“L.Folks, the air quality is in the red zone today. The EPA says people with lung or heart problems should avoid prolonged outdoor activities. “
That was J. R. de Vera, one of two directors of UNITE-HERE! independent editions Campaign to elect Biden and Harris in Reno, Nevada. UNITE-HERE! is a union that represents 300,000 workers in the hospitality industry – this world of hotels and bars, restaurants and caterers. Ninety percent of its members are now fired because Donald Trump botched the Covid-19 pandemic, and many are excited about the chance to get him out of the White House.
“Some of you would like to stay in your hotel rooms today and talk on the phone,” continues JR. Fifty faces fall into the 50 small zoom fields on my laptop screen. Advertisers would much rather speak to voters at their doors than call them through a telephone bank. Nevertheless, here in the burning, smoking West, the union is as committed to the health and safety of its own people as it is to pull Trump out of office. So for a lot of them it will be phone calls.
My own job doesn’t change much from day to day. Despite living in San Francisco, I came to Reno to do back room logistics in the cavernous warehouse of a union campaign office: ordering supplies, processing refunds, and occasionally helping the data team map the areas our recruiters need to go.
Our field campaign is just one of several campaigns the union is running in key states. We’re also in Arizona and Florida and just started door-to-door sourcing in Philadelphia last week. Social media, television commercials, mass mail, and phone calls are important elements in any modern day election campaign, but none of them are a substitute for face-to-face conversations with voters.
We have been in Reno since the beginning of August and until last week we had the only field campaign in the state supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. (Just recently our success with secure campaigns encouraged the Democratic Party to begin There’s a basic game of its own here and elsewhere.) We know exactly how many doors to knock on, how many Biden voters we need to identify, how many of them we need to convince in order to create a specific voting plan, and how many we do have to drop out of the vote during Nevada’s two-week primary to win here.
We’re running a much larger campaign in Clark County, which is home to nearly three-quarters of Nevada’s population (mostly Las Vegas). Washoe County, home of twin cities Reno and Sparks, is the second largest population center with 16 percent of Nevadans. The remaining 14 counties, collectively known as “the rural population,” make up the rest. Washoe and Clark are barely blue; the Rurals, decidedly red.
In 2018 UNITE-HERE! ‘S soil campaign We helped ensure that Jacky Rosen would move an earlier seat in the Republican Senate, and we helped elect Steve Sisolak, Democrat, as governor. He has proven to be a valuable ally for the union. signing the Adolfo Fernandez Act, a nationwide first law to protect Nevada workers and businesses from the worst effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite a threatened lawsuit against Trump (later) dismiss Sisolak also signed an electoral reform bill that would allow any active voter in Nevada to receive a postal vote. Mainly due to the work of the union in 2018, this state now has an all-female democratic senatorial delegation, a democratic governor and a female and democratic majority in the state parliament. Elections, as experts of all kinds are known, have consequences.
Door to door on Planet A.
“Se puede, o no se puede?”
“¡Sí, se puede!”
(“Can we do it?” “Yes, we can!”)
The morning online promotional meeting starts with that call and answer, followed by a rousing handshake. Then we talk about where people are going that day and often hear one of the advertiser’s personal stories to explain why he or she is committed to this campaign. Next, let’s take a look at the daily forecast for heat and air quality, as much of the west coast is on fire while smoke and ashes travel vast distances. The temperatures here in August were in the low 100s (in Las Vegas often 115 degrees). And the air? Let’s just say there were days when I wished that breathing was optional.
Climate change activists rightly point out that there is no such thing as a planet B for humanity, but on some days it seems like our recruiters are already working on a fiery planet A that is quickly becoming uninhabitable. California’s forest fires – including its very firstGigafires“- have consumed more than 4 million acres In the past two months, ash clouds have been sent at record heights and an astonishing amount of smoke has been released into the Reno Sparks Basin. It’s a little better at the moment, but for weeks I couldn’t see the desert mountains surrounding the area. Some days I couldn’t even see the Grand Sierra Reno Casino, a quarter of a mile from the freeway I drive to work every morning.
For our recruiters – almost anyone who has been laid off as a laid-off waiter, bartender, housekeeper or hotel employee – the climate emergency and Covid-19 pandemic are literally on their faces as they put on their N95 masks to stroll the streets of Reno go. This also applies to the voters they meet at their doors. Every evening advertisers report (via Zoom, of course) what these voters are saying, and for the first time I can remember they are now talking about the climate. You’re mad at a president who pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement and they fear a potentially bleak future for their children and grandchildren. You may not have read Joe Bidens position about clean energy and environmental justice, but they know Donald Trump doesn’t have such a plan.
Despite guns, germs and smoke
In his classic book Guns, germs and steelJared Diamond suggested that the three variables in his title went in large part in explaining how European societies and the United States controlled much of the planet in the 20th century. It just so happens that our door-to-door advertisers here in Reno are faced with a similar triad of obstacles (if you replace that last “steel” with “smoke”).
Guns and other threats
Nevada is an open carry state and gun ownership is widespread here. It’s not uncommon for someone to walk around a supermarket with a gun on their hip. A 2015 state law ended most gun registration requirements and another allows visitors to purchase guns without permission. So gun sightings are everyday occurrences.
Even so, it can be baffling if you are not used to having a voter open the door with a pistol that is all too visible, even when securely holstered. And on occasion our recruiters have even watched these guns leave their holsters when the person at the door realizes why they’re there (if the campaign involves the police). Advertisers are trained to follow very clear protocols, including leaving an area immediately if exposed to a verbal or physical threat.
African American and Latinx recruiters who previously fought in Reno say Trump supporters seem even more encouraged in 2020 than in the past to use racist slurs against them. More than once, neighbors have called the police on our people’s home, essentially blaming them while promoting black or brown. Two days before I wrote this piece, the police pulled a young Latino door knocker because neighbors had called to complain he walked up and down the street with a gun. (The “weapon” in question was undoubtedly the electronic tablet that he used to record the results of conversations with voters.) The officer apologized.
That reminds me of another apology that was offered recently. A woman approached an African American recruiter and wanted to know what on earth he was doing in her neighborhood. When she learned his mission, she apologized as insultingly as the original question. “We’re not used to seeing people like that you around here, ”she explained.
Before the pandemic, my partner and I had planned to work with UNITE-HERE! in Reno during this election, as we did in 2018. But she is five years older than me and her history of pneumonia means catching Covid-19 could be particularly devastating for her. So she stayed in San Francisco and instead supported the efforts of the union’s national telephone bank.
Given the difficulties the novel coronavirus brings, we didn’t really expect there would be a soil campaign this year. But the union was determined to get this small but real addition to the voting a field campaign can produce. So they put strict health protocols in place for all of us: masks and at least six feet of space between everyone at all times; No visits to bars, restaurants or casinos, even outside of opening hours; Temperature tests for everyone entering the office; and the immediate reporting of possible Covid-19 symptoms to our health and safety officer. Before the union rented blocks of rooms at two long-stay hotels, our operations manager reviewed their masking protocols for staff and guests and checked their ventilation systems to ensure that the air conditioning units were directly outside and not in a common air system for the whole building.
So far, none of our 57 recruiters have tested positive, a record we want to keep when we add another 17 full-time employees to our team next week.
Another feature of our coronavirus protocol: we don’t speak to voters who don’t put on a mask. I was skeptical that advertisers could trick voters into masking themselves, even with the individually wrapped surgical masks we offer to anyone who doesn’t or doesn’t have one on hand. However, it turns out that in this bizarre election year, people like to talk, express their feelings and be heard. So many of the people we advertise have suffered so much this year that they are surprised and delighted when someone shows up at their door wondering how they are.
And the answer to that question is not good for so many potential voters – with job losses, housing threats, children struggling with online schooling, and hunger pangs becoming increasingly commonplace. Yes, a surprising number of people, either already masked or ready to put one on, would like to talk to us about a choice they generally consider to be the most important of their lives.
And did I mention it’s smoky in here? It can make your eyes water, your throat burn, and the urge to cough can overwhelm you. In fact, the symptoms of smoke exposure are eerily similar to Covid-19. More than one recruiter affected by smoke has spent at least five days in isolation in a hotel room, waiting for negative coronavirus test results.
The White House website is proud Quotes The president in his government’s test record: “We are doing enormous tests. We have the best tests in the world. “Washoe County’s health authorities are doing what they can, but if this is the best in the world, the world is in worse shape than we thought.
The power of a personal story
Why are the UNITE-HERE advertisers knocking! Given the real risk and obstacles they face, at the doors six days a week to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris? Her answers are a perfect embodiment of the feminist dictum “The personal is political”. Each of them has a story about why he or she is here. More than one person grew up homeless and never wants another child to live like this. One is a DACA Recipient who knows that a re-elected Donald Trump will continue his crusade end this amnesty for undocumented people brought to the United States as children. By participating in union activism, many have come to understand that workers can really beat the boss if they organize – and Trump, they say, is the greatest boss of them all.
Years of political campaigning have taught union leaders that voters can do this think on issues, but they are moved to vote on what they do feeling about you. The goal of any conversation at these doors is to create a short but deep personal connection with the voter so that each of them can feel the importance of voting this year. Recruiters do this by asking how a voter is doing during these troubled times, listening – really listening – and responding to every response they get. And they do this by being vulnerable enough to share the personal stories that lie behind their presence at the voter’s doorstep.
A recruiter lost his home at the age of 7 when his parents separated. He and his mother stayed in shelters for months, camping in a garden shed on a friend’s property. One day he knocked on a door recently and found a Trump supporter on the other side. He noticed a shed near the house, pointed to it, and told the man that he lived in something similar as a child. That Trumpster started crying. He started talking about how he’d had the exact same experience and how as a teenager he had to keep his family together when his heroin-addicted parents couldn’t deal with it. He had never spoken to any of his current friends about how he grew up, and over the course of that conversation with our recruiter, he agreed that Donald Trump was unlikely to make life better for people like her. He immediately changed his voice to Biden. (And that recruiter will be back to make sure they actually vote.)
Harvard University Professor Marshall Ganz Pioneering work done the “public narration,” the practice of organizing through storytelling. It is at the center of much organizational effort these days. For example, during the 2008 Obama campaign, thousands of volunteers were trained to tell their stories to potential voters. The It will be a better project has collected more than 50,000 personal messages from queer older people to LGBTQ youth who may be contemplating suicide or other forms of self-harm – and assured them that their own lives have actually gotten better.
As the kind of political junkie who devours the news on a daily basis, I was skeptical of the power of this approach, although I probably shouldn’t have. How many times have I asked my mother or father to “tell me a story” as a child? What are our lives besides stories? Humans are narrative animals, and as rational as they may be, we still live through stories.
Dates can give me information about problems that are important to me, but they cannot tell me what problems I am having should Care about. I end up worrying about racial and gender equality and the climate emergency because each of them affects people and other creatures that I feel connected to.
A campaign within a campaign
Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of UNITE-HERE’s campaign! Is the union’s commitment to developing the leadership skills of every advertiser. The goal is more than winning what is undoubtedly the most important choice of our lives. It’s also about sending back to all hotel, restaurant, casino and airport caterers who can continue to organize and stand up for their working class sisters and brothers. This means creating an individual development plan for each advertiser.
Team leaders work with everyone to turn their stories into tools that can be used in honest and generous ways to create a real connection with voters. You are helping these advertisers think about what else they want to learn and developing ways for them to master technical tools like computer tables and databases.
There is a particular focus on providing such opportunities to women and people of color, who make up the vast majority of union membership. Valuable hours of campaign time are also devoted to workshops on understanding and combating systemic racism and combating sexual harassment, President Trump said acquainted with in most repulsively personal Path. The union believes that its success depends on promoting a culture of respect as well as the persistent negotiation for which it is famous.
After months of the pandemic and nearly four years of the objectively worst, most corrupt, incompetent, and possibly even most destructive Presidency in nation history, it is a relief to be able to do something useful again. And as sentimental as it sounds, it’s an honor to be able to do so with this special group of courageous and committed people. Sí, se puede. Yes we can.