I’m going to be honest, I’m one of those people who only became politically active after Donald Trump was elected. I believed our country was WAY more progressive, good-hearted, and on-the-right-track than it actually was. But because of the abysmal results of the electoral college, I’ve jumped head-first into politics.
It was a natural transition, as I’ve been working with NARAL Pro Choice America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund for the past two years, and both organizations are fairly politically active. At first, I thought that supporting these organizations with my time and money would be enough to make a difference, but I slowly realized that you can donate a million dollars and volunteer full time for something you believe in – and even have the majority of the country on your side, like with Planned Parenthood – and your organization/cause can still get completely screwed over if you don’t have enough officials in office supporting them as well.
Why? Because elected officials write the laws and decide where the money goes. If they make the services your organization provides illegal, or block any and all funding for them, that’s it – you’re stuck in a legal chokehold, with nowhere to go, barred from helping the people you’ve sworn to protect and serve.
With that realization, I decided to join the train of folks working day in and day out to flip the electorate during the midterms. My first taste of political activism came text banking with Open Progress for VoteProChoice Candidates at the Women’s Convention in Detroit. I had no idea what text banking was at the time, but since then, it’s become my absolute favorite way to do election work – it’s flexible in terms of time commitment, and you can do it anywhere! I worked with incredibly dedicated folks across the country to make sure current and potential voters were registered, aware of the candidates running, the issues in their state, had transportation to the polls, knew their polling location, knew what ID to bring to the polls, obtained an absentee ballot, understood what the Attorney General and other lesser-known positions do, and created the blue wave we saw on that brilliant November Tuesday night in 2018. One of my favorite parts of text banking was the combination of wildly supportive texts I would get from people across the nation who were SO excited to vote, and the hilarious responses I received (invitations to join their Church, puns on candidate’s names, and more).
I also worked with local groups such as Swing Left, Sister District, Indivisible, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte (PPMM), and found my calendar filled with 3 or 4 different opportunities to volunteer/fundraise each day. I fell in love with the energy of these groups and the closeness I felt with the volunteers when we would huddle in a community center side-room, packed way over the fire code occupancy limit, to write postcards and decorate them with stickers and stamps to encourage voters in swing districts to vote. A few events were held at a brewery in San Francisco, and I would walk in right on time to see that every seat in the building was already taken – filled with people writing letters, asking questions about candidates, and meeting others sitting across from them. People were spread out on the floor learning to text bank on their laptops, and a corner full of volunteers would be handing out assignments. Another event was held in an art gallery filled with Resistance Art, where a broad coalition of SF based organizations served imPEACHmint drinks, had a designated station for writing thank you letters to Christine Blasey Ford, and recruited Bay Area folks to go out to central California to canvass in swing districts. I walked out of each event feeling energized, connected, valued, and itching to do more. It felt like being part of a revolution.
I eventually worked up the confidence to canvass for Josh Harder in Modesto with PPMM (a tight contest that pitted him against the incumbent Republican Jeff Denham). For the morning shift, I was paired with a gal who moved from the East Coast to be a librarian at UC Merced. It was both of our first time canvassing so we were incredibly nervous and giggly, but it was reassuring to have someone to help me walk a neighborhood that was unfamiliar to me and who I could bond with over “Do you think that went well?” and “Why do men answer the door wearing nothing but their boxers?!”. In the afternoon, I was paired with a man who had been canvassing before, and told me about his life story of going to prison, coming out and working in a job that exploited him, quitting his job and couch surfing while trying to lock down a job, but using his spare time to volunteer for California state races. It was inspiring to hear, and made me feel proud to be part of a movement that accepts and champions those working to reform their lives and the lives of those around them.
As for the people answering the doors, we mostly got folks saying “I need to learn more about the candidate before I commit to voting for him,” and didn’t get any outright rude folks (this was my biggest fear, so I was pumped not to have to deal with that). A few folks gave us enthusiastic yeses and chatted with us for a while about the events in their life that brought them to support the Democratic party, and what issues were going on in their community right now that they hoped the Democratic party could fix. I walked away from this experience realizing that I COULD talk to strangers about things that mattered deeply to me – that’s it’s not impossible or terrifying (like I thought it would be). Final count that day – 87 houses and 92 voters.
Oh, and Josh Harder ended up winning by about 10,000 votes. 🙂
My home during the election season was the Democratic Volunteer Center in Palo Alto. They had text banks phone banks running every day for 20-30 different candidates, as well as a plethora of snacks on hand. I tended to stick to calling for Jacky Rosen for Nevada while I was there (which came back to bite me when I phone banked for TJ Cox in California and accidentally asked the person who picked up the phone “Would you happen to be a Nevada voter?”), and enjoyed getting to understand local issues better – such as the concerns of citizens about having reliable clean water in Nevada and Arizona. I watched the results roll in on election night at the DVC, and was thankful to get to share the experience, whooping of joy, and smiles over pizza with the folks who had dedicated the past few months to these victories.
There was one surprising thing I learned from this experience – that I have to give a big thank you to older women for the rights that I have today. The vast majority of the local groups I worked with were lead by women in their late forties to late eighties (or older). One of them made 5,000 calls to swing districts in her free time while she was recovering from knee surgery- that’s 5,000 extra people who got a nudge to go out and vote for equality and progress, just because of the dedication of this wonderful woman.
We all spend a lot of time talking about how Millennials are the future, but these older women were the backbone of this year’s midterms work, at least in the Bay Area. I was disappointed to see few people my age participating in this work (and still am), but have grown to love the feeling of collaborating with people generations apart from me for a common cause, and sharing the joys and struggles of that work. Next election cycle, I know I’ll see these trailblazing women doing to hard work to propel democracy forward, and I’ll be right there with them.