By Sam Rolens
Down the block from the polling place at the Preparatory Literary Academy of Cultural Excellence School on Campbell Street in West Oakland on Tuesday morning, Lasheta Jackson stood on the corner yelling at cars that slowed to make the turn.
“You vote?” she’d ask countless times in the course of the day.
Most people had, or at least told her they had. Dressed in bright red shoes, blue pants and a red and white striped tank top, Jackson looked like she’d have a lot to say to someone thinking of skipping out on their civic duty.
“Vote,” she told a pedestrian towards the end of her tour of duty on the corner. “Vote any vote. Whoever you vote for, just vote.”
Jackson was one of many volunteers involved in a last-minute Get Out The Vote campaign run by Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), a federation of congregations, schools, and allied community organizations. But unlike Jackson, who said her personal goal for the day was to get her neighborhood to vote no matter what they voted for, OCO’s had a much more specific interest in herding people into the booth.
“The whole purpose of us today is getting people out to vote on Proposition 30,” campaign organizer Brandon Sturdivant told a group of volunteers during a short training. Proposition 30, which in order to avoid sharp budget cuts in schools proposes both a slight sales tax increase and an higher taxes on earners making more than $250,000 per year, is strongly supported by OCO, says Sturdivant.
The bulk of OCO’s get-out-the-vote effort Tuesday was aimed at a list of voters who had already expressed their support for Prop 30–a list OCO compiled after months of voter cold-calling. On Tuesday, it was the job of dozens of volunteers to knock and doors and make calls in order to make sure every voter on the list of Prop 30 supporters had voted.
The eleventh-hour effort had most participants flustered, as Sturdivant trained the volunteers with a sense of urgency tied to the countdown until the polls closed. At noon Sturdivant assigned walking beats to volunteers including students from local highschools and members of Bend the Arc, a Jewish organization dedicated to social justice. In a dinning room of the Bay Community Fellowship church, Sturdivant sped through a crash course in canvassing, his eye on the clock. Their goal was to reach 750 voters by the end of the day, either by phone or in person, and Sturdivant was eager to get started.
“Our goal is to say that zero people voted,” he told the volunteers as he wrapped up the presentation. He then paused, looking perplexed as though reviewing this sentence for error while the volunteers broke into laughter. He rubbed his hand over tired eyes. “No,” he said, hastily correcting himself. “Our goal is to say that zero people didn’t vote. Okay.”
Doughnuts and coffee, apples and juice boxes were laid out on tables in the basketball court behind the Bay Community Fellowship Church. Volunteers grazed on snacks and sipped at coffee while getting ready to head out into the neighborhoods. A few volunteers were students from Ralph J. Bunche High School, where Sturdivant had recently spoken regarding the importance of Prop 30. Luquan Aubrey, 18, reviewed his walking beat and said he was excited to be voting for the first time.
“It always seemed pretty cool to vote,” he said. As he got ready to head out onto his beat, he readjusted his Raiders cap and said he’s never felt nervous about voting. “It feels regular,” he said. “Like something you’re supposed to do.”
Alia Funes, 17, was annoyed at the idea that she’d have to wait four whole years before voting in her first presidential election, but said she was glad to be helping with Prop 30. Funes, who was wearing a long feather earring and a pink streak in her hair, was recently elected Bunche’s president.
“I’d totally be interested in going into politics,” she said. “Or sports massage therapy. But if that doesn’t work out, I’ll go to law school.”
Ari Breakstone, 27, got involved through Break the Arc, and said most people don’t take voting as seriously as they should. “It’s the most important safeguard to democracy,” he said. Breakstone said he doesn’t trust most elected officials to act in the best interested of the public, so initiatives like Prop 30 are important because they can be approved by the public directly.
“It’s all about voter turnout,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen, nothing will get solved.”
Volunteers armed with maps and talking points fanned out through West Oakland on Tuesday afternoon, leaving in waves from the Bay Community Fellowship Church after being briefed in Sturdivant’s repeated boot-camp training sessions. They knocked on doors, imploring voters to not only vote, but to vote yes on Prop 30. Beyond their lists of Prop 30 supporters, volunteers called out to passing cars and posed the question of the day with grins to passing pedestrians:
“Did you vote?”
Anthony Jones, 57, had been enlisted to cook for the Barbeque planned for 2pm at the behest of his son who was involved in the campaign. Jones cooked with his 8 year-old grandson, Brandon, while volunteers came and went throughout the day, checking off lists of voters yet to be contacted. Jones credited the Obama 2008 campaign for pulling many young people into politics, and for helping inspire community pushes like OCO’s Prop 30 campaign.
“People are a lot more educated, and young people are more willing to be involved,” said Jones. “It’s even more exciting than 2008. We’ve done something, and now we’re trying to continue something.”