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Levi Larouche: Proud, out and progressive in Northeast Pennsylvania, building bridges with neighbors in small, rural communities. 

Levi Larouche

In 2021, Levi Larouche was living in what should have an ideal location for a transgender person: a “pretty wealthy, pretty liberal and accepting” area of southern Maine. They’d lived in the area for four years after coming out, feeling that rural and largely conservative Carbon County where they grew up “wasn’t conducive to being myself.”

But as they began expressing their identity more openly, they found that even in supposedly accepting Maine there were times when “I experienced hatred and felt like I was in danger.” And after the pandemic, they felt that “being close to family was more important to me than the connections I built in Maine.”

 

“Why would I want to stay in a place that’s supposed to be safe but isn’t?” Larouche asked and decided to come back to rural Carbon County. Larouche has been back in Pennsylvania for two years, and reports “I haven’t experienced anything here that makes me feel unsafe.”

 

Common Ground in a Rural County

 

Larouche, 26, is upbeat and enthusiastic despite the fact that their job as a community organizer for Action Together NEPA (“NEPA’s Progressive Voice”) puts them “out” in the community—not just because of their identity, but because of their political values, too. As a full-time canvasser in 2022, Larouche experienced “some sticky situations.”  But those had to do with politics, not “with my identity or presentation. If people disagree with your politics, they’ll be hateful to you no matter what you look like or how you present.”


In their work for Action Together, Larouche focuses instead on the common concerns and issues they uncover during “deep canvassing” (where a canvasser tries to discover voters’ concerns rather than convincing them to vote a certain way.)  “Only after those conversations did I go into more candidate-based discussions. At the end of the day, politics is about our common wants and needs.”

 

In deep canvassing, all it takes is one good question to spark meaningful conversation. For example, Larouche often asks voters, “If you could snap your fingers and make something different what would it be?” “As I talk with rural Carbon County voters, I find more things we agree on than we don’t. Looking at me, you would think we were polar opposites. But we have more in common with each other we do with to some of the people on top in our society.”

 

“Right now, especially in Pennsylvania, one of the big issues is the economy—people who can’t pay their bills, or who are only one missed paycheck away from complete economic doom. I’ve been there. I understand what that’s like. Many rural Pennsylvania voters say they don’t believe they agree with raising the minimum wage. They say ‘I think it’s greedy for people who are currently working a minimum wage job to push for more.’ But when I ask them should you be making more than $15 an hour, most people say yes.”

 

Another common concern is the poor condition of many Pennsylvania roads, a topic that Larouche is happy to discuss. “The point is to start the conversation small and meet voters where they are.”

 

“Not everyone is going to be willing to engage with me in that way.  But especially in rural areas, canvassers can be welcome. I spent a lot of time in areas with under 100 people, areas that had no cell service. A lot of the voters there said they had never had someone come knock on their door. “

 

Talking to friends and family about their experience as a transgender person can also sway hearts and minds. “I get support from people who maybe don’t care about politics but care about me. As a trans person, my life is politicized. Parents of friends I’ve known since I was a kid maybe voted Republican every year but now that I’m out and proud and talking about my ability to live freely” they consider voting differently.

 

From Trumpers to Punk Rockers

 

Action Together casts a wide net in its outreach efforts. "We canvass at a variety of community events. At one end of the spectrum, we attend First Fridays in Scranton, where we talk to people about voter registration. We are willing to engage with people with a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat. A lot of the time, people talk about politics all day but don’t see the connections between voting and what they want to see in their community. We help them make those connections.”

 

At the other end of the spectrum, Action Together also canvassed at the Burning Roses Music and Arts Festival in Scranton, sponsored in part by the Scranton Punk Collective. As “someone who grew up in the punk scene,” Larouche says, it’s discouraging that so many fans have “completely lost all faith in the government process. But I can fully understand where they’re coming from, which makes me well-equipped to speak to people about how to create positive change.”

 

At such events, as in deep canvassing, Action Together activists soft-pedal appeals to register to vote. For example, they noticed a person avoiding their booth at the Burning Roses festival who wore a button supporting train service between Scranton and New York. So they started talking about how the public transportation system in Scranton is failing the community. One of the Action Together volunteers later reported that person had not said they will register to vote, but still signed up for its mailing list, “which is a step in the right direction.

 

It’s unlikely you’re going to change someone’s mind completely in one conversation,” Larouche says. “But if I can get them in the door, I can make them a lifelong voter.”

 

 If It Doesn’t Exist, Build It

 

“With the type of work I do, pessimism is the easy way out,” Larouche says. “There’s almost a feeling of 'There’s nothing we can do anyway, so why even try?' But we still have a year to turn the tables. We have to take it one election at a time, building power. It’s a great opportunity to train people to have the types of conversations we can be having, the types of outreach we can be doing. Between now and next year, anybody who thinks this work is important should be doing something, whether it’s post-carding, making phone calls, or knocking on doors.”

 

“Every Thursday night, I play competitive pinball in a women's league that is open to queer people,” Larouche says. “So many people told me they never had community like this before, they didn’t think something like this could exist in Scranton, Pennsylvania and were thinking of leaving the area.”

 

But community-building efforts are starting to change minds. Larouche’s motto in life is “‘If it doesn’t exist, build it.’ We have this very special power in small towns. We don’t have to bring together hundreds of thousands of people to make change. You and a handful of friends can make a huge impact in a small community.”

Contact

Levi Larouche can be reached at levi@actiontogethernepa.org

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