As SURJ members who organize around racial justice, we knew there was a lot at stake in the 2022 midterm elections. We witnessed the gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts especially targeting Black, Indigenous, and Brown voters. We knew that reproductive justice, civil and human rights, and democracy itself were under attack. And we knew we had to act. That’s why dozens of SURJ Bay Area members got involved in initiatives in Georgia and Arizona. Even with the limitations that non-profit organizations have with respect to elections, we could still work to Get Out the Vote and protect election integrity. And even with some of us having misgivings about electoral politics in general, we knew we needed to engage in this critical moment.
PHONE BANKING TO GEORGIA
From early October through election week, SURJ Bay Area members phone banked with the New Georgia Project (NGP), a non-profit, nonpartisan civic engagement organization that believes in the inherent power of Georgians who have been ignored for too long: Black, Brown, young, LGBTQ+, rural Georgians, and others who have the power to move the state forward. SURJ members took to the phones, helping to call thousands to get out the vote.
Lynn from SURJ’s Mobilization Committee compared phone banking to going to a demonstration. “I know my going to a demo and doing phone banking as an individual doesn't really make a difference, but as part of a movement, it can have a powerful impact. Over 7,000 phone calls were made each day that we made calls.”
Steve, also from the Mobilization Committee, signed up to phone bank and encouraged others to do so as well, even if some people didn’t respond to the calls. “I found the conversations that I did have meaningful, painful and motivating, like one woman who told me she and her husband are both working two jobs and yet can't afford to get needed dental work.”
“You can hear the determination on the phone lines, but people still need accurate info to get around the intentional barriers,” stressed Holly, from the SURJ Bay Area Fundraising Committee. For her, the effort also took on a personal urgency. “I have Black family members in Georgia and voter suppression hit our family in several ways. For example, a Black relative disappeared from the Georgia voter rolls even though she voted in the last election. But when she realized this, there was no time for her to re-register.”
In all, SURJ phone bankers covered 47 shifts, helping people register to vote, request mail-in ballots, and navigate barriers set up to suppress their votes. We connected people to rides to the polls or recruited them as volunteers. SURJ’s Queer & Trans Committee put out a special call for phone bankers for one of the Saturday shifts, and on Mondays, our members joined forces with Catalyst Project and alumni of their Anne Braden Program.
“This election,” pointed out Natalie from the Fundraising Committee, “would determine whether this country took one step closer to authoritarianism or one step closer to true representative democracy. When I phonebanked in Georgia, the people I talked to understood these stakes and went above and beyond to show up with the power of their votes.”
ELECTION PROTECTION ARIZONA
SURJ’s involvement in Arizona grew out of a connection with a former SURJ Bay Area organizer who had moved back to their home state a few years ago. Now active with the Phoenix-based group, White PAWS (People Against White Supremacy), they put out the call for people to join Arizonians in election protection efforts. Some two dozen SURJ activists signed up, representing every one of the chapter’s seven committees – Base Building, Communications, Fundraising, Mobilization, Policy, Queer & Trans, and Youth & Families.
Youth & Families committee mobilized the largest number of its members to participate. “For me, going to Arizona to provide election defense was an abolitionist practice of community care and interconnectedness,” explained Mack, one of the committee members. “Everyone should be able to vote without intimidation and fear, and we were given the opportunity to show up and care for our larger community in a tangible way in the fight against fascism.”
To make the trip to Arizona possible, we fundraised to insure all who wanted to go could take part, and a team helped coordinate logistics on the ground in Phoenix. We had our first training over Zoom.
Once in Arizona, we headed to an in-person training on the Sunday before election day. For many of us, it was the first time we had seen each other in person in over two years because of Covid. For some, we had never even met before in person. We laughed, we hugged, and then enjoyed a lunch hosted by the Arizona Democracy Resource Center and the coalition, Election Protection Arizona.
Their lead trainer warmly welcomed SURJ volunteers, telling us how powerful it was to have us join them at polling places throughout Maricopa County. She shared with us the history of racist attacks against immigrants and people of color in the state through policies, policing, and ICE. Despite these conditions, she told us how even undocumented folks were involved in voter mobilization efforts and election protection at polling places.
That evening, White PAWS hosted SURJ Bay Area at a local park where they provided an amazing dinner and talked to us about the important work they are doing to support their partner organizations - BLM Phoenix Metro, Poder in Action, and Black Phoenix Organizing Collective.
On Monday, the day before the election, SURJ members and friends gathered together at Piestewa Peak Park for lunch and more discussions and role-plays to help us prepare for the next day. Then some took to the trails across the cactus-covered hills to hike the desert terrain.
Tuesday, election day, we were up at the crack of dawn. Working in small teams, which also included local people, our goal was to de-escalate any hostile situations we might encounter at voting sites so as to prevent violence, arrests, intimidation, and suppression of voters. We would also serve as a resource to people so they could safely exercise their right to vote.
SURJ teams were dispatched throughout Maricopa County where issues related to ballot tabulation and ballot printer malfunctions resulted in long lines. Holly from SURJ’s Fundraising Committee was part of a team at one of those locations. “We saw firsthand how conspiracy theories quickly spread but also how most people stayed in the line and saw it through. And we also saw how important our presence was – from directing voters and answering questions to thwarting efforts of people who were trying to leaflet too close to the polling place.”
“I volunteered for the poll defender project in Arizona because I perceived this election as our last chance to save our country,” said Judy, another Fundraising Committee member. “I was scared because of possible violence but felt safe enough working with other SURJers to take the risk.”
Felicia from SURJ’s Communications Committee echoed that sentiment. “Moving outside of our Bay Area bubble felt so important and we were able to make a real difference by supporting people who had been working on the ground for years in an especially challenging environment, an open-carry state where right wing militias and racist police intimidation and violence is rampant.”
“My experience in Arizona was deeply transformative,” reflected Mack from Youth & Families Committee. “I met so many amazing people and organizers who are working towards a multiracial democracy that works for all of us.”
As Taylor Moss, Election Protection Director with the Arizona Democracy Resource Center, told SURJ members, “We could not have had such a successful day protecting each others' right to vote without you. Thank you for your commitment to the work and each other.”
“This was an amazing opportunity for us to show up,” stressed Jean from SURJ’s Base Building Committee. “We took concrete steps to block the drive towards authoritarianism and white supremacy and to continue our efforts to build a multiracial democracy. There is still much to be done but we are inspired because this is what solidarity looks like.”
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