What I’ve learned so far as a HRC campaign volunteer in Philly

So, I got a job just outside of Philadelphia, and one small but important reason I’m glad to be a Pennsylvania resident at this time is that I get to vote in a meaningful swing state in the election next month. I’ve also been volunteering with HRC’s campaign, mostly doing voter registration shifts with one of the campaign’s 7 offices in the greater Philly era. (Side note: Trump campaign has 2 offices in the same area.) I’ve also done a little bit of phone banking and participated in my first ever text-a-thon last Wednesday night (more on that later).

Two of my co-campaigners registering voters outside a Wal-Mart in NE Philly. On the left is an intern for HRC’s campaign who has been working for a few months. She’s 14 and was the seasoned expert volunteer. Next to her is a retail store manager who decided to respond to her fear of a Trumpocalypse by joining a campaign for the first time in her life.

Doing this work has been inspiring and emotionally grounding for me during a campaign that, thanks to Trump & the accompanying cray cray, has managed to freak out huge portions of the population unlike anything in my lifetime.

First of all, HRC’s ground game – at least as I’ve experienced working with it – is organized, friendly, and fast. Beginning with my initial visit to http://www.hillaryclinton.com and navigating to their very user-friendly web page for volunteering, I’ve been repeatedly impressed.

When I started looking into volunteering, I thought I’d do two things: register voters in Philly, and then fly to Florida to do GOTV the last few days before the election. At the time I was thinking this way the race was pretty much a tie and I figured FL was the place where I could have the most impact. So I followed their interface, which made it very easy for me to input my preferences to do the voter reg in Philly and the GOTV in Florida.

Within a couple days, I’d received calls and emails from the Bustleton Ave HRC campaign office in Philly, which was the one I had selected even though it isn’t the closest one to where I live. (What inspired me was shopping at a Ross in that part of town and seeing the overwhelming diversity of the folks there, and thinking “we should be doing voter reg right here”). I also received a personal email from a campaign office in Orlando, FL, which was the place in FL I had indicated I wanted to work (I’d read that there were large #’s of newly arrived residents from Puerto Rico in Orlando, and because they’re already U.S. citizens, they’re able to vote in FL as soon as they establish residency). The FL person

Source: http://billypenn.com/2016/10/05/hillarys-dominating-trump-in-pennsylvania-from-cash-to-campaign-offices/

warmly encouraged me to come take part in GOTV there. She also asked if I needed a place to stay (!) and whether I might be able to bring a friend along.

So, get this. Back in Philly, when I go out for my first voter reg shift, I have a great time. They pair me with an affable 40-something white guy who it turns out is an osteopathic doctor, is Jewish, and is every bit as extroverted as I am shy. We only registered a couple new voters outside a Shop Rite, but probably 200 people or more saw us with our Hillary gear as we called out “Registered to vote?” to passers-by. We had lots of conversations, which I enjoyed a lot. I’d say about half the people who came by were Black, maybe a quarter Latino, a tenth Asian, and the rest White. Probably 2/3 were women. Occasionally women wearing hijabs came by. Most people who responded to our barkers’ call told us they were already registered. This neighborhood is solid D, so there were only a few Trumpsters, and in fact they were, at least by appearances, young or middle-aged white men.

Ok, so after enjoying my first venture, I re-up and return the following week for another shift. This time they pair me with the two women in the photo above. When we arrive at hrc2the Wal-Mart, we find this guy already there with a clipboard, asking everyone who passes him if they’ve registered. Is he with the Trump campaign? was my first thought, admittedly based on a kind of profiling that I found myself having to actively resist in this toxic and hateful climate (which yes I frankly blame fully on Trump and the GOP’s long years of promoting racist memes and giving succor to extremists). Well, turns out he was also with HRC’s campaign – from another campaign office – a duplication of efforts that I took as a sign of health in the ground game. I mean, you want the left hand to know what the right hand is doing in a campaign, but this is the kind of inadvertent inefficiency that is borne out of having lots of offices, lots of staff, and lots of volunteers. He was a long-time union guy, with a Philly working class accent (“Who sent youz guys?”) The white woman who was part of the crew I showed up with also had a working class Philly accent. The black young woman – a high school frosh – was from the Philly suburbs, her accent and presentation reflecting suburban middle class life. And then there was me, the middle-aged Jewish white guy who has lived a bunch of places.

Like my first time out, we registered a handful of new voters, but the visibility we had easily reached 250+ people during a 2.5 hour shift. Plus there were the people whom we didn’t register on the spot, but who took down the http://www.iwillvote.com URL, or the http://www.vote.gov/es (Spanish language) URL so that they could register online when they weren’t busy trying to get in and out of Wal-Mart, or, in a couple instances, so that they could help another family member register. We helped a Mexican-American truck driver (born in the USA) get the online reg info – he is a Texas resident and he wasn’t sure how to register. He was chatty, talked about the danger he feels from Trump. FWIW, he also said this to me: “Hillary is for us. She wants to help us, my community, and we need it, lots of us. This current one [Obama] – I don’t know, lots of us feel like he hasn’t done that much for us. But Bill was great for us, and Hillary will be great for us.” I don’t know that I agree with that analysis, especially given how hard Obama has pressed for Dream-ers and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and how obstructionist Republicans have been. But the ICE deportations breaking all previous records have tarnished Obama’s image in parts of the Latino community – or at least, so I’ve read for a long time, and so this one conversation confirmed (and yes, I know, a sample set of one is just about useless, but when one is your entire sample set, confirmation bias gets a real shot in the arm).

BTW, as another sign of HRC’s campaign having its act together, the iwillvote.com website is f-ing awesome. It’s how I got myself registered in PA after moving from Oregon. Very user friendly interface. First, after collecting my basic info, it checked to see if I was already registered. When it saw I wasn’t, it asked me a series of questions, maybe 3, which I answered easily, even without having yet gotten a PA driver’s license. It then submitted my info for me to the Montgomery County voter reg office, and it told me that in PA they would be sending me a signature form that I would need to receive snail mail and send back with my John Hancock as a final step. Sure enough, a few days later I received the form, which I mailed back in. A few days after that, I start getting emails, text messages, and a couple live phone calls from HRC PA volunteers, all wanting to make sure I received that additional signature form, and reminding me repeatedly to return it or call them for help if anything was amiss. I know some people don’t like being hassled like that, but I LOVED it. Because defeat Trump. Take nothing for granted. Because ground game. Once I finally received confirmation from PA that I was duly registered, I relayed that info back to one of the people who texted me – that’s right, it was a person with a name who was texting me, not a robot – and he texted back that he got the message, thanked me, and

Part of my voter-reg “breakfast of champions.” Dunkin’ Donuts has not endorsed any political candidates as far as I know. I like mine with one pump of sugar and one pump of 2% milk.

updated the database. Seriously folks. This is how we win – and hopefully win back Congress.

And as ANOTHER sign of how HRC’s ground game has it’s act together, about this time I received a phone call from a guy who introduced himself as Alex with PA’s Hillary office in Elkins Park, which is the northern Philly suburb where I now live. He says, “We noticed that you’ve been doing volunteer work with our Philly NE office on Bustleton Ave, which is great, but we also see that our office is a lot closer to your address. Would you be willing to do some volunteering with us here too?” To which I said “yes,” and then, after I hung up, I said out loud, “Damn! That is %@#%ing seriously organized!”

Meanwhile, my third time out with the Philly NE office I was paired with an Asian-American woman, first generation immigrant, highly educated, and a politics junkie like me. She has been volunteering multiple shifts every Saturday and Sunday since late summer. We drew Shop-Rite again, on a windy and cold day the final weekend before the voter reg deadline.

She got 3 new voters, I got one. But that’s just people who filled out the form right there. I helped a middle-aged couple (I think they were Iranian-Americans) get the website they needed to easily verify their registration status, which they worried may have been out of date. The person who filled out a paper form with me was a 20-something African-American woman wearing a hijab, with a strong North Philly accent. When you do voter reg, the rules are you have to submit everyone’s registration form regardless of who they tell you they are voting for or what party ID they select, if any. You can’t lobby them while they’re filling out the form either. But you can identify yourself as volunteering for a candidate’s campaign, and you can lobby them after they’re all done with the form. In the case of this particular person, after she was done w/the form I asked her if we could count on her support for Hillary this November.

“Uh-course it’s Hillary!” she said with incredulity. “Who else it gonna be?” I smiled big at her and she returned it and then went to get groceries.

Actually, the people who most frequently good-vibed me were Black women. I got lots of “thank you’s” and smiles as they passed by, often adding, “Been registered for years” and “I sure am registered.” In fact, the most common response we kept getting from people was that they were already registered. When I would ask “are you registered to vote?” lots of Black women would also say things like, “Mmm-hmm, and Hillary’s my girl.”

I did have one painful interaction with a Trump supporter. He was a – stereotype alert warning – middle-aged working class white man who looked tired. He approached the voter reg table I was at with the two women in the photo above. He asked if I could get a yard sign for him, and he shared that he was a bricklayer by profession. “OK, another union member for Hillary!” I thought happily. But then it went south.

We didn’t have yard signs to give out, but I was determined to help this guy get a Hillary yard sign if he wanted one. Turns out he wanted a Trump sign, but I’m not up to that part of the story yet. I told him that if he wanted a Hillary sign – and I specifically said Hillary – I would personally mail or deliver it to his address if he left me a way to contact him. As he thanked me, he said it should be a Trump sign.

I blinked probably 4 times before I finally spoke. “Um, I’m sorry sir, I think there’s a misunderstanding. We’re here with the Clinton campaign, so I’m not able to get a Trump sign for you.”

At this point, he got pissed. “You really want that girl to get in office?!” he said, raising his voice. Before I could respond, he added, “Do you know what someone would do, the lies they would tell, just to be the first woman president? They would lie their balls off!” He actually said this, and then huffed off. He never made eye contact with either of the women right there with me at the table. I don’t know what they were feeling – I can only imagine it hurt. I just looked at both of them and shook my head slowly. “You did say a Hillary sign,” the retail store manager said to me. “I know, right?”


There was one other story I think is worth sharing, this time from my third voter reg session, the one that I did with the Asian-American woman.

I was talking with someone when I felt the presence of another person hovering behind me. I looked back and smiled – it was a thin, 30-something white guy wearing a hoodie. He had a scruffy goatee and a lot of tats, including on his face. He had a plus-sign in black right between his eyebrows, which for a split second I worried might be a swastika, but it wasn’t. When my conversation finally ended, I turned to face him and braced myself.

“Hey, listen, mister. There’s something I’d like to ask you, but I don’t want people to hear it,” he said.

That seemed odd.

“Okay,” I said, and I took a couple steps with him away from all the shopping carts where people were steadily stopping by to collect one before entering the store.

“So, I want to find out if I’m allowed to vote. I mean, I’ve had kind of a rough patch or two in my life, and I registered like 8 years ago, but I never voted, and I don’t know if I’m allowed to in Pennsylvania. Do you know what I’m gettin’ at?” he asked.

My wife, Melissa, has spent her professional career working with prison reform organizations, so I got it right away, though admittedly my suburban middle-class college educated ass might not have gotten it otherwise.

“I think so,” I said.

“I was in prison for a while, but that ended like 12 years ago.”

“I’m pretty sure that in this state they passed a law that if you finished your sentence you can vote. I think they did that just a few years ago, cuz before that there were some restrictions.,” I said. I then told him how he could find out what his registration status was easily online.

“That’s what I thought too, but I wasn’t sure, and this time I really want to vote. I think Hillary, and like, the Clintons you know, I think they care about people like me. People who’ve been in my situation, you know? I don’t think Trump does. But I think they do. She does, and Bill, he did too.”

Of course, when he said that I wondered if he knew about the “tough on crime” sentencing law that Bill signed as part of his tack to the political center – or about Bill’s recent statements expressing his regret that he did that. I will say that it continues to strike me how many people I meet (not specifically in the course of campaigning, but in general) who have nothing but good things to say about Bill Clinton, but who tend to be lukewarm about Hillary and Obama as well. I’ve experienced some version of that over and over again. Not how I feel, but there it is.

Anyway, it turns out I had remembered right about the law in PA – felons have their right to vote restored after they’ve completed their term of incarceration. See this chart for easy reference to the laws in all states.

So, anyway, the guy ended up thanking me repeatedly for helping him and for volunteering for Hillary, and gave me a warm smile before saying goodbye. It felt great not only to have made a difference for him, but to have had my initial assumptions based only on appearances prove to be totally, utterly wrong.

I also can’t help but think that for each encounter like that one, the potential exists for several people to vote who otherwise might not have. This guy clearly felt embarrassed, and that embarrassment may have kept him from going to the polling place where he thought he was registered, and risk having people waiting in line behind him while the nice volunteers at the little desk take 5 minutes trying to find his record, or maybe even tell him they’re sorry but his name has been flagged, or who knows what. Thanks to our being there, he left with an easy way to find the info he needed. And who knows, maybe he goes and shares that info with others in a similar situation. Same with the hundreds of people who walked by saying “I’m already registered.” If they subsequently talk to a friend who hasn’t registered or isn’t sure if they want to bother to vote, they can say, “They’re out there every afternoon at the Wal-Mart with little tables registering people right there, hon.”

HRC Philly NE campaign office – Bustleton Ave

I have more I could share but now I’m tired, so I’ll leave it at that. I realize my anecdotal experiences are not data-driven evidence of HRC’s ground game being effective, so I’ll close with a couple stats I’ve stumbled upon, fully acknowledging my potential for confirmation bias on this topic, since I haven’t gone and researched this data for every state. But, FWIW, Politico reported yesterday the following from Florida:

“…Democrats have submitted 503,000 and Republicans fewer than 60,000 of the 2 million registration forms collected this year by about 700 third-party groups, according to the 2016 data posted online by the state Division of Elections.”

Hillz just opened 7 new campaign offices in Florida, bringing the total up to 72. The Donald had 29 in the Sunshine State as of a little more than a week ago.

Partial screenshot from http://www.hillaryclinton.com’s user interface for volunteering. Really easy to use. When I clicked on “Learn more” it led me to a quick survey asking me what I like doing and how much time I have available, and then collected my info and promised to get it to the right campaign office (for in person volunteering). For at-home activities, like making calls to swing states, the site helps users get everything set up on their own computer or mobile device.

3 thoughts on “What I’ve learned so far as a HRC campaign volunteer in Philly

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