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Let’s face it – we’ve all had a plenty of reasons to feel down during this election. The hateful media rhetoric, inconsistent polling and the vitriol being spewed on social media have left me exhausted and exasperated. One moment, I am inspired by the first lady’s incredible speeches, and the next I feel defeated after conversations with members of my own family who support Donald Trump. Like many of my peers and colleagues, I cannot wait for this craziness to end. I even set a countdown on my phone leading up to 8pm on Tuesday evening.
Yet somehow, just hours before the election, I feel optimistic and energized. The antidote: a short but meaningful stint on the campaign trail with Salud Carbajal, a J Street-endorsed candidate for Congress on California’s Central Coast. Mr. Carbajal, who serves as Supervisor for Santa Barbara County’s First District, is running to represent California’s 24th district, which includes Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and part of Ventura County. His predecessor, Lois Capps, who has been an advocate for progressive issues for years, is retiring after serving faithfully in Congress for 18 incredible years.
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Salud’s campaign office is located in the Democratic Party headquarters, right off State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. With the windows plastered with campaign signs and literature, HQ is impossible to miss. The door is always propped open, ushering in passersby who want to help, or who are merely curious about the campaign’s operations.
The campaign infrastructure is impressive, and just being here has started to thaw my pessimistic, election-weary heart. I watch the campaign staff run around, answering phones and attending to walk-ins. And, the most challenging job of all, herding the swarm of volunteers – from a rockstar nine-year-old caller, to local high schools students, to folks in their eighties and nineties. Each time someone gets a “yes” from a caller, we ding a bell, and the whole office cheers.
Many of the older volunteers keep telling me that the young volunteers give them hope, but I’m sure I’m more inspired by their stories of activism. One volunteer told me she moved out here almost 50 years ago and has volunteered in every election since. When she first arrived, the district was entirely Republican. When Walter Capps, Lois Capps husband, ran for Congress in 1996, she and many others like her mobilized voters to flip the district blue – and won.
In California’s 24th, I’m watching democracy unfold in front of my eyes. From the talented staff working behind the scenes, local volunteers taking committing hours upon hours to the campaign and down-to-earth candidates like Salud, who not only comes into the office almost every day, but also introduces himself to all the new volunteers that remind me that maybe it’s not so bad after all.
Today, I’ll be staffing the polls, waiting at the 100 foot line, making sure no one who deserves the right to vote is disenfranchised. My work at J Street feels important, and spending time in this office is evidence of our leaders’ hard work. The feeling of having my feet on the ground, talking with undecided voters, watching one volunteer make over a hundred calls, hearing the bell ding each time — I know that feeling will sustain me through election night and into the next administration.