Kelly is the co-host of Two Broads Talking Politics, a podcast about the people who are fueling the rise in civic engagement on the progressive side of the aisle. Kelly and her co-host Sophy manage to find the positive stories that keep us inspired and hopeful at a time when the news rarely delivers anything other than the latest outrage.
Usually the interviewer, Kelly was amused by being the one to answer the questions. Quick to laugh, she spoke to me about her interest in helping her listeners find ways to take action and her endless curiosity about all of the amazing activism happening all around us.
Here is our interview:
How politically active were you before 2016?
I wasn’t politically active but I was always politically aware. I was the kind of person who every four years would obsessively follow FiveThirtyEight and all the news about politics. When I was in 5th grade, we wrote autobiographies as part of a school project and I said in mine that my life goal was to become the first woman president. I did not expect to be old enough to be president and there would still not be a woman president. But yeah, before this I was politically aware but not active beyond voting, donating, and grousing on Facebook.
So November 2016 comes and goes, our lives change, and at some point you decide to throw your energy into creating a podcast. Tell me about how that came about.
I was a big podcast listener and one of the first political podcasts I listened to was “Keeping It 1600” which eventually became “Pod Save America.” I listened to it regularly, and that led me to listen to more political podcasts. In the back of my head I found myself thinking that it would be really cool to do my own podcast. My husband has had a Star Trek podcast (Treknobabble) for a long time so I knew something about what went into making a podcast.
Around this same time, my friend Sophy (who is now my co-host) had a friend that suggested she start a podcast. At first she was like, “No, I should probably do a blog, I have a squeaky voice.” But at that point I jumped in and said that I wanted to do a podcast, and we should do it together. And that’s what happened.
I understand you and Sophy live in different states. How did you get started and how do you coordinate episodes?
We started in September of 2017 with one episode a week and initially, we each took care of every element of the podcast. Our first episode was just the two of us. Our second episode was with her dad and my brother. We invited our friends and then it grew and grew. When we started doing two episodes a week, the second episode was just me as the host, partly because her work schedule is crazy and partly because I’m just more obsessed with the podcast. But also technologically speaking, I’m the one who records the episodes, so there can’t really be any episodes without me in them.
We fell into an arrangement where we would continue to do one episode together but that when there are one-off episodes that I want to run with, I do that. As we got busier with the election, there were topics I wanted to explore so those extra episodes were just with me.
I believe the first “bonus” episode I did was with Jayna Zweiman🎤, who was one of the two people who came up with the idea of the pussy hat, and she was also the artist behind the Welcome Blanket project, which I was really involved with. I had knit well over 100 hats. After that, I kept finding people that I really wanted to interview.
The next bonus episode like that was with Tony the Democrat🎤 who started Postcards to Voters. It was Tony’s episode that really made the podcast take off. I had been writing postcards and was seeing people say on Twitter that Tony should be on one of the big political podcasts, but those big podcasts weren’t paying attention. So I said, “Well hey. I have a podcast, I’d have him on.” So I reached out to him, I think it was midday on a Friday, he called back a few hours later to ask me some questions about the podcast, a few hours after that we recorded the interview, and an hour after that I posted it. It was, and still is, our most listened-to episode. It was a real win-win as it was around the time that he was getting started, too.
How do you decide who to bring onto the podcast?
I’m always looking for interesting people or stories to feature. I look on Twitter, and I also get a ton of emails from a variety of political and progressive organizations. Whenever I’m reading things, there’s a part of my brain that asks the question, “How can I turn this into an episode? Would this be an interesting person to talk to?” It can be as simple as me reading about, say, the folks at BallotReady🎤, which is this app that helps you figure out what’s on your ballot, and I think “Hey, that’s cool. I wonder if they’d come onto my podcast?” It’s a lot of cold emailing and frankly, for every 10 emails I send out, I hear back from one or two of them. But because I’m willing to keep going out there, we get some really good people.
It pays to be persistent. What would you say is your guiding light for Two Broads Talking Politics?
That’s a good question. I guess the central mission is to help people who are listening learn more about what they, as individual activists, can be doing to help progressive politics move forward. Somewhere in every episode is some sort of call to action. It may be, if we’re talking to a candidate, here’s how you donate to the candidate. In some episodes, it might be more robust. We’ve talked about how to run for office; we’ve talked about how to go about volunteering to create webpages for candidates; we talked with Kat Calvin🎤 from Spread the Vote about how people can help people get IDs so they can register to vote; or how to canvass. Our listeners are always hearing about candidates or organizations they can get involved with.
In the lead up to the midterms, you interviewed quite a lot of candidates. How many did you end up interviewing?
We had interviewed 156 candidates who were on the ballot for the November midterms. That’s not the total number of candidates we spoke to–we did talk to people who didn’t make it past their primaries. And of those 156 candidates, we did have at least one person from each of the 50 states.
Wow! With the thousands of candidates running, did you have a focus for the type of candidate you wanted to profile?
Our focus was primarily the U.S. House, and generally Democrats who were running in districts held by Republicans. We talked to far more women than men. We tried to make sure that we featured candidates of color, LGBTQ candidates, and millennial candidates. I would often look to the Run For Something or Emily’s List endorsements when I was looking for candidates in particular areas.
We also did about 25 state-specific episodes, and in those cases we would try to get someone from the Democratic state party organization, someone from Indivisible in the state, a few candidates for the House, and we’d also get some candidates for the state legislature as well. We did talk to a handful of gubernatorial candidates–including Laura Kelly🎤 who won in Kansas–and 5 or 6 U.S. Senate candidates.
That’s so cool. What did you take away from talking to all those candidates?
We certainly heard a lot of stories from candidates who, like us, got way more involved after the 2016 election–that was probably the overwhelming story. It wasn’t just the women, but the men, too. That was a galvanizing moment for many of them. We also heard from a lot of the candidates how much they loved knocking on doors and talking to people. For them, that was the best part of campaigning, the most rewarding part of the process, and it restored their faith in the American people. They had a lot of great, respectful conversations with people, which is not at all what social media would have you think is going on in America.
In addition to candidates, you’ve also interviewed a lot of activists and organizers, as well as people from progressive organizations. Are there any of those podcasts that really stand out to you?
One of the things that was the most fun was for our 100th episode we, which was in late July, we did an episode on canvassing. And I got to talk to Saskia Young🎤 who is from the Swing Left Academy and I got my own one-on-one instruction on how to canvass, as I had never done it before. And then I took that training and then went canvassing with Lorraine Wilburn, who was running for the Ohio state legislature. Then I came back and talked with Sophy on the podcast about the experience. I’d love to do more episodes like that where we can give our listeners good information about actions like canvassing which are so important for campaigns.
I agree that demystifying aspects of campaigning is important, so that’s great. If I made you pick, what are your favorite episodes?
Well, we’ve already talked about the episode with Tony the Democrat. It was an early episode so there are technical aspects of the podcast that we’ve since improved on, but it was such a fund conversation.
I talked to Bryce Tache🎤 in Minnesota who started the Stand on Every Corner project. That’s another episode we did with a quick turnaround. But it’s the kind of story that our listeners like hearing. When it comes to candidates, everyone is talking to them–they’re the kind of people that the newspapers and TV stations are talking to. But a network like MSNBC isn’t talking to people like Bryce, yet his story is so interesting. I think those episodes are really popular because people might know these personalities from Twitter but they don’t know their background or even what their voice sounds like, so those are the fun ones. They’re very different from the candidate conversations. They can go in very different directions.
One of our favorite episodes was called Voicemails from Listeners🎤 and it came about because we didn’t have a guest lined up that week. We ended up putting out a call on Twitter and asked people to share their stories about how they got involved with politics by leaving us a voicemail. And then we played those voicemails on the show. It ended up being a great episode. Really, a lot of episodes are born out of us saying, “Let’s try this!”
So, now we find ourselves post-midterms, what will Two Broads Talking Politics be doing in 2019?
For me, I’m pretty interested in the Chicago municipal elections coming up in February, and this week we’re talking to a few candidates for Alderman. It’s interesting to me to hear about how things work in different places. Here in Chicago, the position of Alderman is a full-time job, they’re very well compensated, but that is not true of a town council in a small town in Ohio, for example. I’d like to do more episodes on what does running in a local election look like for different places.
There are also several state-wide elections later in 2019. I’m also interested in looking at the politics of Washington D.C. and their lack of representation in Congress. Similarly, I’d like to talk about Puerto Rico. I have an email folder full of podcast ideas. We’ve always done a lot of experimentation. We didn’t come into this whole thing thinking we’d be a podcast that talks to candidates, but as we tackled various states, we ended up getting candidates on the show.
Have you and Sophy talked at all about how you want to approach the subject of the 2020 presidential election?
We haven’t talked about strategy yet but we each have our top 10 lists. Our podcast is about the guests and hearing their stories. It seems highly unlikely to me that we’ll get a presidential candidate on the show, at least one that has a legitimate shot. For me, what’s interesting about the presidential election is how the people on the ground are going to work to get the Democrat elected. I’m really interested in process so I think the way I’d like to cover the primaries, for instance, is looking at how different primaries are run. How does that change the strategy? How are people running the strategy in this state vs. that state? Those stories are more interesting to me than having people talk about who they think is going to win.
I like that a lot. I’ll be listening! Do you have any thoughts about how you might use your podcast to encourage voters to stay engaged and involved even after we did really well in the midterms?
I think what drives podcasts is storytelling. What I’m trying to do is help people tell their own stories. I’m always on the lookout for interesting stories. I think you get fatigued if the focus is always on the outrage. You don’t want to think about those terrible things all the time. I think it’s the positive stories that keep people engaged and keep people coming back.
One person gave us a review saying that we were “a podcast for the weary.” So many podcasts are people yelling at each other or asserting their opinions. But really what we do is have a hands-off approach and let people tell their own stories. I want people to hear about someone who’s doing incredible work helping in some way and feel good, and maybe think, “How can I help them with that?” I want to keep finding the positive, inspirational stories. If you see campaigning as a positive, hopeful action then I think it makes it easier to keep going.
To wrap up, what has doing this podcast meant to you?
The best thing about this endeavor is the friendships that we’ve made. We’ve been doing this podcast for 14 months now and we’ve become real life friends with so many people. They were never part of my life before, but the community of the Resistance–and I don’t think we should use that word anymore, we should stop framing it as something opposed and instead frame it as a positive movement we are building–is such that I want to help these people because they’re so incredible. And we have these great, ongoing relationships with our listeners who reach out to us and give us ideas or ask for our help with their candidates. That has been such a wonderful part of this endeavor.
Want to listen to the episodes Kelly mentions in the interview? Click on the links with a microphone (🎤) in it!
You can subscribe to Two Broads Talking Politics here at iTunes or through your favorite podcast app.
Want to be on the introduction for a forthcoming episode? Anyone who wants to do an intro just needs to call their voicemail line at 847-773-0324 and leave a message with something like: “Hi, I’m [NAME] from [PLACE] and you’re listening to Two Broads Talking Politics.”
Follow Kelly on Twitter at @TwoBroadsTalk