by Jeanne Finberg
The Economic Justice Committee sponsored Fran Schreiberg and Lora Jo Foo from Working America (WA) who presented on February 10 on WA’s canvassing project in Modesto which educates voters on economic issues in the Central Valley. The assumption is that many people in CA District 10 (Tracy, Manteca, Modesto, Turlock) voted against their own economic interests when they reelected Republican Jeff Denham to Congress in the 2016 election, despite voting for Hillary Clinton for President. Working America is a union-based organization with a fifteen-year history of organizing campaigns in swing states. This project, now based in Modesto, the closest swing district to the Bay Area, is the first time that Working America has worked in California and is the first time that they have used trained volunteers for canvassing. So far in Modesto, WA has knocked on 55,000 doors, had 30,000 conversations and convinced 21,500 people to sign up with WA – more than two thirds of the people—with a handful of paid local staff and 300 volunteers (mostly from the Bay Area). Working America is also starting a similar project in CA 21 Valadao, another swing district, further south, stretching from Fresno to Bakersfield.
Fran and Lora Jo talked about WA’s previous successes in educating and persuading voters by going door to door and making personal connections with voters and potential voters in the area. The keys to the success of their program is making the personal connection with all of the people – Democrats, Republicans, Independents and never voters– and listening to what the people say is of most interest to them before the primary. The canvassing is easy and non-confrontational because you are not pushing a candidate, or asking for money. The WA volunteers ask people which of these issues is most important to them: education, health care, jobs, corporate accountability or secure retirement, and then ask why. After the primary (with 6 Democrats and the 1 incumbent Republican running), volunteers will go back to the same houses and show the people the two winning candidates’ positions on the issue of primary importance to them. WA claims that studies show that this type of advocacy is very effective because they gain some trust and credibility from future voters before attempting to persuade them about how they should vote.
Approximately 80 people, both Kehilla members and non-members, attended the event, and 55 people filled out forms to volunteer with Working America. People unable to attend the event who would like information or materials or to sign up can contact Fran Schreiberg, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Kehilla member, Jeanne Finberg, Jeanne.email@example.com. I have been canvassing with WA in Modesto one Saturday a month since last June. I am a big cheerleader for the program and am happy to answer questions or try to address concerns. More volunteers are always welcome. It takes about an hour and twenty minutes to drive to Modesto from Kehilla; folks can arrange carpools from the online sign-up site. First time canvassers come at 10 (an hour early) for training; everyone is finished before 4.