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PSARA Oral Histories Project:
Tony Lee

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Tony Lee Interview

PSARA Advocate

January 2023 Page 4 


Holding the 8th, Flipping the 3rd

By Angie Bartels


In autumn of 2020, the days were growing short while our democracy was hanging by a thread, as was the life of my latehusband Tony Lee. Tony was in the final throes of ALS. The White House was occupied by Donald Trump and his cronies.While many activists across the nation were on the move, local activists Peter Costantini and Tom Berry created Team TonyLee.



Peter: I hadn't been that involved in electoral stuff for a long time. I volunteer with immigrant rights groups and have donesome canvassing with them. But in 2016, when Trump was the candidate, it gave me a kick in the butt. I thought, we've suddenlygot a movement that is white nationalist, fascist in many ways, and international. I started to get scared and got to thinking, we really need to do electoral work, as it’s the most immediate way to slow it down and reverse it.


Tom: We had all spent time with Tony over the years, including during those last few years when he was not able to be politicallyactive. When the 2020 election rolled around and we felt we needed to get organized, our thoughts certainly went to Tony. Wehad many political discussions with him, so we had a sense of which side Tony would be on and which candidates he was mostenthusiastic about. It seemed logical when we organized ourselves to memorialize Tony in that way.


They invited numerous friends to sign up, myself included. We worked with various grassroots organizing groups and pennedthousands of letters and texts. We called voters in English and Spanish in states across the nation. We met on Zoom andtalked about our experiences and compared notes. It was the height of the COVID lockdown, and everything was done remotely.

Early in the morning, five days after election day 2020, a friend called and told me the final presidential election results. I rushedover to Tony and said, “Wake up, Tony! It’s confirmed! Biden won!” No longer able to speak, he blinked acknowledgement. Five days later, Tony passed away.  


As we approached the election of 2022, the preservation of democracy was still at stake. InWashington State, Kim Schrier was threatened in the 8th CD, and a new candidate, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, had a decentshot to flip the 3rd CD. Once again, Peter and Tom reignited Team Tony Lee. Tom became our point person for the 8th and Peterfor the 3rd. They contacted staff from the campaigns and found volunteer activities for Team Tony Lee. They kept the Teaminformed through articles, position papers, and policies of the candidates. They organized carpools for canvassing.


Peter: I realized that once Marie and Kim won their primaries, there were two races in Washington that could have an effect onthe balance in the House. And their districts both have large rural areas. I haven't had much experience with rural Washington,but that motivated me, because I think it's good for us city people to get more of a sense of what's going on there.


Tom: It was eye opening in terms of getting to know different parts of the 8th CD. I guess I have an image of the 8th CD asconservative and suburban. We canvassed in parts of Issaquah that were much more working class and even low-income. We alsowent to parts of King County where there was a fair amount of ethnic and racial diversity. It was interesting to see the scope of the 8th CD and what Schrier was dealing with in terms of fashioning her particular kind of politics. I don’t believe anyone canvassedeast of the mountains, so we have little insight on that.


Peter: In the 3rd CD, Marie's campaign focused heavily on rural America. One of her TV ads has her walking down a gravel roadcarrying a chainsaw. She’s talking about how she lives in rural Skamania County, how she and her husband built their home. Shethen starts the chainsaw and cuts down a tree. Marie sets herself apart from “Seattle Democrats,” and apparently there’s aweakness in the Democratic Party across the country -- people who can speak to rural concerns.


Tom: I agree, it’s a national issue.  But I think it’s important, the fact that Kim and Marie were behind in the rural counties butwon big enough in King (for Kim) and Clark and Pacific (for

Marie) to carry them to victory. So all of these votes count. But it is important to reduce that dynamic of the cities and the ruralareas being in conflict with each other. It’s positive that both of them were trying to focus on that.

Peter: I think that was one of the things that really drew me to the Marie Perez campaign – a desire to get out and meet the folks in Longview and Kelso, Centralia, and Chehalis. That's where I spent most of my time canvassing.


Angie: Yes, me too. I wanted to see where people live, how they live, what their concerns are, and how open they are to speaking with you. I loved canvassing in Kelso, because in many ways it felt like the town where I was raised – poverty, dilapidated houses, and multi-generational homes where people lived together, not by choice but by necessity. There were Joe Kent signs everywhere, but the majority of people I spoke with were kind and appreciated the information. A few people told me to “take my flyers and get the hell out of here,” which I did willingly.  But most people were friendly.


Peter: Yes, the poverty. I really didn't realize how much of an industrial and union town Longview, especially, is.  Someone told me that the ILWU in Longview had gone Republican. At least some of the officers’ support and leadership supported Trump, which was surprising and depressing. But there are other labor unions, and it was encouraging to see them turn out for Marie.


Angie: Before one canvass in Longview, Marie spoke and gave an orientation on where she was taking the campaign. She said right up front, we are not Seattle; what we need in our area are good, decent-paying jobs and training for people to get back into the trades where they can make a living wage. She also supports the Second Amendment. But she made reproductive rights a part of the forefront of her campaign, as well as the jobs and living wage issues.


Peter: Yeah, when I talked to people, I tended to emphasize jobs in the trades, and the fact that they hire apprentices and are supportive of community colleges. I thought that was good policy.  For the tiny sample of people I talked to, I think it was well received. I mean, it's playing very much against the national Republican stereotype of rich, elite Democrats on the coasts.


The three of us and other team members agreed that canvassing made us feel good. Even if you don't know how that person will vote after you walk away from their door, at least you've made contact and have made a connection. Doorbelling is an intrusion, but it’s heartening when someone answers the door and has a reasonable conversation with you.


Peter: Towards the end, there was an editorial from the Colombian, a Vancouver newspaper, in support of Marie. We gave that to people who wanted more information. I think it helped because it’s different from campaign literature and more valuable. The article made comparisons between the two candidates, which was exactly the information we wanted to give.


Kim Schrier’s victory over Matt Larkin was a huge relief. Marie’s upset over Kent was amazing, one of the few in the country that defied predictions and flipped the seat from red to blue.


Marie was declared the victor on Saturday, November 12, the second anniversary of Tony’s death. I had spent the day quietly at home, and in the late afternoon, I received a text informing me that Marie had won. Reverently, like the good Catholic girl that I used to be, with folded hands and teary eyes raised to the sky, I said, “Tony my love, this one’s for you.”


Angie Bartels is PSARA's membership VP. This article is one in a series of interviews she's conducting with PSARAmembers.

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