment. Lovitz ends, “We’re saying, make it work in a way that makes more dollars work for more people by getting the right folks in place to use that money, to make a difference.
To learn more about Jonathan and the topics we discussed on the show, check-out the below:
- Jonathan’s Website
- Philly Voting Info
- Victory Fund
- Ritchie Torres
- Sarah McBride
- Stephanie Byers
- 2016 Pennsylvania Results
- Philly voting initiative targets LGBTQ voters
- Avengers Fundraiser for Joe Biden
Jonathan D. Lovitz 0:04
Oh my god the car horns are blaring outside it’s I don’t know if you can hear it I’m gonna crack the window for a second like. It’s incredible like the windows are shaking a little bit because I’m just off the block here from City Hall and the world is coming to Philly to dance in the street. There’s going to be hoagies and cheesesteaks stands and all the beers tonight my friend.
Amanda Younger 0:37
Events since 2005. I’ve always been inspired by people coming together to share ideas. I’m Amanda younger, and I’ll be your host on Happy Hour, where I share a drink and a laugh with guests over stories and our hope for the future of the live event experience. Today I’m speaking with Jonathan Lovitz, a nationally recognized small business and public policy advocate, community organizer, and currently serves as a senior vice president of the NGLCC. That’s a National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. In 2020. Lovitz created the phillyvoting.org initiative to expand voter registration and confidence in his city of Philadelphia. Lovitz is a regular speaker on MSNBC, CNBC, NPR and Bloomberg, among others, and has served as a keynote speaker for the US Department of Defense, US Department of Treasury, the United Nations The Trevor Project, Broadway cares, equity fights, AIDS and more. Today, he’s speaking with us. What up? Special thanks to Laxamana Media. You create, we capture. Be sure to continue the conversation with us online at eventspeak.com. Subscribe on Apple and Google podcasts. Follow us on Spotify and I Heart Radio and favorite us on Stitcher to get all upcoming episodes and help others find our show. Be sure to comment below. We’d love as much feedback as possible in our early stages. A promotional giveaways in the works, so check back in soon. Together, we can make the difference in live events. I’m going to try and open this. Let’s see what we get. I got it again. But popping the bottles. The bottles of a friend Jonathan. Man oh man, today is a day. Yes. Enjoy coffee, or what have you.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 2:30
Called coffee with important additives.
Amanda Younger 2:33
I love it. Well, cheers to Philly. Cheers to New York. Cheers to America.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 2:39
Cheers to Democracy and
Amanda Younger 2:41
Jonathan D. Lovitz 2:43
To just it all working out. Trust the process, like we say in Philly.
Amanda Younger 2:48
I like that. Be patient all that.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 2:51
Yeah. No, I think we’re gonna be extra proud here in Philly. We gave America Democracy. We weren’t gonna let it get taken away.
Amanda Younger 2:58
That’s right. Well, Jonathan, normally I tell people to tell people who you are and what you do. But I just want to let everybody know. This is my fellow Gator. We’re both alumni from UF. That’s right. And I made sure that I had a little Gator right there swimming with you. I know that we have a cocktail party we got to do today. So yeah, we just we just started it off, hmm.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 3:27
Cheers. Hi, um, everybody.
Amanda Younger 3:29
Cheers to that. And of course, just to let everybody know. I’m super proud of my friend, Jonathan, because previously I actually awarded him the global luminaries award for his work with our Chamber of Commerce. There it is. And the same day, it was with Richie Torres, who is now a congressman, one of our freshmen in the House of Representatives.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 4:02
Our first ever, black, queer, Afro American, member of congress from the Bronx, it only took till 2020. But damn, is it good?
Amanda Younger 4:12
It is great. I’m feeling so good about everything that’s happening. I do want you to tell everyone, what kind of sparked your initiative to want to create phillyvoting.org.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 4:28
Well, first of all, my friend, it’s great to see you and thanks for all the work you have always done in New York bringing our communities together. Championing what’s right. Yes, take that step. You’ve earned it. You know, this, this is a real tribute to sort of the moment we’re in with COVID and having to innovate around it. I know that often sounds like such a little buzzy thing, but it actually happened here. You know, I have been political for a long time, as both sort of a professional homosexual and through my day job and my my nightlife and like, yeah, doing community organizing and advocacy and political work, and I was sitting with some friends here in Philadelphia, where I live now after 10 great years in New York City. And it’s alright you’re an Amtrak away. With a Joe Biden presidency, we’re gonna get Amtrak’s everywhere. I live in train country. But, you know, we were sitting around talking about how this is not a normal year, and particularly minority communities, primarily LGBTQ and black communities get their information, they get their organizing, they get their fire in their belly from going to things like churches and community meetings and bars and restaurants and all those things where we convene. And that ain’t happening in a COVID world. So we were thinking about how do we do that? Is it small groups? Do we knock? Do people even want us to knock on doors? Like, what do we do? And then we thought, What’s the easiest thing? What is the thing that we can do to remove the most barriers? And it was right in front of us? Literally, we were sitting around having drinks, and what did you use to look at the menu because we’re not doing paper menus anymore? QR codes. So I hold on, I’m gonna get rid
Amanda Younger 6:11
The return of the QR code.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 6:15
To show you how happy I am that this like, this was a grassroots advocacy moment that took, you know, an hour to buy a website, 10 minutes to buy, 5 minutes to buy a website, 10 bucks to do it, an hour to build a linktree full of URLs. And then we just started putting this up everywhere. I mean, every wall, every restaurant, every bar, every church, and just saying to people look, content, it’s contact free. It’s nonpartisan, it takes you to all of the state registrations. You know, we obviously had a huge, huge new learning curve here in Pennsylvania, with our mailing system being the first of its size this way. And, and just I mean, this is this was just a couple of friends sitting around, think about what can we do, and especially when we started thinking about the numbers, right, because in 2016, Hillary lost to Donald, by like 44,000 votes, there were in 2016, 150,000, unregistered LGBTQ people, 300,000 unregistered black people in this state. And the survey is all said, because no one came to us with “why” we knew what was at stake. But folks didn’t talk to us about why it matters on a personal level. And as someone who loves this world of public policy and getting people fired up about being involved, this was the perfect time and it worked. People showed up in droves to mail and vote in Philadelphia, and around Pennsylvania. And just looking at the numbers here. I mean, for a grassroots thing created by a couple of friends sitting around having cocktails. It, we netted out somewhere around 4000 clicks to our website. And hundreds I were looking at almost 800 clicks to the various get at the various voter registration sites. So it’s great. And it just it was a matter of giving people no excuses. And and that’s an even better, you know, an easy solution that we can all get behind. And people then started putting the QR code as the background on their phone and chasing people down the street. Have you registered to vote? Take a picture of this?
Amanda Younger 8:26
You see the clipboard you’re like no, no, no, no, no.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 8:30
So it was it was awesome. And I’m so fired up and so excited as someone who wants you know, who wants to be part of the political future of Pennsylvania, like people are fired up to participate. I don’t think you get record breaking turnout numbers like this. And then they vanish. I think people when you when you remind them what’s at stake and the power of being involved. They stick around because they realize it’s there hardwork.
Amanda Younger 8:56
Yeah, I think the majority of the time people are like, Oh, well, it’s the same thing. You know, my vote like is it really going to matter? And then all of a sudden, you know, you have a an upset where someone wins with 3 million popular votes, and they’re still not there. And then you actually start to see policies kind of directly impact you in a direct way, in a personal way. And that kind of that kind of fires you up and go what what can I do? So I’m super happy that you had like this meeting. And it seems that so many other people agree with you that there was something that we need to do and, and voting is one of it voting was the easiest way. Now I know in the past, because, gosh, you’ve been involved in politics in New York and now Philadelphia. I know you’ve been part of tons of campaigns and fundraisers Of course. This must be unprecedented. You know, usually we have these galas, we have state fairs, babies are kissed, hands are shaken. We can’t do that this year.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 9:58
Yeah, none of that. But you know what? What a great time to remind people. What that’s not how it has to be done. We don’t need to spend zillions of dollars parading people around town to kiss babies, we can make it about issues we can make it about right. And not. We can make it about connecting intimately with people and not. It was a great time for you know, it was a great era for the Facebook ad. And I don’t mean from the campaigns, I mean, from the little guys and gals like to the amount of nonprofits who allocated, you know, time and money and energy into building social media campaigns that said, vote because not this not for this guy or that guy, vote because black lives matter. And your body is your choice. And my marriage is none of your business and all of those things. And it got people fired up. It made it personal. I mean, I’m a lobbyist by trade now. It’s what I do. And the amount of times I go to state houses and city council meetings to advocate for businesses and minority rights and things like that. And no one’s there. Because we’ve led a generation of straight white men over 65 make all of our decisions in a majority minority nation. And that ain’t it. And we’re going to change that. I mean, just look at the diverse representation that’s being elected. Look who’s showing up to lead the organizations. It is awesome.
Amanda Younger 11:26
Yeah, I think just in just for LGBTQ campaigns, I think I don’t, I haven’t heard a single one that that failed. We’ve got Sarah McBride, we’ve got Stephanie Byers, the first trans native and Kansas, just I’ve been seeing more and more especially on the state level on that local level, where a lot of folks are becoming the first of their of their kind of their identity in these positions of leadership.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 12:00
It’s incredible. And it’s I even, you know, my think of the class I attended for my victory fund training for to be a future candidate, like half those people have gone on to win successful races already. And it’s amazing that we’re thinking at all levels of government, because the most intimate relationships with government are usually our school boards, our cities Council, our our state legislatures, and we are not represented in that. I’m not nearly enough, and that’s changing, and that’s incredible. And people people are eyeing service as a thing to do again. And that’s, that’s really incredible.
Amanda Younger 12:38
Absolutely, I mean, public service, I think, you know, was always something that seemed corrupt and weird, and I’m not gonna be that guy. But I feel that a lot of people are like, no, this is actually a place for change, and a place where, where real things happen, and I want to be a part of that change. So I like this change in this, this adjustment in perception, I should say, adjustment in perception on what local government means on what state government means. And you know, how that affects everyone individually, especially when, you know, you seem affected by so many policies that that are coming out. I think with the Supreme Court, you know, with those justices putting in place, I think a lot of people started to bite their nails and really worry about rights that could be taken away. And that’s a that’s a real fear. That’s a true fear.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 13:42
It is. And remember, though, what’s most important is, courts have to decide when bad laws are made. So if you want to prevent a flood of attacks on our basic rights, everything from you know, the rights and dignity of people to be who they are loved, who they are, expressed who they want to be, take an agency of their bodies vote. All of those things are made and strengthened by state and federal legislators. The courts only come in when someone says I don’t think this works. Or I want to try to erode something that doesn’t benefit me. Well, if you’ve got strong representation that actually speaks for more people having more access than we don’t have to worry about these things. So that’s why flipping legislature’s blue when we were about to redistrict, the entire country.
Amanda Younger 14:33
Jonathan D. Lovitz 14:35
The census. Which you know, was what it was in a COVID year. Yeah, these these things are all affected by turnout and turnout is huge. So it’s we’ve just got to keep this momentum going and keep people fired up and remember that there is an election every year, even if it’s just for local things like you know, referendums to fix your potholes. Well You know, we’re online, and we’re on a podcast. So we’re allowed to say things like, Don’t bitch if you don’t participate.
Amanda Younger 15:06
Jonathan D. Lovitz 15:12
Next time you’re going over one of our famous Philly potholes and screwing up your alignment, you know, instead of saying, damn it, why don’t they fix this? Say? Did I show up to the council meeting to demand that they fix this?
Amanda Younger 15:23
Jonathan D. Lovitz 15:24
Oh, wait, I didn’t I let somebody else speak for me. I’m not gonna do that again.
Amanda Younger 15:29
Yeah, no, and it’s very important to check in on those council meetings, those community board meetings, because that’s where a lot of that, you know, citizen participation really takes place. You see it on the movies, you know, on, you know, like, the town comes together, and someone goes up on a podium and says something and you’re like, that guy needs to run for something. And he’s like, No, I just want to change this part of my town, because I love it. And you’re like, ah, tear, I love movies. But you forget, like those moments can actually happen. You can walk into these council meetings, you can talk to the podium, and you can get heard.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 16:06
I’ve watched it happen. I mean, I talked about this all the time, the privilege of being, you know, the SIS white guy at the table is they offer me the mic first. So that I can do things like set the scene and say, but you really need to hear from this, who this is going to help. And I can give the mic to the person who was not invited to the table. And I think about the work I do in expanding like economic laws to include more minorities. You don’t need to hear for me, people that look like me are doing fine. You need to hear from the first generation immigrant trans black woman who is being told even from her own communities, you’re too this, you’re not enough that. So to be able to bring all of yourself to everything you do, including the government that you pay for, says a lot. And if you’ve got something to say, public comment means you, get involved. I have seen legislators change their mind because one person showed up and said, I have never heard that perspective.
Amanda Younger 17:08
Amazing. Well, and you’ve done so much advocacy for small business, and just a small business industry, especially with COVID-19, during this pandemic, that’s still continuing. They’ve been hit really hard. What do you think is kind of the takeaway from this pandemic? Where do you see that small business advocacy? Or Where do you see yourself, where you’re kind of focusing your attention to in that front?
Jonathan D. Lovitz 17:36
You know, the, what’s amazing now, and we saw it, we’ve seen it through COVID. We certainly saw it through both LGBT civil rights movement of the last couple of years, and certainly through Black Lives Matter. The convergence and coming together of communities in such an unprecedented way, some because of intersectionality, realizing that we are not doing enough for the least among us in our own communities, but just acknowledging ally-ship that, like we, especially in this now outgoing administration. God that feels good to say, if they’re coming for you on a Monday, they’re coming for me on a Tuesday, but it’s a lot harder to pick us off if we’ve linked arms. You know, think about the first the Equality Act, for example, which is going to help fix this patchwork of LGBT laws around the country where you know, your zip code determines whether or not you’re protected and can be thrown out of your home and your workplace and your work. All of these things. Well, again, it’s dictated by where you live. And that’s not okay, that doesn’t create a productive and inclusive economy for anyone. And to see that 10 years ago, when that was introduced, we had a small handful of corporations and nonprofits standing with us to this year 400 corporations and the first major nonprofit to stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBT community was the NAACP saying, we’ve seen this garbage before, right? We know how to fight it. And we have skin in this game.
Amanda Younger 19:05
Jonathan D. Lovitz 19:05
So it’s just incredible to see that across so many communities. I love it. And I think that’s the future of the movement is recognizing that, you know, too many too many times. You talk about small business things even like the PPP and the recovery loans. Everyone’s saying, oh my gosh, there’s only so much pie. If you give pie to the person there’s no pie for me. We pay for the pie as taxpayers so let’s demand more is baked and that it’s divided more evenly and that more people have access to a piece of it. And that each of us know how to hold our plate better so that we get the pie we deserve. I’m hungry I…
Amanda Younger 19:22
I dropped it. I dropped my pie…
Jonathan D. Lovitz 19:45
Dropped my pie…
But it’s it’s just it’s such an exciting time to be in this work because people are realizing we do better when more people do better, all of us. So I just love it. Oh my god. The car horns are blaring outside. It’s, I don’t know if you can hear it, I’m gonna crack the window for a second. Like it’s incredible like the windows are shaking a little bit because I just off the block here from City Hall and the world is coming to Philly to dance in the street. Maybe hoagies and cheesesteaks stands and all the beers tonight, my friend,
Amanda Younger 20:23
This is fantastic. Well, I want to make sure that everybody wants to thank phillyvoting.org for all of the work that you’ve done. And I know that there’s so much more that can be done and will be done. Just on the way out. You know, how do you think this is really going to change fundraisers and and campaigning moving forward? I think every year it’s been like, wow, this grassroots campaign through social media, but now that seems to be the norm. Where do you think that’s going to be for the future, especially, you know, kind of working with victory fund and others? Which by the way, thank you for that Marvel Avengers Assemble victory fun fundraiser that was amazing.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 21:08
Wait. Did you also attend the Star Trek one like because there’s been one for every nerd constituency. Broadway for Biden and Star Trek for Biden, and they had like, I’m sure they street sloth for Biden, it was off these, this is what I love. And this is the answer to your question is look what zoom, and all these other platforms have done to democratize how we connect with each other. And I say this is someone who flies under normal years all over the country to speak to groups and try to fire them up. But that means you have to pay for flights and hotels, and we’ve got to book rooms and we’ve got to you know, buy meals and all the stuff. We’re doing this my friend, we’re you know and and think like I about drop dead when I was on a zoom and Cher popped in. And you know, and shrieks were heard across zooms around the world?
Amanda Younger 21:58
Did you lose your cool.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 21:59
Yeah! We can do things like that. Now, what I think this is the future of fundraising is again, it makes it personal, that even for candidates here that you know, I’m not running this cycle, but I believe in so many LGBT candidates running all over the state of Pennsylvania and around the country. The amount of zooms I did like this, just talking about why they matter, why our vote matters, and and why it’s so deeply personal, was great. And and we did it like this. It was, it was you know, cocktails and conversation about the future of our country. And I think that’s the future of fundraising is keeping it like this. You know, I think we’ll get back to small in person events again. But I think those big one night only is this is the one chance to fundraise and save our country kind of things are gone. Because they didn’t get the results that we needed. Sure they were good fundraisers. But did they really motivate people to action? And, you know, I think, look at the kinds of money that used to be spent on that black tie dinner and the you know, who sponsored what open bar because it got them great visibility? Well, you know, and I say that, as someone like you who has run pride organizations, and my God, that money makes a difference. But But think how much more effective it is when you say, you know what, for that same $40,000, you were going to give us to have an open bar the reception. Why don’t you invest that in equity fund that brings, you know that that is set to provide 10 scholarships to black queer kids to attend an HBCU. Yeah, that is equity building in the future. That is a return on your investment that goes a lot deeper than the free vodka we were going to get from Tito’s anyway. So let’s have a volunteer, shake it up instead of having to pay for all of that setup. You know what I mean? Like, let’s read it just as we’re talking about, you know, re reimagining the funding of police, for example. It’s reimagining the funding of our nonprofit movements. We’re not saying get rid of these things. We’re saying make it work in a way that makes more dollars work for more people by getting the right folks in place to use that money to make a difference.
Amanda Younger 24:06
Absolutely. Absolutely. I am going to let you go because I know you have a day of media. And I want to thank you so so much for just taking out a piece of your time to be with me to be with my listeners. I want to thank you again for all of your efforts. Thank you for bringing back that QR code. Thank you voters who clicked on.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 24:33
And right back at you, I mean, exactly what we’re doing and your podcasts and all of your hard work in New York and really setting a precedent and a model for so many LGBTQ and other organizations to follow just about the way we engage everyone from the most to the least from the oldest to the youngest. You do it right, my friend and I’m proud to know you and I’m so excited to keep carrying this forward through a Biden presidency, a Harris presidency and who knows what happens after that so cheers to all of us.
Amanda Younger 25:04
Cheers to us and cheers to my favorite luminary. Well don’t I can’t say that not my favorite but ah man, you really deserved it. You are a luminary and keep keep lighting the flame for others to see through the fog through the dark. You like to, to guide our way. Thank you so much for your time, Jonathan.
Jonathan D. Lovitz 25:24
Thank you, my friend. Here’s to all of us. Keep fighting. Let’s make a difference.