Celebrating TJ Cox’s CA-21 Victory

By Alice Towey and Ted Lam

More than 150 activists joined TJ Cox and his family on December 9 to celebrate his nail-biting win of the California District 21 (CA-21) Congressional seat, called nearly a month after the election. The party, crammed into the Alameda home of Mary McFarland, a tireless organizer from East Bay for TJ, included several Indivisible East Bay members. 

IEB was part of the Congressional District 21 (CD-21) Action Coalition steering committee, made up representatives from many local progressive groups brought together by the amazing Kook Huber in early 2018. Several of us from the CA-11 United team represented IEB at the celebration: Alice Towey, Matt Blackwell, and Ted Lam and his son. Although most of us at the large gathering hadn’t met many other people there in person, we’d emailed, texted, messaged, and Slacked one another for most of the year as we worked to get TJ’s message out to CA-21 voters. And many IEB members phone and text banked, postcarded, and canvassed for TJ in the Central Valley from the March before the primaries through October.

Matt, Alice, Kook and Ted at TJ Cox celebration party
Matt, Alice, Kook and Ted at TJ Cox celebration party

TJ, Kathy, and their two teenage sons arrived early and were mobbed by well-wishers. Eventually, they made it into the living room where East Bay for TJ leaders spoke about the hard work that went into the campaign. Chills went up and down our spines as, one after the other, speakers spoke movingly about why they got involved. On a lighter note, a running joke during the party was that one woman, Carol, would finally get her husband Jim back: Jim spent nearly a year and a half in CA-21, laying the groundwork for the eventual Democratic candidate. On one of the living room tables was a picture of Carol holding a sign: “Free Jim!”

When TJ got the mic he opened on a humorous note. He said that since his was the final Congressional race called, he was asked to speak to the entire House Democratic caucus, and joked that with his election the Republican delegation from California could now fit in his wife Kathy’s 7-passenger minivan. He also mentioned that his late win allowed him to score a great office — since soon-to-be former Representative David Valadao waited so long to concede, his office was not in the pool to go to incoming House members, so TJ gets Valadao’s spacious office with a great view.

TJ Cox celebration party, photo by Mary McFarland
TJ Cox celebration party, photo by Mary McFarland

Turning serious, TJ spoke about some of his motivations to run for Congress, including his wife Kathy, who as a pediatric physician feels that health policy must change at the federal level. He spoke about climate change, immigration reform, and the need to bring safe, clean drinking water to all Central Valley residents.  TJ said that he wants his future constituents to see themselves reflected in their representatives, and announced that he got a commitment from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to visit his district in 2019. 

At the party our CA-11 team chatted with Dave from the San Leandro group Kitchen Table Resistance. We vividly recalled Dave and his wife Jen canvassing in Mendota over Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, when Dave wore a green Leprechaun jacket! Dave gave us the backstory about the hard work he and his friends in Kitchen Table Resistance put into canvassing in CA-21, including developing (and spending a lot of their own funds to print) flyers in English and Spanish to inform voters about TJ in the first weeks of the campaign. We all reflected that this was way before the “professionals” got their act together to support TJ’s campaign.

Matt and Alice even got a chance to speak personally with TJ! When we congratulated TJ on his victory, he looked around at all the people there and commented that it was a team effort.

Matt and Alice with TJ Cox, at the celebration party
Matt and Alice with TJ Cox, at the celebration party

Leaving the party, we all had the same thought, “What a journey and what incredible friendships we made along the way!”

Alice Towey is a Civil Engineer specializing in water resource management. She lives in El Cerrito, where she and her husband Matt Blackwell are active in Indivisible CA-11 United.

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer. Ted is a member of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee and is co-lead of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

 

GOTV workshop offers basic training for recruits

Deadline: today and every day until November 6 –

Our simple goal: encourage and train more people to get involved in phone banking and canvassing — especially critical as we shift to the final GOTV (Get Out The Vote) phase for the less-than-a-month-away midterm elections.

The problem? Many people are reluctant to volunteer for fear they don’t have the needed skills or knowledge.

The solution: offer a GOTV workshop to provide skills, practice, and motivation. So that’s exactly what Indivisible East Bay did — with generous assistance (and a free lunch and amazing snacks!) from Indivisible National — on October 14 at the El Cerrito Community Center. Without much time to plan and promote we were a tad nervous, but the well-oiled IEB machine went into high gear, the stars aligned and, other than the usual tech hiccups, by the time the event began all was well and the more than 50 attendees were ready for action!

Roll call

As we took our seats after lunch, Indivisible’s California State Director Zacharie Boisvert (the day’s moderator) got the ball rolling with an ice-breaker. At each table we all took a few minutes to say why the upcoming election was important to us. One person from every table later repeated their answer to the group, which effectively summarized how high the stakes are for the midterms, and got us all motivated to take to the streets … and phones.

Zacharie & Bobby (Indivisible National) and Nancy (IEB). Photo by Ted Landau
Zacharie & Bobby (Indivisible National) and Nancy (IEB). Photo by Ted Landau

Next up, Indivisible’s National Organizing Director Susannah Hook-Rodgers asked: “Let’s assume we win at least one house of Congress in November; what do we do next? What should be our highest priorities?” We had no trouble shouting out a long list of answers. At the top was protecting voting rights since everything else we hope to accomplish is in danger unless we ensure that all eligible citizens can exercise their right to vote. Other priorities: climate change, racial and economic inequality, preventing GOP efforts to dismantle government agencies, and campaign reform to limit dark money. We also agreed that we need to make Indivisible more inclusive — and National has to take the lead here by continuing to build ties with major groups around common interests.

All hands to battle stations

Which got us revved up for the main event: GOTV actions.

It’s called GOTV because during these final weeks before the election we pivot from trying to persuade undecided voters to making sure that likely supporters get out and vote! As for how best to accomplish this, the presentation showed that one-on-one interactions, canvassing and phone-banking, are much more effective than other voter contacts.

Zacharie and Indivisible National co-presenter Bobby Michaels went over a typical phone-banking script and explained how the precise language helps elicit a positive response. In fielding our questions about potential problems, the duo addressed many of our common concerns. For example, in response to the question “What if a respondent wants to know about a candidate’s positions and I’m not sure what they are,” Zacharie emphasized that we didn’t have to know everything and could refer people to a candidate’s website. He also reminded us that GOTV is focused on getting people to vote rather than discussing the issues. IEB’s outreach team co-lead Toni, who has been organizing phone banks into Nevada, noted that she always checks online for specifics about a candidate or district before making calls.

Finally, time for hands-on action! As a dry run we role-played phone calls in pairs — and then the real thing: an hour of live phone-banking to voters in CA-10. As usual with phone banks we ran into a lot of no-answers and disconnected phone numbers, the latter helps clean up the list. Most of us had a few great conversations with voters, and that’s what keeps us going!

gotv training 001 20181014_154956b 640

Next, Kook Huber of Team Blue Wave Contra Costa made a convincing plea for volunteers to canvass in the “very flippable” CA-21. Her inspiring presentation segued into our final request for everyone to sign up for canvassing and phone-banking opportunities in the (now only three) weeks ahead. Attendees left charged up and inspired about the critical importance of canvassing and phone banking, and about their own ability to join in — we were all ready to GOTV!

What to do if you missed the workshop

Couldn’t join us for the training? Don’t fret – you still can (and must!) join the GOTV effort. We list dozens of upcoming opportunities to canvass and phone bank on our calendar, and they all include mini-training sessions with experienced members who are ready to help you.

This is not a drill! Call to action at All Member Meeting

It’s crunch time friends … the home stretch … now or never. Choose your metaphor, the fact is that the 2018 midterm elections are only a month away! If you’re angry about the current state of our country, the Kavanaugh debacle and other horrors (and if you’re reading this we assume you are), we have the only remedy: TAKE ACTION! Have you thought about volunteering, but you keep coming up with reasons not to do it (you’re too busy or it makes you too uncomfortable or whatever)? Well, NOW is the time to get over it and put your name on a sign-up sheet. There’s too much at stake to sit on the sidelines.

After the Judiciary Committee farce, oh sorry hearing, to take Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, we saw what citizen action can do. A call for immediate protests at Senate offices led to Ana Maria Archila‘s and Maria Gallagher’s momentous elevator confrontation of Jeff Flake, which in turn led to the Senator’s intended vote for Kavanaugh turning into a call for an FBI investigation before the final vote. The GOP and the Current Occupant reluctantly but quickly agreed — despite days of claiming that this was both not possible and not needed. Think about it: what if Archila and Gallagher had decided they were too busy, or it was too hard, or that they were powerless to effect change anyway? Kavanaugh might already be on the Supreme Court. Never underestimate what any one of us can do …

And that brings us to the Sept. 30 Indivisible East Bay All Members Meeting, where we spent almost the entire time strongly urging (we ain’t too proud to beg) members to do something, anything, in the weeks leading to the November 6 election.

The very least you can do is vote, and make sure everyone else you know also registers and votes! To emphasize this, the meeting opened with the Kesha video Here Comes the Change which effectively dramatizes that the “future is voting.”

Next, California Democratic Bay Area Field Organizer Titus Lin got the ball rolling with a plea for people to phone bank and canvass to flip two of the closest, most critical and winnable Congressional districts in California: CA-10, where Josh Harder is the Democrat running against Jeff Denham, and CA-21, where TJ Cox is running against incumbent David Valadao. Titus noted that while we hope to defeat Devin Nunes in CA-22, especially given his behavior as a Trump-lackey on the House Intelligence Committee — the odds are low enough that our priorities must be elsewhere.

Then, Kyoko Takayama of Organizing for Action made a passionate case for door-to-door canvassing as the most effective way to reach voters. Yes, it takes considerable time, energy and resources. But it works. People’s minds get changed. Kyoko explained that the best results come from focusing on people who have not voted in recent elections. Getting them to vote has the biggest effect on increasing voter turnout. Kyoko pointed us to an OFA video that’s a good bootcamp for people who haven’t canvassed before.

Team Blue Wave Contra Costa organizer Kook Huber spoke about how critical it is to flip CA-21. Located in the southern half of the Central Valley, it’s a rural district, relatively poor and with a 71% Latino population. Why do we believe it’s so flippable? Because, despite having a Republican incumbent, there are more registered Democrats (47%) in the district than Republicans (30%). Once again, the key is voter turnout. We’re hoping to encourage people to vote by mail, circumventing the voter suppression efforts by farm owners in the District. To accomplish this, canvassing is critical. Kook said there will be canvassing opportunities every day (!) between now and the election.

Kook Huber at September 2018 All Members Meeting, photo by Toby St. John
Kook Huber, photo by Toby St. John

IEB’s outreach team co-lead Toni Henle reminded us there’s much work we can do in our neighboring state of Nevada, especially phone-banking and canvassing to defeat incumbent Senator Dean Heller. Currently, Heller and Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen are in a race so tight it’s considered a toss-up. Toni explained that our phone-banking efforts with Issue Voters of Northern Nevada have been focused on “unaffiliated” voters, as these are considered the most persuadable to tilt towards the Democrats.

To help IEB members who are hesitant to volunteer because they’re unsure what to say, presenters took to the stage for role-playing demonstrations. Caitlin Patterson from Sister District and IEB’s Ted Lam showed how canvassing might go in CA-21 — with Caitlin confronting three different types of respondents all played by Ted. IEB’s Tom Janci and Toni role-played phone banking on behalf of Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat running for the US Senate in Arizona.

September 2018 All Members Meeting, photo by Heidi Rand

The meeting also included announcements about a few issues, including an alert by Saadiqah Islam from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights that the Center has demanded that the Alameda Board of Supervisors conduct an independent audit of Sheriff Ahern.

The meeting ended with break-out sessions so members could sign up for and ask more in-depth questions about our phone banking and canvassing events. Most members also wrote postcards to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, thanking her for her bravery and giving her support.

Postcards to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, photo by Andrea Lum
Postcards to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, photo by Andrea Lum

Don’t make us beg, if you haven’t stepped up yet it’s time to do your part. Here’s how you can help:

Canvassing: a win-win for you and the candidates

By Ted Lam

I confess. I’m obsessed with following the forecasts for the November 6 midterm elections. For the past several months I’ve been regularly checking FiveThirtyEight’s “2018 House Forecast” and “Who Is Winning the Race for Congress” poll results — sometimes as often as two or three times a minute just to make sure I have the latest results. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I immediately reach for my phone to check the latest news and FiveThirtyEight.com’s forecasts.

Why do I do this? Because the outcome is so consequential. When November 7 arrives, the last thing I want is to have that sinking feeling I had in 2016. But I also realize that just checking the latest forecasts, no matter how often I do it, is not enough. I need to do something more. Every day I wonder how I can best make a difference between now and November 6 — something that may help me sleep a little better at night. For me, the answer is: canvassing.

That’s why I’ve registered to canvass on October 6 in Sanger in support of TJ Cox, running for Congress in District 21. TJ is a charismatic and progressive Democrat running against incumbent Republican David Valadao.

Last March, I joined a few other IEB’ers on a weekend trip to canvass for TJ in Mendota. It was an enriching experience. During our initial training, TJ himself showed up to give us a pep talk. When we finally set out to canvass we were joined by close to 30 volunteers, mostly from the Bay Area. 

Most Mendota residents work in the local agricultural industry. It’s a close-knit community that cares very much about family. As I walked around with my canvassing partner Rae, we were struck by how warm and friendly everyone was. We also noticed that many of garages were open, being cleaned and decorated with balloons. From making small talk, we learned that these parents were using the garages to host birthday parties for their children.

On the canvassing trail, we knocked on doors to verify who lived there. We read the script from our smartphones. After being initially reluctant (and possibly suspicious), the residents opened up to us. Most didn’t know who TJ Cox was. After we explained his positions, the vast majority expressed willingness to vote for him.

My memories of that weekend in Mendota are images of shy smiles from the very old to the very young, an invitation from a family to come back to enjoy homemade tamales during the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and of people who work hard and want opportunities for their children. These are good memories of a successful week-end of canvassing.

Join me on October 6 in Sanger and you can have that same positive experience while helping get a worthy progressive elected. Want to carpool? Email  me at indivisibleca11@gmail.com. I’m known for finding good food wherever I travel so you can look forward to a delicious lunch experience on Sunday, like this excellent Mexican restaurant we discovered in Mendota. 

Canvassing in Mendota

Canvassing and phone banking are the top two most effective ways to contact voters and make the Blue Wave happen. We need your help! What you can do:

  • Find IEB phone banks and canvassing trips and sign up at out our new “Volunteer to Flip the G-D- Congress” list & calendar. Also easily accessible on our home page
  • Sign up to get our weekly list of phone banks and canvassing trips
  • Learn the who, what, and why of canvassing and phone banking at our September 30 All Member Meeting at Sports Basement, Berkeley, from 1-3 PM. Hear from experts and sign up to help. We’ll also have demonstrations to demystify and show you how! Come, bring friends and spread the word. RSVP and details here.
  • Check out opportunities to canvass, phone or text bank, write postcards, and more, with these great organizations IEB works in coalition with: 
  • Join Indivisible Berkeley in phoning Nevada voters from home to help flip the critical NV Senate seat. Info & sign up here. Check out other IB events too.
  • See the East Bay for TJ Cox events calendar to support the CA-21 congressional candidate.
  • Canvass in CA-21 with Swing Left East Bay. Check upcoming events and sign up here.
  • Knock on doors to help flip CA-10 for Josh Harder. Info & sign up here.
  • Swing Left Contra Costa hosts monthly voter registration in Tracy (CA-10) on the 3rd Saturday of each month. Check their event calendar.
  • Canvass with Working America AFL-CIO in CA-10 (Modesto) and CA-21 (San Joaquin Valley). You’ll get excellent training and can then sign up for volunteer shifts.
  • Can’t canvass yourself? Donate to support one of the great groups listed above. You can even sponsor a canvasser in CA-21 by donating to Valley Forward, which helps employ people living in the district.

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer.