For me, 2018 was the year I sojourned among heroes of democracy. For two months I had the privilege of organizing a short term volunteer program for the union UniteHERE on an independent expenditure campaign to ensure Nevada elected a new Democratic Senator and Governor. Two hundred twenty-five people joined us in Reno for two days, three days, or even a week at a time. We enabled them to spent quality shifts knocking on the doors of people who might not vote unless encouraged. Meanwhile 35 or more "volunteer organizers" (VOs), mostly union members, cooks, housekeepers, and catering workers, spent two long months living in an extended stay motel and walking those neighborhoods six days a week.
Volunteers and VOs struggled to use the data collection software; they discovered the sad truth of canvassing which is that hardly anyone is ever home; they got lost and warded off dogs and property managers who expelled them as threatening invaders. (Some even became proficient at sneaking into gated communities.) And their work paid off: Jacky Rosen was elected Nevada's new Senator and Steve Sisolak is the new Governor. Jon Ralston, the dean of Silver State pundits, concludes that Nevada is a "Democratic state for the foreseeable future."
Many of the short term volunteers were older, retired, and majority white. Who else has the time and freedom to travel to work on an election?
The VOs were mostly like the majority of workers you may have encountered in service jobs: younger, of color, and tough.
Scratch the surface in conversation with any of these people and the same theme emerged: "This year, in this time, I had to feel I had done something." For the older ones, they often wanted to be able to tell grandchildren that, in what they saw as a national emergency, they had tried. A reporter from the Washington Post found the same sentiments on another campaign:
A hard reality about episodes of heroism is that they aren't usually much fun in the moment. Oh, I've read accounts of election canvassing that make it sound fun. This canvasser enjoyed himself:
I think my friend Dawn Oberg's experience in Reno, where she worked as a VO, was much more representative of the canvassing experience:
Thousands, millions, of us cared enough to work in the election in 2018. Not all of us could enjoy a win, not by a long shot. Georgia and Florida come to mind. But we did something -- because we cared.
The thing about democracy is that it is never done.
|Canvasser training in progress.|