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Hot Takes #10 & #11: Sarah Jarmon and Bennett Carpenter

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People wearing facemaskes stand in a circle for a short meeting

Election hot takes about going door to door n Arizona and tough fights in North Carolina.

#10: Canvassing in Arizona with LUCHA and Unite HERE

Seed the Vote had been planning to canvass in person with local organizations in Arizona since last year. The pandemic came and prevented us from doing so in the spring and summer.  But then in early September it became clear Seed the Vote would, after all, be able to canvass in person in Arizona. We partnered with the union UNITE HERE, who had been there since July canvassing, and LUCHA (Living United for Change in Arizona), a grassroots base-building group which has spent years developing deep progressive change in Latino and working class communities. Without a second thought, I signed up for a week of canvassing. After months of phone banking, including to undecided Trump-leaning folks in Arizona, I was ready to talk to people face to face.

Of course there were all the questions about how to do it safely, and the logistical challenges of how to stay safe while traveling there and back. But we were jumping into UNITE HERE’s well-oiled canvassing operation, and they are incredibly diligent. Before leaving, we were required to attend a COVID safety training. Their protocols were extensive and thorough, and all canvassers made the commitment to follow the protocol.

We were a crew of about 30 people the first week, with over 100 people participating overall through election day, between the UNITE HERE and LUCHA canvassing operations. Seed the Vote provided incredible support and infrastructure for volunteers and we seamlessly integrated into the established canvassing work.

On my first full day of canvassing the temperature reached 100 degrees. We were required to wear a face mask and a shield at all times. I remember at 2 pm on that first day, thinking to myself, as my back dripped with sweat and my phone overheated, “I don’t think I can do this for a whole week.” But then I remembered our training, when we were asked to think about why we are doing door-to-door canvassing and keep that with us when it gets hard. I thought of my two young children and all the ways their future will be impacted by another four years of Trump, and I gave myself a pep talk and kept going. That first day I talked to a woman who had always voted Republican but was voting for Biden, young voters who still hadn’t decided to vote, and people who had already voted. I also had doors slammed in my face and knocked on doors that didn’t get answered.

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Find people’s issues, make a connection

Our goal for the conversations was multi-fold – find out people’s issues using deep canvassing, make a connection and get them to I.D. as voting for Biden and Mark Kelly for Senate, in addition to some local races and a proposition. And get them to fill out their ballots with us right there!

That last part was a challenge for me, and I had to get up the gumption to ask the question three times, as we were trained to do. I had learned about deep canvassing through the phone banks to Arizona with LUCHA. It’s a technique which allows for time to explore the issues that are important to the person you are canvassing, not just jumping straight into identifying if they will be voting for your candidate.

Because of the conversations we had, the experience was personal. I cried with a woman who talked about her family not having health care, I laughed with a very enthusiastic voter who flew home from Chicago to vote, and I listened to a man who refused to vote because he really couldn’t trust any of the politicians to not lie. He had just had a heart attack and was about to lose his job because he couldn’t come back to work. I hold all of these humans in my heart because they shared with me their struggles. I also share with them why, as a mother, I care so deeply about this election. We connected on a human level that this year has been so hard to come by, given the pandemic and the president’s continued work to sew divisions.

Phoenix is massive

We had “turf” in very mixed areas. As the fifth largest metropolitan area of the country, Phoenix is massive. Some neighborhoods were “friendly”; mostly working class, many people of color, and in those neighborhoods the main work was to get people to vote and to do it now. In some other communities, it was more of a needle in a haystack situation. We might meet a number of Trump supporters before we talked to someone whom we could convince to vote our way. Some days were so fruitful in terms of getting voters and making connections and others were incredibly frustrating. I ended up staying two extra days because it felt like the best use of my time before this election. Others extended their trips by a week, or even longer. We could feel the impact we were having through all these conversations, including witnessing voters fill out their ballots or send us selfies when they voted!

This election is hinging on Arizona at this moment. The work we did to get people in Maricopa County to vote for Biden, Kelly and local Democrats is helping to turn Arizona blue. It is also part of a long term project of building our movements. What we saw there was the result of a decade of work from LUCHA, UNITE HERE and other groups on the ground. This was grueling and frustrating work, but all the vote plans, moving people from Trump to Biden, and celebrating with first-time voters made it all worth it. We made a powerful impact in this moment, and we’re moving forward!

Sarah Jarmon lives in Oakland, California. She is an organizer and a mom. 

#11: Lots still undecided in North Carolina

November 4 hasn’t been an election night full of victories and gains in North Carolina. However, I do want to be mindful that it is never over until the last lady to sings. We are currently waiting for a full vote count and mobilizing for that count. As absentee ballots come in from Raleigh and Charlotte, both Democratic leaning areas, things may shift in our favor in some of these races.

Having said that our main election wins are defensive rather than offensive offensive. In other words, keeping Democrats in elected seats by fending off Republican challengers. An example of this is that we will retain our Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper. There is also a crucial bastion in the North Carolina State Supreme Court because the state legislature and federal courts will remain Republican. Cheri Beasley is the Black woman candidate that we endorsed for the State Supreme Court. She is down by a tiny margin but as those absentee ballots are counted she could win. Durham for All and Carolina Federation can meaningfully say they contributed to her win if she makes it over the edge and wins.

Of course, we are still waiting to find out the outcome of the Presidential race and whether Democrat Cal Cunningham can overcome his narrow margins to win the U.S. Senate race. Both races don’t look good for the Democrats even with the outstanding votes that are being counted. The same can be said for some other state races. One exception is of Jessica Holmes who is running for North Carolina Labor Commissioner that is potentially still winnable. That would be exciting if she is able to get over the hump.

Bennett Carpenter is the Lead Organizer with Durham for All.