After every vote was counted and the dust finally settled on the last Republican District flipped by Democrats in California, I started to look for opportunities to engage in activities aimed at retaking control of the US Senate, defending the Democratic majority in the US Congress, and winning the Presidential Election in 2020. After examining Swing Left’s “Super States” and Sister District’s “Last Chance” State Legislature strategies, I realized that the path to 2020 electoral victory passes through Virginia. Upcoming elections for Virginia’s State Senate and House of Delegates could flip both chambers from Red to Blue, providing valuable lessons (and a morale boost) for all 2020 Democratic campaigns.
Virginia is for Canvassers
The appeal of participating in one of the frontline battles against gerrymandering and voter suppression brought me to Virginia Beach in early July, where I spent several days with fellow Commit to Canvass volunteers knocking on doors to publicize Democrat Nancy Guy’s candidacy for Virginia’s House of Delegates.
Virginia districts have been recently redrawn after the Supreme Court reaffirmed that race cannot be the predominant reason in creating legislative districts, thus leaving many voters unaware of which districts they are part of, who their delegates are, and who the candidates are in their upcoming elections.
Virginia Beach precincts transferred to Nancy Guy’s District 83 are critical for winning in November and therefore need to be canvassed multiple times to ensure that voters are aware of district boundaries and their Democratic candidate’s positions. In four days, we knocked on over a thousand doors. Our dialogues with voters focused on what is at stake in the November elections for the future of education funding, access to affordable medical care, gun control, gerrymandering and voter rights in Virginia. Such interactions entail finding ways to engage diverse people in conversations, understanding their concerns and responding to their questions. These in-depth dialogues cannot be conducted by phone, which is why canvassing is critically important for promoting Democratic candidates and ideas.
Voter Outreach with NAACP
On a Saturday morning we switched from canvassing for Nancy Guy to knocking doors in her district on behalf of NAACP.
Unlike knocking doors for a candidate, voter outreach conducted by NAACP is non partisan and focused mainly on ensuring that people are registered to vote, understand the importance of casting votes, are aware of Voter ID laws in their states, and know where to turn for assistance to get to polls on Election Day. NAACP’s voter engagement is seamless: there is no need to memorize policy talking points, respond to questions about candidates and their positions, or address concerns fueled by negative adds. Instead, the conversations go straight to the core foundation of our democratic system: the right of every citizen to cast a vote, choose candidates who represent their views, and maintain faith in the electoral process even when it seems to let them down.
Canvassing for NAACP was deeply satisfying. I believe that progress relies on defending, expanding and improving the democratic process, so urging people to take a stand by casting votes was an effortless endeavor. In terms of face-to-face interactions, people who may be reluctant to listen to a pitch for a candidate do not mind talking about their rights as voters. I experienced this distinction first hand while walking through the same neighborhoods, first as a volunteer for Nancy Guy’s campaign, then on behalf of NAACP.
Door knocking for both NAACP and Democratic campaigns achieve the complementary goals of encouraging people to vote and publicizing candidates’ positions. The rewards of added strain to an already exhausting process are certainly worth the extra miles of walking.
Come on Down to Virginia
Before getting immersed in the 2020 Senate and Congressional Elections, veterans of campaigns to flip Republican Districts across the US need to spend time supporting Democratic candidates in Virginia. They could:
- Call on the phone or write postcards on behalf of Reclaim Our Vote to help re register eligible voters in Virginia who have been removed from voter rolls;
- Write letters via Vote Forward to prospective voters in Virginia urging them to register to vote;
- Travel to Virginia to knock doors for Democratic candidates supported by Sister District or Swing Left;
- Contribute to cover the cost of transportation and lodging for college students who are willing to canvass in Virginia.
While knocking on doors is the most effective, any contribution would increase the chances of Democratic candidates to win in November.