Campaign Notebook: Volunteers Make the Call
Karen Jordan | February 5, 2013
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While campaign donations, policy positions, mailed flyers, debates, and endorsements all make up a big part of a school board race, the candidates for the three LAUSD School Board races also rely on a lot of phone calls, door knocking, and other kinds of “retail’ politics – some of which are coordinated out of storefront campaign headquarters and staffed by volunteers.
LA School Report asked some of the campaigns for permission to visit these offices and observe them in action. The Anderson and Garcia campaigns were happy to have us visit. We’ll try to visit other candidates’ campaign headquarters in the weeks to come.
On a recent weekday night at District 4 candidate Kate Anderson’s campaign headquarters in West L.A., a handful of volunteers are making phone calls in separate small rooms of an office suite and occasionally drifting in and out of a common area to grab a slice of just-delivered pizza.
It’s a typical night at the District 4 campaign office, according to campaign manager Madeleine Moore.
Anderson has her twin daughters, Darby and Emeline, in tow as she prepares to leave for an appearance at Loyola Marymount University.
“They really just come for the doughnuts,” Moore says – In jest.
Anderson’s daughters have provided the décor for the headquarters located in West Dale Plaza at the intersection of National Boulevard and Sawtelle Avenue. A picture of a smiling Hillary Clinton, sketched out with magic markers in the way only a child’s imagination could capture it, hangs in an “arts and crafts” room, surrounded by decorated paper plates covered with smiley faces and pictures of hearts drawn on them.
Volunteers, who total five this night, not counting Moore and volunteer coordinator, Nick Bronson, use their personal cell phones to call voters.
“I’m calling you to talk about my friend, Kate Anderson,” begins one caller. “Kate is a lawyer, a child and education advocate and the mother of twin girls who attend an LAUSD elementary school.”
The focus tonight is on absentee voters. In one of the offices, Staples “Easy” buttons sit on tables for people to hit when the caller says “yes,” or when the volunteers receive several yeses in a row, according to Moore.
It’s a relatively quiet space, though Moore and Bronson admit they sometimes have to contend with noise from the kitchen of a Korean restaurant next door.
“It’s very loud, but it’s almost musical sometimes,” Bronson says.
The office space is being rented from the plaza’s property manager, David Altemus, whose wife, Jan, sits in a small office surrounded by snacks and making calls. With eight grandchildren who are either in or will soon be LAUSD students, Altemus says she feels it is her duty.
“We’re very concerned about the quality of the education they’re getting,” according to Altemus. “There are not a lot of great options after middle school. We want to see that change. It made it very easy to get involved in Kate’s campaign, and I think she’s terrific.”
“I am so lucky,” Anderson says. “We’ve got a really solid group of volunteers who are inspired and dedicated, and that’s what it’s going to take. What’s neat is it’s not about me. It’s about what we all want to do at LAUSD.”
Signs that hang up in the main hallway separating the small offices list precinct captains who are volunteering to walk in their neighborhoods and a poster with snapshots of the volunteers, some with gold stars next to their faces. Each star stands for the number of shifts each volunteer has worked.
Miles away on South Soto Street in Boyle Heights, visitors to the campaign headquarters of LAUSD School Board President Monica Garcia, the incumbent running in District 2, are greeted by framed photos showing Garcia with family and community advocates — as well as with President Barack Obama.
Volunteers, who also use their own cell phones, sit at tables in a large, open space addressing voters in both English and Spanish. Some refer to lists of talking points about Garcia’s accomplishments.
“Yes, We Can” and “Social Workers for Monica,” among other signs, alternately written in English and Spanish, hang overhead.
Garcia, donning a “MoniCAN” sticker sits under a “Team Garcia” sign making calls herself.
“I am so grateful,” Garcia says of her volunteers. “It reminds me every day that people care about this work. It’s way bigger than Monica Garcia. This is about an agenda. It’s about student rights. It’s about putting children first.”
Amaury Chavez, a college student from Pico Rivera, says he wanted to donate his time because he has seen the changes Garcia has made in the area.
“I believe in her work,” he says.
Referring to the talking points, Chavez says that many of the volunteers also “try to personalize the message” when they make calls. Many are also parents.
For some, this campaign marks the second in which they have volunteered to help. Angela Saez, who has two children in LAUSD schools, thinks there are definite differences from the previous campaign.
“This time around, I see a lot more support for Monica because people are seeing the changes that have been made,” says Saez through a translator.
Those include schools becoming more welcoming places for parents, according to Saez.
Another parent, Alicia Ortiz, says she’s interested in calling voters because she is anxious to support Garcia and spread the word about her accomplishments.
“You give people information about her leadership, what she’s done and especially because she’s a woman,” Ortiz says through a translator. “Let’s keep going, women!”