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:“There’s a feeling out there of people saying, ‘I can’t sit out.’ Some people join the military to serve their country. Some people knock on doors to serve their country.”
I think my friend Dawn Oberg's experience in Reno, where she worked as a VO, was much more representative of the canvassing experience:You learn a little bit about people when you politick them at their door. Mostly, you learn that they’re busy. They know the tax bill was wrong. They just don’t have time to yak about it. They have Little League games to get to. ...
The Trumpers, they were all right. They were perfectly polite in telling me to get lost. Maybe it’s only when people get on TV that they act nutty.
Democracy, it turns out, is fun. ...
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.I won't sugar-coat it, I f**king HATE canvassing. I knew this going in. I'm doing it because studies show that's how you win elections, and Unite Here! (union I'm working with) pretty much won Nevada for Hillary in 2016. If I had known how stuff would turn out I would have canvassed then too.
People are mean to me every day. 100% of the shit I take is from white people, and 99% of that shit is from white women, middle-aged and older. Every bitchy, mean thing I've done in my life I am now paying for. Every. Damn. Day.
People, please never be mean to a canvasser. Even a Republican one. No one does it for money or fun. They don't enjoy bothering you. You don't have to answer the damned door. We go away after two knocks, and we'd really rather talk to your dog or cat.
We're doing this because we care about the world.... [This] is literally the most important thing I can do with my time until election day.
The thing about democracy is that it is never done.
|Canvasser training in progress.|