This is what Democratic enthusiasm looks like

 Could you stuff any more volunteers into that room? It's lucky that the life-size cutouts of Obama and Clinton are two-dimensional. (Photo courtesy Democratic Party of Oak Park)


Could you stuff any more volunteers into that room? It’s lucky that the life-size cutouts of Obama and Clinton are two-dimensional. (Photo courtesy Democratic Party of Oak Park)

There are volunteers for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton all over the country who are donating money, knocking on doors, making phone calls, registering voters, traveling to new states, or helping out at rallies. This is the story of one very enthusiastic group.

The volunteers at the Democratic Party of Oak Park in Illinois (it’s where I live, so I get to brag) are legendary for their hard work and dedication. In 2008, to help elect Barack Obama president, an email would ask for 30 volunteers—and 60 would show up, week after week. Obama himself once called the town “Obama Park.”

So when the Clinton campaign wanted to launch its Illinois phone banking effort in the Chicago suburbs for the general election, the obvious partner was DPOP, as it’s called (pronounced DEE-POP). An email went out asking for volunteers for Sunday afternoon, hoping for 30 volunteers.

They received 119 RSVPs in just a few hours. In all, they got 171.

What do you do with all of that enthusiasm? You split people into shifts. You set up tables and tents outside in the parking lot for the overflow. You have people sit in the office and kitchen areas, propping up laptops as best they can while calling on their cell phones. You plan how to incorporate volunteers into future calling schedules.

Let’s look at some of the facts and figures:

  • The youngest volunteers were 16. The oldest were in their 70s.
  • There were more women than men, but it was a mixed group by gender, age, and race. Some volunteers were dismayed because the campaign hadn’t given them a script in Spanish—yet.
  • Of all the RSVPs, some people weren’t able to make it, or saw that the destination was farther than they thought, so the total dropped. But there were still more than 100 volunteers from the original list. And that didn’t include the usual DPOP volunteers who just always show up to help.
  • In the three scheduled hours (which ran over a bit), volunteers made 2,500 calls to voters.

This was all just on the first day.

State Sen. Don Harmon, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Oak Park, Chicago’s west side, and other western suburbs, was at the DPOP office for the afternoon of phone banking. He said the abundance of volunteers was a “great problem to have.”

Although DPOP has a strong group of veteran volunteers, Harmon estimated that about 80 percent of the phone-banking faces were new, according to a story in the local paper, the Wednesday Journal. Harmon, who also serves as president pro tempore of the Illinois Senate as well as on the Oak Park Democratic Committee, said “the enthusiasm could be a mixture of people responding positively to Clinton and reacting in revulsion to the possibility of a President Donald Trump. President Obama’s surging approval ratings may be helping, too.”

“Obama plus Donald Trump equals Hillary Clinton,” said Harmon. “There’s a degree of honest enthusiasm for Secretary Clinton, but there’s clearly a degree of apprehension for the alternative, which has turned people from cheerleaders into activists.”

Activists? We’ll take ‘em.

The two 16-year-old volunteers, Julie Cozette and Graham Wielgos, who obviously can’t vote in November, said that the phone-banking event was “their first time helping out with any political campaign,” according to the Journal story.

“I’m excited about the first female nominee for president,” said Cozette. She was invited to attend the phone bank by Wielgos, who noted that many of his peers were Bernie Sanders supporters.

“Last school year, there were a lot of Bernie supporters, but on Facebook, I see more and more people turning to Hillary,” said Wielgos.

Karen Fischer is executive director of DPOP. The original hours for the phone bank kickoff were 1 to 4 PM. With the overwhelming number of RSVPs, she and others reached out to potential phone-banking volunteers and asked them to come at 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. “Those we couldn’t reach came at 1. The work just flowed through the afternoon, with people coming and going.”

She said the high interest in helping the Clinton campaign is a combination of two factors: Clinton’s accomplishments and Donald Trump, an alternative she called “dismal.”

Overflow volunteers worked outside under tent awnings. They received encouragement from State Sen. Don Harmon, center. (Photo courtesy of Democratic Party of Oak Park)

Overflow volunteers worked outside under tent awnings. They received encouragement from State Sen. Don Harmon, center. (Photo courtesy of Democratic Party of Oak Park)

Fischer told the story of her two sisters, one a Bernie Sanders delegate and one a Bernie voter in the primary. The Bernie delegate is now supporting Clinton. The other sister recently returned from living in the United Kingdom. After the convention, she said, “You know, I didn’t know much about Hillary. But the convention has shown me everything she’s accomplished over the years. Now I’m firmly on board.” The convention helped “to convince those Bernie supporters that Hillary’s been out there working in the trenches for years,” Fischer said.

DPOP now holds its regular phone banking hours on Wednesday nights. “This will be changing soon,” Fischer said. “We’ll expand to include other nights for downticket Democrats.” They include statewide candidates such as Rep. Tammy Duckworth, currently leading incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk in the race for Senate, and Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza, running for state comptroller.

“We’re not going to weekends—yet,” Fischer said. But the level of interest and enthusiasm for this election is matching and possibly surpassing the 2008 presidential race. “People are really concerned. We weren’t at this stage in 2008.” Having this many volunteers was more like the height of the 2008 GOTV effort, she added.

Longtime volunteer and political activist Bob Haisman was part of the Sunday effort, and phone banks regularly. He also mans a booth for Democratic efforts near the local farmers’ market every Saturday. Haisman, a retired teacher, said it was common knowledge that DPOP phone banks were “legendary.”

“Did someone say ‘enthusiasm gap’?” Haisman asked. “I don’t see any.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 14, 2016.

One Comment on “This is what Democratic enthusiasm looks like

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