After 2016 Loss
Open letter - November 10, 2016
I feel for those of you who could have but did not actively work to defeat Trump. I’ve been there. The guilt you feel now, which you’ll carry with you moving forward, isn’t easy to live with. I feel for you, but I don’t feel sorry for you. This one, yes, is on you. And it's on me, too.
I didn’t lift a finger to prevent Bush’s reelection in 2004 and I felt horrible about myself - selfish, ignorant, complicit. Being on the sidelines of my country’s political process during a moment of great consequence in which I had time and unique ability to apply myself toward a positive outcome created an empty place in me, one that I was aware of only when I began to fill it.
This awareness happened for me while running with frozen snot over ice between houses to knock doors of potential caucus-goers over the final days of the Obama campaign for Iowa in 2007. When I arrived, I had no idea at all what volunteering would be, or what I would do; what it would mean to me and my life, or to the people I met and spoke with, or to the success or failure of Barack’s campaign for the Presidency.
Turns out that my life changed profoundly in Iowa. It was on a particularly rough wintery morning, with temperatures in the single digits and 30mph wind raking my eyeballs that I felt new: I recognized how much I'd come to life through this work, and how engaged and buoyed I became after each conversation with someone who, before that moment, was a stranger to me. I felt the degree to which, with each door I knocked, I was actively fighting for what I wanted and what felt right, something I'd long needed to feel but until then really hadn't. Each step toward the next house a manifestation of my hopes and intentions, each conversation on a salted porch a rejection of the isolating and alienating forces of our society that would otherwise keep one of my distant brothers and sisters and I unknown and unknowable to each other. This was important work and I knew it. And so I kept going from there.
If you’re feeling guilty, then you’re also trying to figure out what steps you need to take now and in the future to atone and to ensure that you won’t feel this kind of guilt again. It’s not fun, I know. I wrote before that I didn't feel sorry for you; this is because you now have an incredible opportunity. You now have a new kind of intrinsic motivation that will fuel you as you take your next step. This means you're about to do something special and you're about to be important to the progressive movement in this country. So I'm celebrating for you and us while I'm also grieving.
I’m exhausted and tired of crying in public places, as I’m sure many of you are, and though I’m not answering emails or texts (call me next week if you want) I’m going online to write this because I’ve been feeling guilty too.
For when I tried to recruit friends to join the effort to defeat Trump, I didn't always take the one-on-one time to paint a good picture of what volunteering for a presidential election campaign actually looks like. And I feel upset that campaigns are usually horrible in helping prospective ground game volunteers understand how knocking on doors and making phone calls actually helps them win elections.
Over my 16 days as a volunteer on the campaign that beat Trump and elected our first-ever Latina US Senator in Nevada, I sent daily reports to the group of 19 friends I put together to help fund my work and that of two of the first-time volunteers in our 12-person team.
I had no intention of making those private writings public, but I’m going to and I’m going to add to those writings because I want to help paint a better picture of what volunteering on an election campaign can be like; what you can expect to do and the impact you can rightly expect to make even with small amounts of your time next time.
I haven’t looked at any news since Trump won PA, but I’m aware that Democrats do not control the Senate. My hope is that, in addition to the donating and volunteering you choose to do in your community right now, you will join me and our progressive allies around the country to volunteer and work in the 2018 midterms to defend Democratic senators and members of congress in red and swing states in an election season that would appear to be even more difficult for Democrats than 2016 was supposed to be for Republicans. Our best chance against Trump is us doing well in 2018. I will be back to recruit you in the months ahead. There is a role for you.
For now, though, to help you visualize what you can do next time:
WHAT DOES A CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER DO TO HELP A CAMPAIGN WIN?
Let me answer this by explaining the phases of an election campaign; the macro system that you as a volunteer would be a part of:
Phase 1: Through the voter registration deadline, you’d be a) registering voters to expand the campaign's database of potential Democratic voters (public information of registered Democratic voters + past campaigns' honing of data); b) canvassing and making phone calls to Democratic voters in the campaign’s database to recruit volunteers and - - importantly - - to mine the very valuable data, through knocking doors and making calls, that will make the campaign more effective in turning out voters. How does this work? The campaign's database is dynamic and changes based on what volunteers find: non-supporters get removed from the list, which means the campaign won't spend precious time and energy sending a volunteer to knock on that door again. Bad numbers, bad addresses, are noted and removed so, again, precious time and energy are saved and can be devoted more fully to targeting known supporters. And volunteers also do the important work of persuading some folks to vote with your candidate, moving them into the category of people the campaign will spend time and energy on moving forward. If the volunteer hadn't knocked the door, had the conversation, and reported that data, the campaign would not have been able to maintain the voter's support with further communication and lock in that vote on election day. Ideally, through improvements in the dynamic database, come election day, a campaign will know exactly who they have to work on to lock down a vote: some of us perennial voters don't have a sense for this but we are rare. Campaigns (volunteers) have to work hard to do the continual hounding that is required to actually increase turnout above and beyond their die-hard voters - it is this increase in turnout among sometimes or new voters that wins close elections. To be as clear as I can be: volunteers aren't there to call or knock doors of voters registered with opposing parties - you're not there to argue! You're there to help turn registered Democrats out to vote for your candidate, something that, as we've just seen, is, sadly, a chore. That's why volunteers are so important; it's the personal touch that, more than anything shy of a great candidate, motivates people to actually register to vote and then actually get out and do it.
Phase 2: After the voter registration deadline but before voting, you’d be canvassing and making phone calls to Democratic voters in the campaign's now-very-much-improved-due-to-volunteer-data-collection database to prepare them for voting, shoring up any undecided folks or anyone shaky on whether or not they'll be voting, and continuing to help clean up and focus the data the campaign will use during the voting period/day
Phase 3: During voting, you’d be canvassing and making phone calls to turn as many of your supporters as possible. By this point, the database the campaign is working with should - because of the work of volunteers - consist of no wrong numbers, no bad addresses, no non-supporters, and all of the time and energy spent by the campaign and volunteers is targeted at - and only at - the voters that will help them win the election.
It’s important that I note here a few things:
1. Volunteers need not have any experience calling or going door to door and need not have any detailed knowledge to do the work of identifying and then turning out our voters. The most important part of doing this work is actually just everything that is telegraphed to a potential voter by having an individual care so much about something to walk up and knock on their door with a smile and a button and ask for them to be a part of something. You’ll have a script, you’re collecting data not doing some kind of hard sell or performance, and when the opportunity presents itself, you listen and speak from the heart. You’re not out there arguing with supporters of your opponent! Remember, the point is that we’re just identifying, solidifying, and then turning out our own voters.
2. Knocking doors is safe - you go with someone else, and that person can be a friend or a volunteer who may become a friend. It’s safe and legal - - again we’re only talking with registered Democrats and perhaps unaffiliated voters whose support is highly likely. In all my thousands of doors knocked and calls made for NV, I bumped into Trump people twice. Both said they were for Trump and I left the doorstep or ended the call immediately, marked them Trump on my list and they got removed from the campaign’s database. No biggie, that's great to know: not calling or knocking this voter again makes us more efficient moving forward.
3. There are impediments to volunteering on a campaign, of course. And I don’t want to make anyone reading this feel worse than they feel right now, but it’s important to reflect on this. Some of you have families and work seven days a week between school and two jobs. Some might not have the funds to travel to a swing state. But many of you don’t work full time 7 days a week and many of us could very easily have gotten to our nearest swing state for one of the many weekends from Sept through election day. My work, such as it is, and my lack of a family, and having been born white and privileged such that I don’t face any of the structural hurdles others do and thus have had opportunity and support and nothing but open doors to jobs and education has meant that I’m in a position where volunteering somewhere for 16 days unpaid is something I can actually do. I have resources and support I can fall back on even in the face of very little income. I’m an outlier in the American economy. I’ll just say that moving forward, we owe it to our families, friends, and neighbors near and far to be honest with ourselves about the impediments we actually face.
The vast majority of the muscle for both Barack campaigns and for HRC came from Californians with full time jobs who made the trips on weekends. Some took a couple days off to do GOTV. Making phone calls to a swing state can be done if you have a phone and a computer. You can do that from your own home in pajamas. Let’s be honest – how many of you in New York didn’t do anything in Pennsylvania? How many of you in CA went to CO or NV? How many in DC went to North Carolina? How many of you spent collectively over, say, 40 hours during the general election listening to political podcasts, clicking through the latest Trump thing on HuffPost, checking 538, and talking with fellow liberal friends about Trump? Again, I don’t wanna hurt nobody but, well, wake-up call doesn’t quite describe where we’re at. I reckon that I could have recruited 10 volunteers for NV by knocking on doors in my neighborhood in the time that it took me to finish all the 538 podcasts. I think I could have made 1000 calls to North Carolina in the time that I spent watching the debates and reading New Yorker articles about Trump. That's on me and I'm feeling that right now. After reflecting on our own level of engagement vs. our actual impediments, we all should take the next important step of visualizing a plan for how we can work creatively within our actual, real constraints to engage actively next time (read: 2018 midterm elections), again, based on our REAL impediments and our REAL resources of time and energy that can be freed up, taken advantage of, set aside, devoted to atonement, if you want to see it that way.
And just a brief note on the funds required to volunteer. If one wants to travel to a neighboring swing state, there will be, most often, supporter housing available. These are local Democrats with an extra room who are happy to host out of state volunteers. In all my time volunteering out of state, I've always stayed with supporters and I've met the most wonderful people doing so. I'm close friends still with my hosts in Iowa in '07 and learned so much from them about community organizing, and also about marriage and how to use business as a tool for fostering change in a community. I'm close with my hosts when I volunteered in NV during the primaries in '08 - I actually just stayed with them again in late Oct and one of my hosts came out canvassing with me. I've put together fundraising campaigns that allow friends who want a more direct, personal connection to the ground game to help cover the costs of my swing state volunteering in '12 and '16 and I went to work on their behalf. Again, the vast majority of out of state volunteering happens on weekends and on days off. For some, there are no days off, for some there's zero money and no ability to get help for the gas and food expenditures, let alone a flight and rental car. Even then, we can creatively find a way for those with the greatest constraints but with the motivation to try, to do something.
4. If you are unable given constraints or can't bring yourself to canvass or phone bank (even though it’s so easy now to just make calls from your pajamas online), you can donate money or provide housing to an out of state volunteer, or bring food for staff a couple nights a week. There is a role for you!
Let me take a second to cover the donation side of things. It’s crucial that campaigns get funded not by corporations and dark money but by voters. Not everyone is able to donate. But if you are able, contributing to Move On or the presidential campaign or the Democratic party is great; keep contributing to progressive organizations and causes. But contributing money, just like casting your vote, should not be confused with ‘actively working’ on a campaign. Yes, some percentage of your donations make possible the work that is done on the ground – the hiring of field staff and the renting of campaign offices and purchasing of supplies – and, again, that is crucial. But a truly winning campaign requires those of us who are able to step off the sidelines to do so.
The motto of the Obama ground game was RESPECT, EMPOWER, INCLUDE. This meant that we listened to and respected where every individual was coming from – their fears, hopes, perceived skills and weaknesses. We helped empower people who wanted to get involved by listening to them and learning from and about them; seeking to understand what they could and wanted to do and then working collaboratively to identify a role that felt comfortable for them. Then we would provide support and training based on best practices so that folks could work with confidence. We included everyone regardless of their experience, strengths, challenges, abilities, available time and energy, available resources – everyone who wanted to would play a role in the campaign. Those who were uncomfortable with knocking doors could make calls. Those uncomfortable with calls could input data. Those without computer skills who didn’t want to learn them could be at the front desk to greet people. There were those who drove others to the polls and those who just wanted to help with registering voters and those who wanted to help by painting pictures of Barack on the headquarters’ walls. Kids would help make signs. Musicians could perform wearing Barack shirts. You get the idea.
So what I’m trying to get across is that there is a role for you. By far the most important volunteering role is direct contact with voters (canvassing, making calls) – studies show this is the one measurable campaign expenditure that is proven to move election margins 1-5 percentage points – but if you can’t do that, for sure there is a place for you regardless.
5. It’s also important for me to explain why I volunteered. I didn’t completely love the idea of Hillary as our President, though I think she would have made an truly excellent one, but as I told the dozen or so Democrats I spoke with in Nevada who were planning on a protest vote, I know that when you vote for a President you are voting for so much more than one person. You’re voting for the values and perspectives and intentions of all the Secretaries that will be appointed to run all the departments in the federal government: Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense and so on. You’re voting of course for the values and perspectives and intentions of all the federal judges the president will appoint. You’re voting of course for Supreme Court Justices. And we know now that Trump will appoint at least one conservative Justice, which will secure a conservative court for, well, what will feel like a very very long time. And just imagine who Trump - a climate change denier who wants to roll back environmental regulations and get coal productivity going strong - will appoint as his Energy Secretary. As the head of the EPA. Those people, whoever they will be, are who I was fighting against. And I was fighting for the liberal, progressive-thinking energy and environmental experts Clinton would have appointed; those who, for starters, believe in man-made climate change and see it as their charge to work to mitigate its acceleration. Continue this line of thinking through tax policy, education policy, labor policy, consumer protection policy, etc. etc. - - that's why I volunteered.
In the progressive movement, we won’t always have our best generals leading us into battle. That doesn’t mean we sit on the sidelines in the fight for our black and brown brothers and sisters whose loved ones have been gunned down by racist cops and for their families whose grief only deepens when justice is not served; for our LGBT friends and family who are still fighting for rights that should be self-evident; for the poorest among us; for women who need continuing legal protection to be in control of their reproductive rights, which should also be self-evident; for the values of pluralism, tolerance, social justice, economic justice; for the reason and science that seeks to protect our planet as global warming accelerates; for generosity and selflessness in the face of greed and narcissism.
True progressives don't sacrifice doing the greatest good for the idea that the perfect might be possible if the right options are created later. What happens in elections effects the lives of real people. I, for one small example, am low-income and had a preexisting busted knee, so I got health insurance once the ACA went into effect – Trump wants to repeal the ACA. Know anyone else that this might impact? I'm white and straight and male. Do I think I'm going to be tremendously hurt by Trump and the Republican-controlled congress? Depending on what happens with the ACA, yes, but otherwise, I'm going to be hurt indirectly. There will be folks who are not straight and white and male who will be directly hurt by a Trump administration. I volunteered for those people. Did we have a great candidate who inspired millions to volunteer? No. But that's when we all have to work harder - it's relatively easy to work for a Barack Obama because the facade is so much more attractive, but, again, the fundamental consequences of an HRC loss or an Obama loss on the lives of Americans and on the health of our planet remain the same. The decision-making should be focused on how we can help make the lives of our fellow citizens and the health of our environment just a little bit better. Imagine if all the people who consider themselves to be ‘progressive’ had stepped up and done an amount of work that was possible given the demands of our lives and our time and energy available to us. We could have turned out more of our voters where we needed them to be voting (NC, PA, FL, MI, AZ) and we would have won, no question.
I've written above already about the micro, macro, and meta level benefits of this work so I'll just add that, more personally, in terms of self-interest, when the work of knocking doors feels like work; when it's hot and windy and I'm frustrated that I can't find a good place to pee and I'm hungry and tired, I'm fine know that I'M FIGHTING. I'm stepping up. And I feel proud. For me, that's the key barometer of the choices I make because there is such clarity: am I proud of this thing I'm doing, or not. Anyway, I always feel proud when doing this work. Always. And that helps me with, say, depression. Or the haunting feeling I tend to have that I'm never doing enough, that I'm behind where I should be, not making the impact I should make. This is important work for me.
Finally, my experience in Las Vegas was fun! My big team rented a house (though we could have stayed in supporter housing for free) because we had so many people, and I canvassed and phonebanked each day with five old friends, one newish friend, my partner, and three people I hadn’t met before who turned into friends. We ate meals together and hung out late at night catching up and talking about the race, sharing a few laughs. I volunteered because I feel obligated now that I have the experience and skill. I’m an effective canvasser and trainer. I also enjoy it; I enjoy the excitement and the feeling of shared purpose. I like the shared work, the shared experience. I always meet incredible people every time I volunteer. And I want to see myself as someone who isn’t on the sidelines all the time. And, of course, I feel like I’m still working off that Bush 2004 debt I owe to you.
Let’s take an example from the Early Voting period we just had in Nevada to look at how the system functions on a micro level:
1. Field Organizers schedule volunteers – you – and train them based on best practices such that the volunteer feels confident and supported and ready to start canvassing and/or phone banking.
2. Volunteers attempt to – and in about 10-15% of situations do, on average, as far as I’m aware – make contact with a selection of voters from the campaign’s "universe" database of our likely voters (registered Democrats) as listed in the “walk packets” or “call sheets” that they’re given. This could be 60 doors to knock of voters contained in a neighborhood or 100 phone numbers to call. The volunteer moves through and the data that is collected for each address or phone number – not home, person moved, person died, line disconnected – and for the voter listed for that address or number – candidate preferences, willingness to volunteer – gets marked down on the voter contact sheets.
Canvassing is walking a neighborhood with a friend, usually, armed with a clipboard and some campaign literature to leave if no one is home and a pen and a list of voters in that neighborhood we want to talk with. Canvassing means you get a lot of good exercise outdoors, so that’s yet another bird that one kills with the one stone of volunteering. I've been grateful that through canvassing, I've seen neighborhoods very different from those I've lived in around the country; I've met people who live dramatically different lives than the one I live; I've seen beautiful mountains and flora and fauna and architecture and city planning and so many ideas of what to do with a front yard. It's through canvassing that I feel like I've actually gotten something of a sense of the United States and my fellow citizens and the state of our communities and economy in real time, as it stands now.
You go to the door and look at the name listed, knock on the door and when it opens, you say – in this particular example – “Hi is Phil there? I’m stopping by with the Hillary campaign to check in quickly about voting”
Person at door says “Sure, one second. Honeyyyy – “
Phil comes to the door and says “Yes?”
You say “Hi I’m Emily and I understand you’re voting with us – for Hillary and the rest of the Democrats, is that right?”
Phil: “Yeah, of course”
You: “OK great, I just want to make sure you vote as soon as possible. In Nevada, early voting started yesterday, and it helps the campaign tremendously if you vote right away”
Phil: “How’s that? I like to vote on the actual day”
You: “Here’s the deal, after you vote it takes about 24 hours but then your name gets removed from our database. So it’s a win-win: we don’t have to spend our resources hounding you to go vote and you won’t have us calling you and knocking your door constantly for the next two weeks.”
Phil: “OK I can go tomorrow, there’s a location at the Raley’s down the street”
You, checking your campaign literature to confirm: “Yep, open 10am to 6pm, what time will you be going?” ( this isn’t to be nosy, it’s just that studies show if you get a voter to actually visualize their voting day experience and walk through it with you, they’re more likely to actually vote )
Phil: “I’m going to go before work, so I’ll show up there right at 10.”
You: “Cool, and you’re voting for all the Democrats on the ballot, right?”
Phil: “Actually, I wasn’t sure about Catherine Cortez Masto”
You, checking out your campaign lit to refresh your memory: “Well, I like two things about her. First, as Attorney General she went after the big banks that wrecked our economy and got 2 billion dollars back for Nevadans. And second, she would be the first Latina ever elected to the United States Senate. I think we need more women in Congress and I think we need more women of color in Congress. Congress should more closely represent the makeup of the entire American electorate.”
Phil: “Oh yeah, me too. But I keep hearing all this stuff"
You: “Yeah, the Joe Heck campaign has been pretty nasty – check out factcheckheck.com if you want to see how all that stuff has been debunked, but really, sir, if I may, if you’re voting for Hillary, your values line up clearly with Catherine and Heck is on the other end of the spectrum, isn’t that right?”
Phil: “Yeah that’s right. OK, all Dems”
You: “Do you have time to help us contact other Democrats and get them to vote? We need help during our best hours of call time, on Sunday between 4 and 8pm; the headquarters is just five minutes from here”
Phil: “I won’t be volunteering at all, sorry. Good day –“
You, as start to pace backward to leave: “OK great, we’ve got you voting tomorrow at Raley’s at 10am, thanks so much – and sir all of these races are so close, if you could tell other Democrats you know in Nevada to go vote, that goes a long way to helping us win. If you can't volunteer, you can help us by voting right away and making some calls to friends.”
Phil: “Sure thing”
Then you would mark Phil down (by checking boxes on your form) as a strong Hillary, Cortez Masto and “Other” Democratic supporter who is voting early and who is not interested in volunteering. Then you go to the next house.
Phonebanking calls work roughly the same way.
3. The volunteer completes their work (a lot of checked boxes on sheets of paper) and hands it in to the FO. The FO can follow up on any volunteers recruited but otherwise sends it along to the data entry volunteers. If Phil had wanted to volunteer, the volunteer would have marked down the Volunteer Yes box and made a note of the agreed-upon time and place; organizers would then follow up (many times) to confirm. Phil would also now be identified as a "volunteer prospect" in the database, so let's say an FO needs to increase volunteer capacity for a big campaign rally (big campaign rallies with famous people are, among a few other things, about recruiting more volunteers) - she will pull up in the database a subset of the voters in her assigned area of town that have been marked as volunteer prospects. She'll print out a list of those prospects and will, generally, hand this list to volunteers with the adjusted script that includes the details of this specific ask and the volunteers make the 'recruitment calls'. The voters on that list who agree to help with the rally are marked down and the FO or another volunteer will follow up with confirmation calls in the days leading up to the rally.
4. Data entry volunteers punch in the data for the day that will make tomorrow’s work more efficient. Those who have been marked as “moved” will be removed from the database, for example. This helps the campaign win because volunteer time won’t be wasted knocking on that door the next time. Same for those who have died, disconnected numbers, wrong numbers, and those who are firmly voting for our opponent. Early voting is so great in part because names of voters who have voted get removed. So the universe shrinks appropriately to help the campaign be more effective and efficient. Our supporters get identified. Maybe we’ll knock on the door five times and make ten calls before we identify a voter as a supporter of ours. But it’s crucial we identify them so that we can a) recruit them to volunteer and b) hound them like crazy until they vote. Undecided voters are identified. Those who are leaning our way are identified. Those people, based on those identifications, can be moved into different sub-lists for the following day’s contact efforts: ask a rock-solid supporter to volunteer, or make sure the undecided voter gets contacted again by a smiling face with a compelling message tomorrow.
5. Repeat 1-4 the next day
A very brief note about the campaign's monitoring and evaluation of a Field Organizer's performance (for a more in-depth discussion, see Notes on the Obama Field Program, Nevada 2008) FOs are measured daily by actual accomplishment vs. goal in volunteer recruitment, phone calls made, doors knocked, contacts made, volunteer hours scheduled and completed, among other metrics. One of the hallmarks of a good ground game is accountability, of course, and FOs are accountable to volunteers to prepare them well with best practice training and resources and support; to respect and value their time and energy by making sure tasks assigned are appropriate and manageable and by providing the best, most up to date, data in the best form and with the most assistance for collection strategies. A good FO is bound by many promises, one of which is that the work a volunteer did the day before will never be squandered, and will be capitalized on in ways that will help today's volunteer be more effective and efficient. Anyway, you hear about the "data-driven 2008 Obama campaign" - what that was about is just having very clear expectations for performance in key metrics for everyone on the ground, from the directors to the organizers and frequent reporting and monitoring of performance in ways that were transparent, to help maintain that full accountability and to help everyone improve as we went along. It really was something special to witness, I must say. So, having said all that, just know that every single thing you do as a volunteer matters and factors into the ultimate goal: the number of votes it will take to win an election.
So what was I doing as a volunteer? What will you be doing as a campaign volunteer in the 2018 midterms?
A great ground game – like what we had in 2008 – can be a thing of beauty. In the following, I describe the work of volunteering for HRC and the Democrats in Nevada in Oct and Nov in 2016 – my experience – in detail, and I think what I've written directly about my daily experiences will give you a sense for what one might do, see, hear, experience, and what impact you can expect to have.
Note that I’m an organizer going into a ground game that didn’t have half the advantages we had in ’08 (namely, a great candidate). I’m aware of this as I write, but still, I hope I’m never overly-critical of the organizing and campaign management I witnessed while on the ground in NV. I was writing all of this to folks who wanted to have a sense for the fight for votes on the ground and I thought it important to point out – should anyone want to volunteer or organize – the things I saw that didn’t go well. I wrote about perhaps half of what I saw that didn’t go well. And I wrote about .001% of the things I saw that did go very well! And the campaign won NV, so they did just fine. So don’t come away from this thinking Neal thinks the HRC campaign in NV did not do well – come away from this thinking that Neal wanted to employ critical thinking from one organizer’s perspective related to “best practices” – as I know them from, yes, I’ll say it, the best campaign in US history – and to flag things that could have been improved. Each night in 2008, organizers had to report what went well and what didn’t go well so that we’d all be better the next day. I don’t know that the HRC campaign folks did this, but I think it should be a part of all progressive campaigns.
REPORTS TO SUPPORTERS FROM THE FIELD IN NEVADA 2016
These were written quickly and sent either late in the night after work or early in the morning before I started canvassing. Time was too tight to send reports for the last two days and I’m still not ready to write about the 72 hours surrounding election night, but I will at some point.
Did you catch the New York Times piece today on the ground game battle for our senate race? Helps provide the setting for the journey we'll be on together through Nov 8. BIG LEAGUE!
Thanks so much for chipping in to beat Trump and elect Masto in Nevada.
I head to Reno 6am tomorrow Saturday morning for the first day of the Early Voting period (aka God's gift to election campaigns*). I'll be in the field for four days and will send reports. I really can't wait to get there.
Still looking to raise another $500-1000 to add two and three volunteers to the GOTV Vegas effort if any of you have friends who want in on this too.
Also, sorry, I can't help mentioning this. Did you also catch Hillary's Statue of Liberty joke? It was really funny and had the exact tone that I think we'd all been hoping to get from HRC this whole time. Well, maybe not the exact tone but something pretty close to it. I have a hunch that that joke - finally getting near that *thing* we've been itching for - helped her in a significant way with the younger voter set. (But I also thought John Kerry lost in 2004 because he tied his tie with a single windsor knot that made him look even more thin and weak during the debates. Bush tied a double windsor; looked thick and strong. . . . So what do I know?)
Thank you again -
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
RENO OCT 22
Good first day of early voting here -
Overheard the head of Washoe Democrats report that 1800 more Democrats than Republicans voted today on the first day of early voting in the county. That's good news and represents about a 40% increase from the margin in 2012.
So on a day of several organizing decisions/situations that left me scratching my head, it's great to know that whatever is happening here is working.*
I went to the Econolodge at 10pm to check in and something went wrong; they were sold out. Apparently there's a Zombie Crawl or Zombie Walk in Reno, where people dress like zombies and roam around the city. It's a big deal here, so there is zero vacancy in the city. I called every hotel. This is part of why I like Reno - you aren't ever really sure about the place.
I was just about to lay the back seats down and curl up in a quilt when I texted my friend R, who worked with me here in '08 and remained as a campaign manager for state legislature candidates. I hadn't seen him since the night Barack won 8 years ago. He offered me his guest room and I get to meet his two little boys in just a few minutes over oatmeal before I head out. We're like family, those of us who worked together here for Barack; it's a special bond.
R mentioned something really interesting - he thinks the HRC campaign for Washoe in 2016 has 30+ organizers, up from 10-14 for Barack in 08. The differences in structure that I'm noticing makes a lot of sense knowing this.
Yeah, yeah, OK but is Neal killing it out there? How did he do? Kicking Trump's teeth in voter by voter?
Well, sure I knocked a bunch of doors and made a bunch of calls, all in all, communicated serious urgency to a couple dozen supporters about the Cortez Masto race and got their commitment to voting tomorrow, not next week, etc. Changed a few minds about not voting, enlisted every supporter I talked to with my stock ask that I use every time following a promise to vote and a decline to volunteer - sure, OK you can't volunteer but just help in this way: take five minutes, make a list of every Democrat you know in Nevada and then call them or text them with two messages: vote right away because it helps the campaign and volunteers will stop bothering you; and vote for every Democrat on the ballot and provide special urgency to the Cortez Masto senate race. Had one very pointed discussion with a "protest voter" Bernie guy. Explained what it will be like to vote for a young immigrant who will be voting for her first time. She was so proud and so excited - vowed to drag all her friends and family to vote early on Monday because it'll help the campaign.
It never ceases to amaze me, this stuff . . . you go around, knock on people's doors or you make phone calls and it's a lot of no one home or sorry not interested but then you have these important moments - voters who haven't yet been listened to, voters who didn't know about the senate race, people who were on the fence about HRC but just needed to hear something like "yeah, but in the progressive movement in this country, we don't always have our best general leading us into battle - that doesn't mean we sit it out" who then decide to go ahead and vote for HRC. but it was a big day for me in that I recruited 4 volunteers in 5 hours. Usually you're lucky as a volunteer if you recruit one other volunteer in a day. Not bragging here; it's just like anything else, I was trained well and held to really high standards in '08 and yesterday I followed those best practices and got a little lucky and got some results. The deal is that the difference between someone who follows best practices for those 100 calls I made and someone who doesn't is that four people won't be invited and then brought into an active roll in this political process, and about twenty or thirty of our voters would not wake up this morning with a burning feeling of urgency about the Cortez Masto race and with no feeling of being obligated in some way to me, to follow through on their word to get themselves and their friends to the polls right away. That's how you turn people out - respect, empower, include.
OK time for some oatmeal with the kids -
Thanks again, today is gonna be YUGE
* I want to give a few examples of missteps today, not because I want to give the impression that the HRC folks aren't great, or lose sight of the fact that a great many more things went very right today, but more because I think it'll be interesting.
Case study #1: Shortly after I arrive, I'm asked by the staging location director (there are five such locations for volunteer intake, phone calls, walk packet pick-up and drop-off, etc.) to head to an early voting location that is experiencing a very long line and an hour or more in wait times. Keep the folks in the line happy, get 'em to stay and vote. A voting protection higher-up emerges from an office with a "poll observer" button, I remove my HRC sticker, am asked to grab another volunteer and away we go. When we arrive, we check in and walk the lines and smile and say hello and in about 5 minutes I realize that we're in Trump country. There's no mistaking that feeling. A line 150 people long, more than 90% white and old, lots of military hats and biker vests and such. I ask the other volunteer to survey the scene also and then suggest we get the hell out of there and we do. Obvious takeaway is you only deploy volunteer resources in situations where you stand to gain votes. Period.
Case study #2: Saturday is a good day for knocking doors. It's not a great day to make phone calls. When I arrived, I was told all the turf was being walked, no doors for me to knock. The right move would have been to assess which canvassers currently in the field might need the most help with their assigned map and send me to intercept them and lighten their load. You get more doors knocked per volunteer hour that way, and that is the key metric FOs have to report on each night.
Case study #3: I get myself reassigned to another staging location and end up knocking a bunch of doors until it got dark. Turned in the data and asked to make calls and was sent to a third location, and started dialing. It was 7pm, prime call time, and there were two volunteers calling. Now, I know there were other locations making calls but that was a little weird - that place, in my mind, should have been jumping with volunteers. What was weirder was the five staff dudes sitting around not doing a whole lot and just talking and then one of them turns on the MLB playoff game on the big screen. WHAT IS HAPPENING, I'm thinking. But it got even weirder . . . the list I was given to call, for Carson City - a place my friend J flipped blue in '08 with a LOT of very hard work - I was told it would be the first time those Democrats had been called. I kept my fright to myself (at this point in a campaign, every Democrat in the county should be identified and sick and tired of being bothered) and made calls. Sure enough, got a load of wrong numbers and disconnected lines. Any time you get that and also come across people happy to engage in conversations during GOTV, you know something's really wrong. This was what we dropped into in Cuyahoga Falls, OH in 2012, same deal.
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Did you hear about Barack laying into our senate opponent Joe Heck in Vegas yesterday? New York Times article.
Sunday was a big day, and included the following:
I arrived to the staging location at 9am to get a walk packet to start knocking doors, respiratory system recently-steamed by way of the Jet Boil (what an invention) and body slathered in coconut oil to try to fight the Reno 0% humidity and intense winds. Neither really helped, it was a rough one. I get in and find R, an organizer whom I'd identified as the best of the bunch after watching him train volunteers and after he asked me if I'd go down with him to the homeless shelters to get folks to the polls. I found out later that R wasn't even an organizer! He's a thirty-something rogue who looks like he played in CCR and sleeps in his truck who drove down from rural Oregon to be a badass and just started taking over responsibilities. I mentioned him to my Obama friends and got this reply: Our kind of dude. Indeed.
Anyway, I found R. he and I trained up some CA volunteers with Cortez Masto v Joe Heck talking points and away they went. While R found a packet for me to walk, I sat down and ate a muffin and met a woman named L.
I asked L what brought her to volunteer for the campaign and I couldn't have been less prepared for the answer. She had been in the library looking out a window on May 4, 1970 at Kent State when the four students were killed. She vividly described the moments leading up to the shootings and used her hands to explain the sloping hill and the temporary construction fence corner that the students had been backed into. She described Professor Franks taking a bullhorn after the shots were fired - while students tried to escape through a passageway that wasn't big enough to allow it - and asking them all to sit down, sit down, they've shot us, sit down. I started crying into my yogurt and at that moment, T arrived.
T had been one of the key volunteers that got Obama support and structure going in Reno in '08. I stayed with her when I was a volunteer and we became friends. I had misplaced her number but R connected us and she agreed to come canvass with me, and for the second day in a row, I was reunited with a member of the Obama family and felt all those good feelings you have when you see an old friend.
Just a couple more things before I head off to the office.
The first door I knocked was to an apartment in a traditionally Hispanic neighborhood with lots of poverty and busted homes and also development from early 2000s gentrification trajectory that was put on ice during the housing crisis, and seems to be picking up again. This apartment was very hard to locate, let alone access. Reno addresses are notoriously weird, makes canvassing difficult. I finally found an alleyway and squeezed through a fence and walked up a staircase and knocked on the door and asked for Maria.
A Mexican-American girl about the age of 8 with thick black hair and a big smile answered the door and a short African-American girl about the age of 6 nudged her way through and looked up at me with sparkling eyes and a laugh. The younger girl was wearing a super hero outfit. A Mexican-American woman of about 35 who looked very tired, wearing a stained t-shirt and old pajama bottoms walked silently near the doorway but didn't look at me and didn't say anything. The apartment was tiny and dark, with a mattress in the living room and clothes and things everywhere. Also a cardboard cutout of a Storm Trooper. I began talking about voting and was told Maria wasn't there by the older girl. The younger girl asked who I was and she saw my Obama shirt and pointed and I said yes, I worked for Obama and she giggled and clapped and said his name: Oooobaaamaaa. I began talking again about voting and the woman stayed silent, looking down, and then she looked at the older girl, who began signing, translating what I had come to say while the youngest girl shimmied and played around on the threshold of the door.
Have you read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men? When I'm a part of moments like this one when canvassing, I wonder if what I feel is anywhere near what James Agee felt and tried so carefully to explain and represent in his prose of the special moments he spent with the farming families and in their homes.
R caught up with me later in the day to talk and I had a chance to tell him he was a good organizer, great trainer and has that special something that volunteers want to attach themselves to and I hoped he kept going in future cycles, movements, campaigns.
Lots of doors knocked, lots and lots of calls. I want to be generous to the HRC campaign here and continue giving benefit of the doubt, keeping in mind that a) it was probably hard to attract great staff for such a compromised candidate; b) it has certainly been harder to attract volunteers than in the last two cycles, which I assume is one reason the staff level is so high; and c) folks are tired at this point, and most importantly d) the higher-ups in the campaign must have a plan to win NV that just looks and acts a hell of a lot different than what all my friends and I are used to and what my common sense tells me is right. But I can't give that benefit in one situation and have to share this most egregious of missteps, again, just for insight into how all this works:
Sundays between like 4 and 9 represent the highest contact rates for phonebanking. People are home during those hours and usually a little more mellow than during weeknights. At the largest staging location in Reno, I was the only volunteer making calls during that time, save one very old volunteer who was really slow, and, luckily, a young woman named Jennifer who showed up for two hours. In 2008 - and, again, it's not fair to compare in some ways because it's not apples to apples - those call hours were SACRED and the urgency we all felt to make maximum use of that time drove all of us to pack the house with volunteers and get people dialing fast and speaking briefly and taking no breaks, etc. That was the culture. We pushed and pushed to work as hard and efficiently as possible and we were held accountable. If you weren't killing it – and we tracked ALL data very closely and communicated on conference calls each night to help us all know who was doing what – you heard about it.
So it was sad to see that call time float on by. I'm sure calls were being made in other locations, but this is the lead phonebanking location. Where is the urgency? Is this not an election that demands urgency? The Cortez Masto race may well decide who controls the senate, and it might be the closest senate race in the nation. How much more urgent could things be for Democratic staff in Northern Nevada?
Sadness moved to frustration as I called through my list. I was dialing many disconnected lines and wrong numbers, indicating . . . could it possibly be? . . . that these folks hadn't been called much or at all. And my list was comprised of mainly folks under 35. Dagger in the heart. And when I'd get someone on the phone - which was often, because it was Sunday night - they weren't the least bit bothered. That's a crime. These people should be sick of us by now. (NOTE: I later learned that some of these numbers might belong to folks with so-called “Obama phones,” cells that are a part of welfare programs that help people without computers or landlines as they try to find jobs and just generally function in our gadget world. Well, these phones have monthly limits and they disconnect when the limit is hit, so the campaign keeps the phone numbers in the call lists hoping that the numbers will refresh soon. I don’t know what percentage of disconnected numbers this is so I can’t say if I feel it’s worth the time volunteers spend punching these numbers into their phones and the time the people on the data team spend assigning results in the database for those numbers each night.)
But that presents an opportunity as well. You don't get a second chance to make a first impression and, so, if you've got someone on the phones who follows best practices, persuasion conversations and asks have, I believe, different and favorable odds of success.
So, I persuaded three or four people to vote for HRC and the entire Democratic ticket. That's a high rate/vol hour. I recruited five volunteers, all under 35 and mainly people of color, another exceedingly high rate. I made voting feel very urgent for our supporters and got them to commit to vote either today or Tuesday up and down the ticket and make the same ask of their Dem friends. And, when no organizers had stepped in to help Jennifer, I was able to train a first-time political volunteer based on best practices and modeled calls and encouraged her and we talked through strategies and in about 40 minutes she had it down and got results.
Anywho, tonight T and I and hopefully a couple other old Obama people are going to hit the phones hard - it's actually been phone calls, not door knocks, that have resulted in the highest contact rates, volunteer recruitment, and urgent full-Dem voting commitments, so I have hopes for what we can do together.
Thank you -
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RENO OCT 24
How about a little brevity?
OK today was another big day - I spent most of it working on Carson City, a small town outside of Nevada that is pretty red. But my friend Jon, one of the very best organizers I've known, flipped it blue in '08 to the great surprise of, well, everyone. These folks - most of them - hadn't yet been called by the campaign, so, again I had this special situation of being the one to have that first conversation.
Because contact rate and volunteer recruitment rate has been higher on phones than knocking, I just hit the phones all day. Had a very high volunteer recruitment rate again and did much more training today, as there were finally several people on the phones throughout the afternoon and evening. I was able to model best practices throughout the day and started hearing those who hadn't been trained properly and also organizers doing things like making specific asks (we need your help on Saturday at 10am, can you make it? vs. do you think you could help us sometime this week?), telegraphing more urgency relating to voting early (it helps the campaign tremendously if you vote right away, can you vote tomorrow? instead of "have you thought about early voting?"), and adopting more confident tones and language overall (we need you to vote for every Democrat on the ballot vs. will you be supporting all of the Democrats?). By the end of the day, we had a dozen or so people all buzzing, working diligently, listening to one another, and all the calls and conversations got better.
Two great things happened.
While I was making calls, a few political operative types walked in and I saw a young man that I recognized somehow. He walked over a bit later and said "Hey are you Neal? I worked for you in 2008, it's T". Of course! He had been one of my 20 interns during the general at UNR. I probably had the biggest smile on; I felt myself just beaming - I jumped up and we caught up a little and probably with way too much enthusiasm and pride I congratulated him on being the Political Deputy Director for Northern Nevada. That's a big position! My intern had continued on and was now kicking ass in Nevada presidential politics. I fawned over him for a while, showing way too much pride and joy I'm sure and he said that it was his time with me working for Barack that led him to his career in Democratic politics. This was how it was supposed to work. The Obama campaign in 08 was about building a great political machine to elect Barack that would, in the process, develop the progressive organizers of the future. Travis was living proof that we'd done that.
This made my week.
A second thing happened. I called a woman named Corinne, 38 years old living in Carson City. No answer, then she called me back (we don't leave messages). She said she was getting so worried about voting and was so glad she could talk to me. She said she would be voting for the first time in her life. And that her sister would be voting for her first time. And they had no idea about how to actually do it, what you did at the polls, who to vote for besides Hillary. We slowed everything down and just talked, I explained it all as well as I could, she asked me a number of questions and I tried to encourage her not to worry at all, she could do it. And she just had to vote for all the people with Democrat after their names, so it would be easy. And they really needed to vote tomorrow to help the campaign. She agreed to both.
I got a few calls in to men who only spoke spanish and thankfully there were three generations of Mexican-American women who had shown up to volunteer and I passed the phone to them and we shared the work of getting these guys to vote right away for all the Dems. Shared a lot of high-fives and smiles. They're coming back to work with me tomorrow.
Had several winning persuasion conversations today. Have to keep helping people widen their view; that we are voting for so much more than a person when we vote in a presidential race. People, without fail, buy into this after some recalibrating.
Catherine Cortez Masto is stopping into the headquarters in the morning for a meet and greet and a canvass launch -
We're near the fundraising goal! We've funded adding two volunteers for GOTV in Vegas and we're close to enabling me to bring a third. Thank you again
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RENO OCT 25
Yesterday went something like this:
Catherine Cortez Masto stopped in to rally the troops at 9am and send everyone off to canvass. After she spoke, I talked with another Obama alum, a young SF tech guy who is working on autonomous car software. He asked me what I was going to do after the election and I mentioned a couple things, including working on the Judge Persky recall effort. Had a discussion about that case for a bit and about what men can/should do to help prevent violence against women. Then he started defending Persky's sentencing decision on some procedural grounds and thought the recall was a bad idea. I sensitively expressed the four or five reasons I felt it was important to recall Persky and he absorbed a couple of them but also pressed me on others. That's fine, I don't mind being pressed to see another person's point of view of course, but, well, I guess my mind is pretty well made up about this one. So we were going to canvass together but instead I wormed my way out of that by suggesting that since we both had some experience we should each take lesser-experienced volunteers.
I did that also in part because I had a feeling I needed to meet and spend time with this older guy D. D is 82 and looks like Ron Paul, dressed like a professor. Turns out he is a professor and that he also has been a progressive activist badass his whole life. He's a guy with a twinkle in his eye and a good sense of humor and exudes this kind of special something that I've always been attracted to in the couple/few older male role model types I've been lucky enough to find.
I liked him right away: turns out he prefers knocking doors at trailer parks too - great contact rate usually, and, depending on where you are, one can expect a high percentage of Democrats. Uhhhh, sometimes. When I was sent to Trump country for a bad forced error on my first day, there was a trailer park across the street from the polling location. That one we would not be going to for a simple reason that illustrates perhaps the most maddening conundrum of the US electorate - something that has been made plain in this election: poor white people voting against their economic interests w/ the GOP.
Our trailer parks were mostly Hispanic. I spoke with one woman, a first-time voter with a two week old baby girl inside, looked after by her grandfather. She confirmed for me that she would be voting all Dems on the ballot and that she would be voting right away, once I explained the win-win of doing so (we'll stop bothering you, and it helps the campaign be more efficient). She was quiet and pretty, probably about 25, and spoke with a little hesitation. Before I left, I made my fourth and final ask, a secondary ask I always make after the invitation to volunteer almost inevitably is rejected and the supporter feels a little guilt: "OK great, well if you want to do something simple that actually has a big effect in such a close race, take ten minutes and make a list of all the Democrats you know in Nevada and then call or message them with the two things I've come here to tell you - vote for all Dems on the ballot and vote right away." She mentioned that she had five uncles who were not going to vote, they think their votes don't matter. She paused and waited to hear from me, see how I would approach this. I said, well, I think if I were in your shoes, perhaps I would ask them to vote for the Democrats and beat Trump not for them, but for my newborn daughter. She liked that and I moved along.
D tells me he's a graduate professor of something you can't teach. I say: poetry? and he gives me a wink and says: leadership. We talked a lot all day about all kinds of things - leadership being like jazz, the non-verbal communication stuff that makes a good organizer, what it means to support, leadership as love expressed, education, poverty. Turns out D and I have a lot to talk about and I'm quite glad that he's going to be back in Reno working next weekend so the conversation can continue. Pretty impressive man.
We finished the trailer parks and then started in on the apartment complexes located in the poorest/most bleak-feeling part of Reno. Knocking doors of apartment complexes like these ones isn't for the faint of heart - I found myself once getting that "get out of here" feeling because for some of the doors, you walk up one flight of stairs in a tiny stairwell that darkens as you lose the natural light before you arrive at two apartment doors facing each other. It gets quiet and you have no idea what's on the other side of the door, and there are a couple hard-living kind of people milling around downstairs.
These are the people who need to be contacted the most; the people who need to see a smiling face and to get an invitation to be a part of something, however remote that thing might be from daily life. And really, it doesn't matter what that thing is - this is the bigger game we play; the medium is the message here. D and I talked about the ripple effects of this; the REAL reason I think he and I both do and enjoy this kind of work.
I arrived to one complex and five young latino boys were kicking around a rubber flip flop in the dirt and broken concrete and trash between the buildings. I said hi and explained what I was doing and then they came along, helping me find apartments and and playing around while we went from door to door. One boy with fluorescent red fingers was eating fluorescent red chips from a bag and offered me one, but I can't eat that kind of spicy hot food.
I was reminded of something I'd written on my third day in Iowa in 2007 about how, while trick-or-treating as a kid, beaten down houses were scary. Coming from such privilege, I had conflated poverty with threat. All I've ever found in all of my canvassing is that extreme poverty only indicates extreme poverty. And humility.
The HRC campaign/Donald Trump is definitely getting results - Dems are ahead in early voting totals. And I've found two really good organizers in addition to R, the rogue non-organizer who continues to impress me. He asked me about Carson City, said he wanted to go down there to help and I gave him J's number so they can discuss strategies. Turns out the strategy is for R to locate one person who is the key progressive mover and shaker in that community and the gatekeeper to any kind of success in Carson. Made me think of Lord of the Rings or something - R needs to make a journey only he will make and has to first find and enlist the help of some kind of sage figure, or else . . .
The Catherine Cortez Masto race is important. And really close. But also I've come to learn that our congressional candidate Chip Evans is a wonderful man and his opponent - get this - is the chairman of Trump's NV campaign. That race scares the hell out of me.
The stakes feel so high - Cortez Masto HAS to win. I can't bear to imagine an HRC win and a GOP senate.
It was a good trip; more work to do next weekend and then of course Vegas.
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RENO OCT 29
I spent the day knocking doors in Sparks, NV, a community of 100,000 people just to the NE of Reno. I was given a poorer, largely Hispanic neighborhood to canvass and the weather was perfect and I walked for hours and hours, doing that same neighborhood twice. Why twice?
At this point in the Washoe campaign, the idea is to knock every door in the campaign's "universe" - the current database of registered Democrats and likely Dem voters who have not yet voted - three times each weekend day. California volunteers make this level of effort possible, as they have at least since Obama '08, when Reno actually had more volunteers on some days than we knew what to do with, a weird problem to have for organizers. I was reminded of something of a joke about 2008, that by election day we had one CA volunteer placed at each house of our supporters who hadn't voted early, ready to pounce as soon as the voter left his or her house. It wasn't like that, but at times it felt close to it.
Anyway, the head of the NV ground game will have looked at the data on early voting and the size of the universe and determine for each regional organizer the contact goals for each weekend day; the regional organizer will break that goal down for each neighborhood organizer, and then it's up to the GOTV staff, who join the operation about a month out, to coordinate new staging locations and divvy up CA volunteers to help staff hit these important weekends with capacity and resources sufficient to reach or approach goals.
After I walked my neighborhood once, I turned my completed walk data back into the organizer and she did a smart thing: she waited a few minutes for my data to be entered and then sent me out to walk that same turf again instead of giving me a random packet to getting me out the door quickly. This was smart because on my second pass I'd be more efficient, having already routed the turf once - the greatest single cause of canvass inefficiency is too much time spent by volunteers figuring out the best way to walk their assigned turf and, inevitably, taking some wrong turns and inefficient routes.
Which, by the way, is one tech advancement that must be made for future ground games: instead of looking at a pac-man style computer-printed map with dots for their house targets and then deciding how to walk it, volunteers should be told very clearly where to go. Now, in many campaigns, field organizers do this themselves - they take a highlighter and put arrows on the maps to indicate where to begin a walk and how to move through to the end. But even then that requires some familiarity with the turf that organizers might not have. Basically, we just need Google to spit out most efficient walk routing for a given set of addresses for one person or two people or three and take the guess work out of the whole thing for volunteers. I think this would save at least 25% of time spent by canvassers. I hear that Bernie had a good app for canvassing, perhaps his app did this. Anyway, it's only a matter of time before direct contact campaigns incorporate this and two or three other badly-needed improvements that I talked with my non-staff organizer friend Ross about. Turns out he's a "bio-tech burnout" and is thinking he might tackle organizing technology after this race.
So how did the day go?
I am reminded of the importance of the ground game every single time I volunteer; it's remarkable. We're 9 days out or whatever and I had three or four winning persuasion conversations with Democrats who were undecided or had not been planning to vote in downballot races. I helped generate urgency for several people to go vote right away and didn't leave doorsteps until we had a secure plan - when, where, and who (all Dems on the ballot). And I talked with four or five liberal people who were not in our universe but were registered to vote - nonpartisans, probably - and had at least one important persuasion conversation.
How on Earth can someone be undecided at this point, we sometimes ask. For those of us who only work one job and have iphones and live fairly comfortably, we have time and the means to pay attention in our leisure to the news and form strong opinions. In my experience, it's mainly the people who work a couple jobs and are poor with kids and broken cars who are undecided or otherwise not engaged, because simply there's not a lot of available energy or time. For some people - I've talked with a few - they work two full-time jobs and have kids and literally cannot find a time to vote, let alone consider candidates and measures, etc.
So there is an outsized opportunity at this stage in a campaign for a good volunteer to step in and speak from the heart and help support someone who hasn't been engaged; listen to what they want to see happen in the country, listen to the things they're struggling with and then in as unbiased a way as possible - this is important; we're clearly advocating a candidate, but the honorable way to do all this, clearly, is to only share objectively-verifiable policy prescriptions, statements and events that indicate values and character. I'll editorialize at times but I'm always clear to point out when I'm doing so; when I'm sharing my own feelings. Mostly what I did all day when I reached people who were home was deliver messages of urgency and give a pep talk and congratulate them on getting a plan together to go get voting over with.
I spoke with one young Hispanic man who had several very young kids milling around his front yard and living room. Dilapidated house, busted down car and trash on the hard dirt from yard area, a rusted weight bench near the front door. He told me he wasn't voting and shoed me away, but then I said something: "I understand you, I don't particularly like Hillary either but when you vote for president you're voting for so much more" and then a conversation developed. Turns out he was angry about police brutality and the lack of jail time for cops who kill black and brown people. He was angry that Clinton was a Clinton; seemed to him like your A-1 conniving, fake politician. As we talked, I drew lines between his core concerns and the Democratic platform Hillary is running on. And I kept hammering away - gently - at the contrast between the Federal Judges Trump might appoint vs. those who might be appointed by Clinton. And all the secretaries of the cabinet. Turns out he was an open carry activist - he said he had a video with 30 million views of him carrying an AR-15 into downtown Sparks and engaging in a kind of civil disobedience with the Sparks police. By the time I left his yard, he had told me that I was the first of many people to knock on his door who actually influenced his thinking - he didn't commit to voting for Hillary, but he did commit to voting for the downballot Dems. That's a big win. As I walked through the chainlink and back onto the street, there was a cop in a car idling in basically the middle of the road. I set off for the next house and turned back to see the young man talk with the cop and then go back in his house and the cop slowly drove away.
Biden spoke to an overflow crowd at the local High School. Don't worry, I of course skipped Uncle Joe and kept knocking doors.
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RENO OCT 30, OCT 31 & Vegas GOTV starts tmrw
My last two days helping in Reno were all about volunteer recruitment for GOTV, Get Out The Vote, the days of Nov 5 - 8. Funny thing happened - I got a list of folks to call from a staffer who had organized for Barack in 2012. After making a dozen or so calls, I sent a text:
"Hey, are you sure this is the right list? Vast majority of these vol recruits are 60+"
"Unfortunately that's most of our vols."
"Welcome to the HRC campaign hahaha"
"This ain't OFA"
(OFA is Obama For America)
I'm sorry to be ending my involvement in Reno. I'm nervous about the Northern Nevada congressional race - it's Chip Evans versus Trump's NV campaign chairman, a real piece of work. Polling NV is so difficult, but the last I saw, Chip was behind. I have a suspicion that despite Dems matching their 2012 early vote advantage - political reporter Jon Ralston covers early voting in NV: please read this article to really understand what's happening - Evans will lose his race. (Note: I learned later why neither Evans nor any other Dem could win in that district)
I got to see Evans at the headquarters one morning and he looked like that sweet and shy grey substitute-teach-for-fun-in-retirement grandfather type. Kind eyes, kind smile. Exactly the kind of human who should be in congress but not the kind of guy who usually makes it.
Nevada's is a "coordinated campaign". This means that the Hillary For America entity collaborates with the local Democratic party affiliates around the state - staff, advertisements, literature that is left at doors by volunteers and the data that is collected by volunteers focus not just the top of the ticket but all - or some - downballot candidates. The main reason I chose to focus on Nevada was because, as a coordinated campaign, I'd be working equally on the Cortez Masto senate race.
There is inevitably a struggle for resources and attention between downballot candidates/staff and those at the top of the ticket, as you might imagine, in such campaigns. Downballot candidates are thrilled to be included on volunteer scripts and ads and literature and hope to have some PR and appearances with the top candidates or their surrogates, but the general idea is that simply the rising tide of turnout created by the presidential candidate and her operation will lift their boat. Most voters tend to just vote the party line, so Chip goes into it hoping that one additional vote secured by HRC staff for HRC will likely mean a vote for him just because he's a Dem on the ballot. Most voters aren't informed much at all even about the presidential candidates - Chip knows that the vast majority of votes he's getting are from people who make a calculation in the voting booth to, yah OK, I'll guess I'll go ahead and fill in that Democrat bubble too, why not. And it's just about the number of people who actually show up in the booths.
In 2008, we told volunteers on our scripts and in trainings to tell voters they were calling from "Barack Obama's Campaign For Change here in Nevada". That's actually a pretty decent name for a coordinated campaign; not too much of a mouthful, not too distracting, really highlights the name of a hugely popular one-man volunteer-recruitment machine. The scripts for Nevada this time around say something like "I'm calling from Nevada Together, the coordinated campaign for Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats". That's no good. When I made calls, I just said - depending on who I was talking to - either "I'm calling from the Hillary campaign" or "I'm calling from the Nevada Democratic Party". But due to whatever legal arrangements they've made between the party and the candidates, the scripts and all materials have to be very precise.
So, the scripts right now for anyone making calls around the country into Nevada via the website and for volunteers going door to door say, essentially, "Just checking to make sure you're voting for Hillary and Catherine Cortez Masto and all the other Democrats on the ballot". Actually, the current call script for Northern Nevada stops at just HRC and Cortez Masto. There just is not enough time - especially now when there is significant voter fatigue - and it gets too confusing to specifically mention the other candidates.
Poor Chip Evans. If this were 2008, maybe a rising Obama tide would be enough, but I'm not so sure about this year. My guess is that too many Nevadans will be splitting their votes and turnout won't end up being as high as Dems might have hoped and Chip might get lost in the shuffle. but we shall see. (NOTE: I later learned something that I should have known, which is that the district Chip was running for had been drawn in 2011 redistricting to be a “safe” GOP seat; there are two other more or less competitive districts and one “safe” Dem district)
Now, we've heard a lot about how Trump's efforts in many states aren't coordinated at all - downballot candidates have to run away from the top of the ticket and there's no money or resources coming from Trump - so it could be worse for the anti-Chip Chips of the political world. . . and let's hope the GOP loses at least a few congressional races just because of depressed GOP turnout.
It's also a touch sad to be moving on from Washoe because I have so many good memories from working there and winning in 2008 and it's just an intense county, politically - it's one of the true bellwether counties in the nation. I think HRC will win Washoe but I'm not sure Cortez Masto will. I certainly hope so. And Chip, who knows?
I move on to Vegas tomorrow, where Cortez Masto and HRC and the downballot candidates should do well but the question is how well. We have to run up the score there. In Clark County, it's all about turnout - can we drive enough Democrats to the polls to overcome turnout in the rurals and GOP voters in Washoe County?
While GOTV officially starts on Nov 5, we have me there Nov 3 so that I can do some damage on the last two days of Early Voting in Nevada. These last two days are so crucial for all the Democratic candidates - especially with the HRC email stuff which, as far as I can tell, could only serve to depress Democratic turnout.
Our Vegas team now has four '08 NV organizers and one '08 "super volunteer". I've recruited two volunteers to join us and another who will be placed somewhere else in the county.
Thank you for chipping in - your contributions put me to work for 15 days of the NV campaign and resulted in three volunteers for the GOTV effort in Vegas. I guess it could be fun to try to estimate how many votes per dollar we may have netted for Nevada Democrats with our small effort, but I think we can feel pretty confident that our rate has been exceedingly high vs. regular HRC campaign contribution dollars. And I think we're doing pretty good versus Jeb's $2,800 / vote rate in Iowa.
OK more from Vegas coming soon.
If you want to help make some calls, have at it - it doesn't matter which 'group' you call with.
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LAS VEGAS NOV 3
Vegas is really dry and windy and hot. Got off the plane, got the rental car and immediately went to meet Pam to knock doors. Pam is an older (comparatively. . . HRC staff here are mostly 25 years old or so) Obama alum who is a field organizer here. She has the fire and focus and you can tell vs. the other staff here that she was trained by the Obama operation and that she's honed and honed those best practices. She's a friend of one of the 5 '08 Obama friends who will be joining me here tomorrow, as we assemble our team of heavy hitters that YOU have helped to support and try with all our might to, excuse my language, win this fucking thing.
Are you scared? Not a great day if you follow Nate Silver. I'm not even going to link to 538.
The Cortez Masto senate race is really scaring me. Sure Nevada is hard to poll, historically polls are often way off. And sure Early Vote totals in NV look good for us. But there's a body language, a look in the eye of Hillary supporters here that says "I'm telling you I'm voting for her but I am actually struggling with this". Sorry.
My response to the polls was to call a close friend of mine who knows a bunch of young feminists in LA. After covering all my work and two volunteers joining this team in Vegas for GOTV, there are a couple hundred bucks from this fund and I've sent the message through my friend that we have that amount and perhaps more to get a car full of volunteers over here from LA. I'll let you all know if we get a big response and need more funding, perhaps we know some other folks who want to jump in. If I could swing a couple cars full of young volunteers I'd be pretty happy. Bummed I didn't think of this earlier, that's on me.
My recruitment rate today was exceedingly high and the contact rate was low at the doors for people who were on my list, but not at all for the folks who answered the doors. The data here is not great and I think that's a function of a) the universe not walked/called enough in previous weeks (sorry to say this but that is really frustrating) and b) the transient nature of Vegas after the economic crash - people living with parents, then living elsewhere for a while, etc. BUT I had great results just talking to people I had no information on. It's all URGENCY. That's all I'm doing at the doors: "we need you to vote tomorrow, here's why that's good for you". Call time was again really squandered by this staff in this office, I don't get it. I have energy and feel that urgency so I'm a bit more offended I think when I overhear poorly-trained and poorly-managed volunteers on these phones making very little of what are, at this point, very crucial contacts with 4/5 days to go. So I'm making it known very respectfully to organizers here that I want to - and will - start training and supporting volunteer phonebankers. It's tricky because you don't want to step on toes of organizers by offering tips to their volunteers, but . . . right is right and I'm here to win.
As always, RESPECT, EMPOWER, INCLUDE
OK more soon!
Thank you thank you
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LAS VEGAS NOV 4
So how did the last day of Early Voting in Nevada turn out? I overheard during a gay surrogate visit to the office (I didn't catch their names but there were two big-time social media gay leaders, one of them with half a billion views of something, wow . . . they were great, though their visit and short speeches happened during call time, and - everybody say with me: "call time is sacred") that apparently Clinton's campaign manager said today that Trump would need to win by 10 points on election day to carry NV due to the massive early vote advantage from Dems. Maybe that's right, who knows. Here's the latest from NV Early Vote guy John Ralston: http://www.ktnv.com/news/ralston/the-nevada-early-voting-blog
Super late last night, as I was about to leave the office, one of the organizers - a young guy named Kevin - said that he had thought I was a "tracker" earlier in the day and that's why he introduced himself so assertively. I remembered him introducing himself, and yeah actually he was a little body-language-forward. So I ask "what's a tracker?" Turns out a tracker is someone hired by an opposing campaign who hangs around your operations looking to catch you doing something illegal. Kevin thought I was a Trump guy! If not entirely uneducated I'm absolutely very partially and inadequately educated, sure, OK you got me there. But white male?! Come on Kev.
Today was all apartment buildings in very poor predominately Latino neighborhoods. Here's how it went: I have a list of 40 doors to knock with names of the registered Democratic inhabitants. But the apartment complexes are labyrinths - many buildings (one complex had the building letters painted on the roof, I suppose so only those in helicopters can know where to find their friends) and really wild numbering concepts in play. So it's hard to navigate efficiently. Not to mention that the walk sheets have apartment numbers only kind of in order and not at all in building order. This is a situation where it would have been way more effective and efficient for me to just ditch the list and knock on every single door. If someone opens that door, they're either not a citizen or they're voting with us. But I decided to just hunt and peck my way through.
These people work, so the nominal contact rate was low. But the real contact rate was giant because I stopped everyone I saw. Most of the apartments didn't have the folks who were listed - again, this is due to the relatively transient nature of many of these immigrant families and also just, I suppose, poor data management thus far for HRC campaign. But many of the apartments had people in them and many of those people could pretty easily be talked into voting and voting right away. All I had to really say was: Trump puede ganar. Then the mostly grandmothers who were home would get wide eyes and before I knew it, a kid was at the door to translate and negotiate exactly who in the family was going to the Meadows Mall to vote before 9pm tonight. Turnout is all urgency. Either "I vote right now or we lose" or "I vote right now or it's going to be less comfortable to do so later". A good voter turnout person can communicate and activate urgency by connecting the dots simultaneously for voters to both meta level I-must-help-my-fellow-man-and-planet-I-owe-it-to-them-to-follow-through and also self interested this-is-the-way-to-make-this-easiest-for-me motivations. And, very importantly, he/she knows exactly when the tension is just right and, when it is, walks away; doesn't mess around with other words or unconfident body language that would sag the tension. It's all got to stay hovering, kinetic. These kinds of days - it's the last day to do the thing that is both super helpful to mankind and also most easy for you - are the most fun to be canvassing, for that reason.
This was the last day of Early Voting. After knocking a bunch of doors, I went back to the office to make calls. I called one man - Jose Sanchez, 75 years old - who spoke very little english. I passed the phone to a bilingual organizer and she worked out that, no Mr. Sanchez had not yet voted but he wants to vote right away. He just needs a ride. So I drove out and picked him up. He was an old laborer, handsome with a warm smile and the most cracked, leathery hands ever. We drove over to the mall and the line at 7:15 appeared to me to be 300 people long. I got him a cut to the very front due to his age and he voted. While he was voting, I sent a message back to the field director that the line was long - I still had my poll observer badge from Reno, and that the makeup of the line looked favorable (black and brown people, young people, women) and did he want me to hang out and keep people feeling good in line, keep them from leaving. The legal staff got back to me with an affirmative, so I did just that.
I walked the line and then stood at the back of the line and said thanks for waiting, cracked a couple jokes, etc. An actual voter protection worker walked up after a while and started grilling me about who I was, what I was doing, was I a lawyer, etc. Turns out she was with Nevada Democrats also so she got less intense and said they'd heard that there was a Trump person campaigning and handing out literature at the back of the line and she thought it was me. Look, I get it - I might appear that I'm in a frat, all except the extremely short shorts, OK fine. And there's the uneducated or lightly-educated aspect, OK sure. But white male?!
It was going fine but then all of the field organizers from the office and the director himself all showed up there with waters and halloween candy to pass out to folks in line. That's legal as long as there is no campaigning or campaign identity on clothes, etc. The problem was that this was during prime call time on the final night of early voting. And Call Time Is Sacred. So I got out of there.
I learned a little more about the Chip Evans race in Northern Nevada and stopped fretting about it. The state's congressional districts were drawn in 2011 designed to have one safe GOP seat up north, one safe Dem seat in the center of Vegas and two "competitive" districts in and around Vegas. Chip is running in the safe GOP district and, well, didn't have a chance whatsoever to begin with. So says my NV political consultant friend. So there's that. Sorry, Chip.
Had no takers on the LA feminist carload concept. Going to file that away for another time.
The other Obama '08 organizers should be arriving any minute - - -
Thanks again all
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LAS VEGAS NOV 5
The team here, which includes six '08 Obama alums, is nearly set. We knocked somewhere north of 500 doors today, and the theme continues: knocking doors of the very poor in busted houses and apartment buildings and finding often not the person the walk lists told us we would but instead people unidentified by the campaign and thus not tired of being harassed. I personally had several conversations that resulted in people who were not planning on voting actually working out a plan for election day and committing to me that they'd vote with us.
So many nice moments. I took some time to visit with a young girl who was jumping rope in the narrow stretch of concrete between two apartment buildings. Knocked a door of a ramshackle enclosed porch/dog run kind of structure and found three men, one white, one black, one asian, smoking weed and having a beer to start the day. None of them were on my list but two of them, now that they have their polling location information and feel a little urgency, say they'll vote on Tues. Early on in our conversation I asked "you're voting for all the Democrats, right? Not Trump?". The African-American guy stood up and pointed toward the sky behind me and said "Are you kidding? I wake up to that every single morning". I turned and looked and there, off in the distance, stood a very tall building like a brick of gold with a facade of windows that glowed in the reflection of the morning sun, and at the top above all the windows in all capital letters read TRUMP. That blew my socks off.
About that same time, my friend Angelina was walking a couple streets away and crossed a street and a city worker in an orange vest began singing "All the Single Ladies" to her in a way that was non-threatening but just fun and goofy but also a really good rendition and he started dancing and then they laughed and had a good talk. The crazy thing about this is that Angelina is a Beyonce superfan, like she's more of a fan Beyonce than anyone I know is a fan of anything, I think she's in all the fan clubs and she had in her bag these energy bars that Beyonce eats too and stuff like that. I asked her if this crazy serendipitous moment was one of the finest B-related moments she's had and she said YES.
Lots of very productive vote planning with voters who really needed some help to figure it all out. I worked with a couple different HRC teams to figure out how to get one of our voters an emergency absentee ballot due to illness and we handed the job of facilitating what will be a time-consuming process to a volunteer who doesn't want to knock doors on Monday. Turns out he was working on nukes at Los Alamos - his health issues are due to that work, he said.
Looks like Bernie is coming tomorrow. He's been really great! I don't think we'll go - we'll be knocking doors of course.
OK more soon
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LAS VEGAS NOV 6
It's pins and needles here, as you might expect. Early Vote totals show a clear Dem advantage, and given that polling seems to under-represent the Latino vote and also that Trump is unlikely to get the same % of Republicans that Romney had, there's more confidence than fear I'd say, among this team. But of course, there's no letup.
Nate Silver has helped - we're able (at least this is what I'm doing) to make the case very clear to our voters: we've had a tough week, the best polling aggregator has Trump up by 1% or so - we need you. My conversations tended to go that way yesterday.
Ran around apartment buildings the first part of the day and then my full car was sent to deep south Vegas to a satellite operation run out of someone's garage in the burbs. We now have a full team - I think it's 10 or 11 total - with three cars, so we're able to do some damage.
I personally had one of my very best canvassing days ever. One of my organizer friends late last night was marveling at how I "always have good days" and though that's not true, I think because of my ability to recruit volunteers at a higher rate than average, I do tend to have better days more consistently than most. But it's also a crap shoot - can't do anything about the number of voters who will be home when you knock.
Anyway, just a couple examples. We show up to a house in a new-ish development. There's an African-American guy talking on the phone out front in a stained wife beater and a plastic cup of red wine. I begin to talk with him and find out he isn't registered and he says his sister isn't home (she's on my list). As soon as I say "Trump can win Nevada - it looks like it's 50/50 right now" his eyes got big and he held the phone away from his ear and said "really?" I go into the urgency ask for those who've already voted or who can't - "we need everybody to vote, do you know anyone who says they're not going to vote, we have to make them go" - and he opens the door and - of course - calls to his sister.
She comes out and says she wants to vote after she understands how close the race is but she wasn't sure where she needed to go. I give her that information, ratchet up the tension. She calls inside to her daughter, recently turned 20. Daughter comes out and says she's never registered to vote - can she do that tomorrow? I say are you sure? She says yes. I say that it's too late to register to vote. She looks sad, body language deflated. But this is one of the great volunteer recruitment opportunities in canvassing: "OK, you might not be able to vote but you can absolutely do something to beat Trump - help us talk to other Democrats Monday at 6pm to make sure they know their polling locations and make sure they vote" She works late Monday. "OK, election days are really exciting, why don't you come join us" She smiles and says she doesn't work Tuesday. I paint a picture of election day and what she'd be doing and she signs up to work all of Tuesday.
I got another volunteer a street away and then another one during the 30 minutes I made phone calls late last night. Turns out the organizers I handed these volunteers to were both VERY good. And they were not used to getting that many volunteers from someone. Wonderful people, interested in the stories of these folks, wanting to know how best to approach them, etc.
And the day was full of turning unlikely voters into scared-Trump-can-win-NV-I-am-for-sure-voting voters. They have us using these "commitment to vote" cards that we've all decided are very smart - we wish we'd had them in previous elections. You work through a voter's plan to vote on election day with them - they visualize their day, make the plan, and while this happens and when we lock it down together, I write down the plan - time, transportation, location - and hand it to them with the full list of Dem candidates (we need you to vote for all Dems) and then a parting urgent word and then the last thing I repeat is "OK we've got you voting at 11am (or whatever time) and then I'm gone.
There was an abnormal percentage of these situations. I hope it continues today - I'm going to fight to get us working out of that same deep south location again today. We'll see
If you want to do something, make calls. It's easy: you 1) introduce yourself as a volunteer and immediately ask "you're voting for Hillary and all the Democrats, is that right?" 2) if they say yes, you instill urgency - the races in your state are very close, we've had a tough week, Trump is doing very well, it's going to take all of us to beat him - we need you to vote on Tuesday, will you vote? 3) If they will, you make sure they know their polling location (listed on the webpage) and make a plan with them for when they will vote and how they're getting there 4) you repeat their plan and say "OK great we have you committed to vote at X time at Y place for all the Democrats on the ballot, right?" 5) If they're young and sound fired up or scared, get them to volunteer - just pick a time - on Tuesday. There's a box you can check. Repeat their voting time and location, say one last tiny urgency message - "Trump can win (your state) - we need you" is a good one. And then move to next call
LAS VEGAS NOV 7
LAS VEGAS NOV 8