Election 2004

Doing Their Part

We asked our readers what they had done for democracy in this election and to share their success stories with us. Read the stories of activists across the country who have taken action this year.
Editor's note: AlterNet asked readers last week to write about the the work they have done to educate, register and mobilize voters among their families, friends and local communities. We wanted to share their success stories so that other readers might learn from their techniques and get inspired to do the same. Some of the responses were partisan, while others were just about registering voters. Some of the readers chose not to have their names included with their letters.

We still want to hear more stories from you, so please send them in to: [email protected]. Following are some of the best responses from last week.

*****

My name is Nancy Motisi. I own and work in a hair salon with two of my sisters (Susan and Julie) in Madison, Wisc. We all went to barber school to learn our trade. When in school we were taught never to discuss politics with our clientele. This subject could lead to a possible loss of customers. Well, we stuck pretty close to this advice for about 20 years. This past year has been an exception. We've thrown all caution to the wind! We have Kerry/Edward yard signs in most windows and in the front flower garden. We bought yard signs to give to customers who want them. We have literature posted around the salon and we've posted signs in the windows encouraging people to vote (especially women) for the first time. Our customers bring the subject up daily. We discuss the problems of the present administration and why Kerry would make a good president. We try to enlighten people who are undecided. We encourage young people to register and vote for the first time. Yes, we have lost some customers. But we have also gained some new ones. This next election is too important to just sit back and see what happens.

Nancy Motisi
Madison, Wisconsin


*****

I have a relatively short story about my voting recruitments. ... I have finally gotten my partner after about three years of trying to agree to get out and vote this year. This will be her first time voting, and she is 41-years old. She has kidney failure, and would like to see better medical coverage. I have been forever forwarding stories about the election year to friends and family, and they all said that they were voting Democrat this year. This includes my mom, who was a staunch Republican until this year ... she is going Democrat this year because of the issue of stem cell research. She has leukemia, and feels that there might be a cure somewhere down the line if research is done. She realizes that it may be too late for her, but not for others who would like to see a cure, not just for leukemia, but Alzheimer's too. Me personally, I would like the war in Iraq end, and I think that Kerry could actually do it, rather than Bush.

I am an Independent.

S. Lewis
Manchester, N.H.


*****

I am a social studies and history teacher at a small urban alternative high school in Minnesota. Many of the students are 18, 19 and 20. Last year and this year we had the League of Women Voters and another grassroots organizations in to speak about the importance of voting. They always bring in registration materials. Fifty to 70 registered on each occassion.

In my classes we spend time looking at the struggles that African Americans went through to secure full voting rights in the early '60s. Since last spring, I have had a poster board on the wall encouraging students to register to vote. I have them add their name to the board if they choose to fill out a card. I mail it for them. Many have proudly told me that they have received confirmation back in the mail. I frequently hear them encourage others to vote. One student asked me if it was the law to vote. Another student said, "No, it is your responsibility!"

Many students have friends or family in the military and are concerned about the possibility of a military draft. Great discussions emerge.

I have seen 75 names go up on this board. Two girls told me they would never have registered if I had not had the sign up.

I don't propagandize them. But if they ask me who I will vote for, I make them guess, delay and eventually tell them. They always say who they are interested in way before asking who I support.

Citizen in Minnesota

*****

I was in seven of the Los Angeles area marches protesting George Bush's obvious steps preceding his invasion of Iraq. After the invasion a sense of "what's the use?" set in until the U.S. death toll mounted but the public was much more concerned about the Michael Jackson trial. I made a sign showing the latest count and stood on a very busy intersection for several hours each Saturday afternoon. The sign evolved to its present version which reads "Evil Bush War – 1046 U.S. Dead Why?" The positive responses far outnumber the negatives, but the negatives get nasty with Cheney-like suggestions. I don't know how long I will keep it up, but as long as the public apathy toward the war continues, I will be there.

Paul H. Wangsness
Burbank, Calif.


*****

On Sept. 24, I accompanied three Floresville High School seniors to the office of the Voter Registrar of Wilson County, Texas, to be deputized as volunteer voter registrars. We then collected a folding table, some chairs, signs, tools and a box of voter registration forms and drove approximately 35 miles to Pleasanton. When we told the coach we had permission from the superintendent of schools, which we did, he had a school guard show us where to set up our table.

After we watched the teams warm up and the dance team and cheerleaders arrive the fans began to arrive. Competing for their attention were dance team girls in sequined spandex selling programs, but we managed to attract a few senior students who were or would be 18 by Nov. 2, and registered them to vote. Others, adults included, took forms with them to give to relatives at home.

One of the students who was deputized decided to write a letter to the editor of the local paper about the experience she had that day registering voters, some enthusiastic, others apathetic, and why people, especially youths, should vote. The secretary to the Principal asked that we bring her a stack of forms so that a message can be made to all seniors that those who qualify to vote should come to the office to pick up a form and register. The deputized voter registrars are determined to register more students and other potential voters between now and Oct. 4 – our last day to register.

Citizen in Wilson County, Texas

*****
Last year, after watching Bush send our troops into Iraq to invade a country we knew had nothing to do with al Qaeda or 9/11, my friends and I in San Diego knew we had to do something. We started a group called Liberty Mulch. Although none of us had participated in politics before, we pooled our talents together and created a website: LibertyMulch.org, with the purpose of getting the word out to like-minded progressive people in our community. We now have an e-mail list of over 120 people and we send them notices of political events in the area, and provide commentary on news items we find on various websites. Our philosophy is that a strong democracy requires citizens be informed. Our website includes an archive of news articles, book recommendations, events listings, and links to various websites.

Over the summer Liberty Mulch hosted three events which gathered $3,000 for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. Most of the people attending had never before contributed to a political cause, and have done so now because they are so concerned about our nation's future. This October we are recruiting volunteers to do precinct walks to get out the vote for John Kerry as well as our state's congressional democratic candidates. We realize that not only do we need to vote in a Kerry administration, but we need to ensure that we vote in representatives who will provide him the support he needs in Congress.

Sally van Haitsma for Liberty Mulch
San Diego, Calif.


*****

A small group of us, in the predominantly Republican, southern New Hampshire town of Windham, decided early this year to put aside our disappointment and heartbreak as die-hard Deaniacs and form the Windham Town Democratic Committee, the first since the mid-'60s. We felt confident and challenged to take our training and experiences with the Dean campaign to work towards promoting our local Democratic Party candidates, as well as the Kerry/Edwards ticket.

Designated as a battleground state nestled deep in the heart of the liberal Northeast, New Hampshire's four electoral votes were, said, to play an important role in November and we, as ordinary citizens, understood our role in getting out the vote. We narrowed our focus on targeting the right-leaning independents in the State. Everyone seems to agree that this election would be decided by those "undecideds."

We organized ourselves into groups and committees to plan our efforts strategically. We structured a street-based, phone calling system; coordinated with the various campaigns as well as ACT and other local Democratic Party groups to distribute literature and yards signs; provided all day visibility at the polls during the state primary on Sept. 14 and will continue that visibility in high-traffic areas until the election; hosted backyard parties to provide a forum for candidates to meet the voters; finance a advertising effort in the local media and off course, fundraise.

Each member of the committee participates in group activities but we also pursue our own efforts, like letter-writing, emailing friends and neighbors, attending town meetings and candidate speeches, walking with "Granny D" Doris Haddock, recruiting members, hosting out-of-state volunteers and supporting the candidates financially. This type of hands-on experience is a first, for many of us, but the collective commitment, discipline and effort is an inspiration to all of us, individually.

Neelima Gogumalla
Windham, N.H.