Written by the 2018 Washington Bus Fall Interns: Octo, Avery and Maya
One of the best things about interning at the Bus is the sense of community we build and the way we empower people through our work. This fall, we worked tirelessly to register voters before the election, and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) after ballots were mailed. We focused on bringing voter registration to students instead of making them come to us. We organized with high schools and local community colleges, giving class presentations and canvassing on college campuses. We also had tables with information about voting and about the Bus at events at the Vera Project, a youth-based arts organization, as well as at events like the SEIU 775 conference. At the Bus, our mission is to combat misinformation about voting, let people know how easy it is to vote in Washington, and help youth and other marginalized groups better engage in politics. Our GOTV work consisted of phonebanks in our office and doorknocking events in King County and Pierce County. We could not have accomplished our GOTV goals without our amazing volunteers. We fostered a sense of community at our phonebanks as we ate snacks, discussed interesting calls and watched fun movies together. For us, it’s important to remember that politics isn’t just about people in suits making decisions – it’s about people like us, being able to have fun while taking charge of our lives and working to improve the world around us. Our work this fall made a difference in local elections. All of our endorsed candidates won their elections. We registered 3,811 people to vote, made 16,503 phone calls and knocked on 1,397 doors. We had meaningful conversations with many young people about why they need to vote and, most importantly, we had fun doing it!
On GOTV weekends, we door knocked with Bus staff in the 30th and 47th legislative districts around Kent and Federal Way. Like phone banking, this activity required us to talk to strangers about their excitement for voting. The main difference is that we were meeting people in person in front of their house on a Saturday or Sunday morning. In addition to inquiring about people’s excitement to vote, we also asked people if they would be willing to endorse progressive candidates. Luckily, we had partners when we went door knocking around different neighborhoods, so there was always a good support system in case someone forgot a talking point or an unexpected conversation developed. The partnerships were perhaps the most engaging part because it meant closely working with someone you may not know. My most memorable experience was with a volunteer from Nathan Hale.Working with this volunteer meant I got to share how I step outside of my comfort zone to engage in conversation. He was definitely nervous about talking to strangers, but throughout the day I provided opportunities for him to speak about ballot submission and the endorsed candidates. Through partnerships like this one, we could exchange our knowledge on how to engage voters, which helped everyone build on their experiences. We are proud of the community fostered in these personal and shared experiences because it contributed to greater voter turnout. Staff, volunteers, and interns alike grow into a community while working together to canvass. It was amazing to see people from various backgrounds feel united around political activism and we’re glad to tell you that it was a blast.
[Image description: Octo smiling at camera]
For me, Avery, one of the best experiences of my internship was visiting a school that is a part of Seattle Interagency Academy. Seattle Interagency Academy is a network of small high schools that provide education for students who have been unable to continue their schooling in the mainstream Seattle Public Schools. We visited the school to host a voter registration drive and to do class presentations about civic engagement. During our presentation we all sat in a circle to talk about voting and what voting meant to us. When we asked who in the group was planning to vote, only two or three of the thirty-odd students raised their hands. We went around the circle asking people why they didn’t vote, their answers weren’t surprising: “I don’t think it matters,” “The government doesn’t care about people like me,” “It’s not worth my time.” These are all things we’ve heard from a lot of other students from marginalized backgrounds, as there isn’t a lot of evidence they can see about politicians caring about their needs. Will, the Bus staff lead, and I, shared stories about believing those same things when we were younger. A single vote may not feel like it matters, but as a group our votes count. We explained to the students that voting is a way they can take the future into their own hands and try to ensure it’s not just politicians who get to make decisions about their lives. By the end of our time there, almost every eligible student had registered to vote. A lot of students thanked us and said the presentation made them feel like they had a voice for the first time in a long time. To see these students feel more confident and empowered to advocate for themselves was an incredible feeling.
[Image description: Avery in front of Seattle Center fountain]
People who work in the election cycle often talk about how draining GOTV season is – and with good reason. It’s hard to be face-to-face (or on the phone) with someone who simply doesn’t want to talk to you attempting to convince them that their vote really matters. And what do you say to really engage a classroom full of 17- and 18-year-olds who may not even realize there’s an election just around the corner? I think everyone who works for a campaign or volunteers at a GOTV event eventually figures out a message – or even just an opening line – that works for them, and that feels true and genuine. There were a few conversations with voters that really stuck out to me. One voter I talked to while doorknocking in South King County thanked me and my canvassing partner profusely for the work we were doing and told us that his daughter – who was the person we’d been attempting to reach – had moved to Texas but was canvassing for Beto O’Rourke. Unsurprisingly, we left that house feeling energized! But it often still feels like a big challenge to educate and inform the public. However, the fact that it’s challenging is the very reason that our work through the Bus is so urgent – because so often it’s a sign that the people we’re talking to aren’t used to being reached out to. A new voter in South King County may not feel that voting is important to them because no one has ever bothered to ask for their vote – and that’s where the Bus steps in. Our message is simple: their vote matters.
[Image description: Maya smiling at camera]