A few weeks ago when I volunteered with the Democratic Party, I grabbed a pamphlet on my way out. When I opened the pamphlet upon arriving home, I read a list of “10 Reasons Why We Are California Democrats!” The third reason listed said “Democrats believe that a quality public education and the opportunity to succeed should be available to all Californians, not just a privileged few.” During my recent volunteer experience at the Battleground California East Los Angeles headquarters, I found this statement to ring true in the overall culture of the campaign office itself.
(Volunteer at the Battleground CA East LA HQ on Election Day by calling (323) 263-3587 or find a HQ near you.)
The Battleground California East LA headquarters is located in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood on the East Side of Los Angeles that is mostly populated by working class Latinos. The campaign office opened specifically for this year’s election cycle, and it will close shortly after. Its primary focus is on two important propositions that will be on the November Ballot: Propositions 30 and 32. These propositions are particularly relevant to the community members that the Battleground California East LA headquarters serves. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), for example, is numerically the largest public school system in all of California. The students of LAUSD schools—many of whom I volunteered with—will bear the consequences of severe budget cuts if Proposition 30 does not pass. Additionally, people of the working class, like many East LA residents, tend to be members of labor unions. If Proposition 32 passes, union contributions to candidates will be banned, eliminating union members from the political process. Along with students from local high schools, I conducted telephone calls to the residents of Los Angeles, informing them of these propositions and encouraging them to vote.
The campaign office is quite intimate. It’s a small space with about five tables for volunteers to conduct their calls. The walls are covered with both standard campaign signs and personalized artwork made by the student volunteers, with nearly every piece making some sort of a political statement. The atmosphere is incredibly welcoming; I felt a part of the Battleground California East LA “family” from the moment I walked in.
A woman named Saira who trained me on, for one, understanding the propositions and, for two, speaking about them over the phone, first greeted me. The one-on-one training made me feel comfortable with learning the material and asking questions. Saira later told me about how she got involved with the Battleground California East LA headquarters. Saira lives three houses down the street from the campaign office. While taking a casual walk one day, she noticed the campaign office and thought she’d simply check it out. She soon became an intern and shortly after moved up to her current position as field organizer. Similar to me, Saira was not politically active before this election cycle. Since her involvement, however, she’s learned the importance of community members informing themselves of policies that will have a direct effect on their lives. Saira is now exposing her children to the political process; her 11-year-old daughter even made a “Yes on Prop 30” sign that hangs on one of the walls at the campaign office.
The Deputy of the Battleground California East LA headquarters is a young man named Javier who recently graduated from University of California, Irvine (UCI). Javier first became interested in politics as a middle school student during the 2000 Presidential Election. His social science teacher required students to watch the presidential debates and then express which candidate they would vote for and why. For Javier, this experience planted the seed of what would later grow into active political involvement. As he got older, he realized that properly written and enforced policy could address the disparities he witnessed in his Latino community of Santa Ana, CA.
Through talking with Javier, I learned the headquarters’ decorations—specifically those made by student volunteers—were deliberately placed. He finds it important to create a space in which student volunteers can have a sense of ownership and empowerment, and in this campaign office, they certainly do. One of Javier’s main contributions to the Battleground California East LA headquarters is his establishment of an internship and fellowship program, which is intended to give students political experience beyond conducting phone calls to LA residents. For example, in addition to working 15 hours each week, fellows are trained to conduct presentations in their schools’ classrooms and student organizations. Presentations focus on the campaign office and the opportunity to volunteer. They are also responsible for training new volunteers. Javier and his staff reward students for their activism by taking them to outside political events. He even took a few students to see former President Bill Clinton during his visit to UCI where he rallied on behalf of several local congressional candidates. Some student’s even got to shake Clinton’s hand!
I was happy to speak with Rosa, a seventeen-year-old senior at Mendez Learning Center, who is a part of the internship program Javier created. As an intern, Rosa is required to complete 10 hours of volunteer work each week, but she’s come to enjoy it so much that she’ll often volunteer on weekends too. Before volunteering with the Battleground East LA headquarters, Rosa had never heard of a “proposition.” Now, she not only is aware of the propositions that will be on the November Ballot, but she recognizes how they will impact her community. Even more, Rosa is also teaching others about the propositions, including her older brother and sister-in-law—both of whom she also successfully pushed to become registered voters.
“Democrats believe that a quality public education and the opportunity to succeed should be available to all Californians, not just a privileged few.” Javier is the personification of this statement. He has come full circle since the day his middle school teacher required him to present which presidential candidate he would vote for and why. Now, as Deputy of a campaign office headquarters, he is providing similar encouragement and opportunities for students to learn about the political process. My recent volunteer experience illustrated to me that our children’s public education, and their ability to learn what it means to be an active citizen, does not just take place within the context of the classroom, but it can also occur in the space of a campaign office.
Lindsey Poole is a Communications Major at the University of Southern California. To join Lindsey as part of our invaluable team of dedicated volunteers, fill out this volunteer form or find a Democratic Headquarters near you.