Peace Action Tales from the Campaign Trail

 In 2016 Election, Election 2016

Every election cycle, Peace Action endorses candidates for Congress who will stand up for a peaceful approach to foreign policy. To help get these pro-peace voices into Congress, in addition to making endorsements, bundling donations to candidates, making direct donations, and recruiting volunteers, we send out experienced Peace Action organizers to lend their time and their organizing skills to the campaigns that need them most. These are some of their stories.

Frances Motiwalla on the Salud Carbajal Campaign Trail


The 2016 election was filled with surprises. For me, the first occurred shortly after I arrived in Santa Barbara to work on Salud Carbajal’s campaign to represent California’s 24th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Not only did I get to meet the candidate right away, he also asked for my wife’s phone number so he could personally call to thank her for letting me leave for two weeks!  

From day one, I could tell that the campaign staff were grounded and well organized, despite not having had a real day off in months. Working with them was a determined group of local Santa Barbara Democrats who volunteered regularly, and Charles, the first person I met when I arrived at the office, also happened to be a long-time Peace Action member.

It was easy to plug right into the campaign and the long hours of work passed quickly with the good company. Between data-entry, phone-banking and door knocking, there was never a dull moment. Our phone-banking shifts were often graced with the presence of dozens of high school students, one who declared that while he had started volunteering just for the extra-credit, he was super into it now. And our numerous door canvassing shifts were filled with great conversations with voters as well as gorgeous views of mountains and ocean!

In the final days before the election, polling showed the race virtually tied. The opponent, Justin Fareed, was using a massive influx of cash from the Republican party to blanket the airwaves with ads that completely misrepresented Salud’s record. Looking at the numbers, the campaign identified that our victory likely depended on high turnout of students – so a few other volunteers and I were deployed to Isla Vista to talk to UCSB students for most of the last week. A few things about canvassing college students surprised me, including how open they were to learning about the down-ticket races, how many had just been planning to vote for the president and how effective the four hours we spent stapling candy to their door hangers turned out to be.  

On election day, when I arrived at 6:30am for my assignment, I learned that from 7am to 8pm I would be standing in one spot, with an ironing board loaded with fliers and shwag, answering questions and literally pointing students to their slightly obscured polling place. Another surprise came when one of Fareed’s mobile billboard trucks appeared, accusing Carbajal of supporting the “bad Iran Deal.” Luckily, I had my “Keep Calm & Don’t Bomb Iran” shirt on hand and was able to counter that narrative in person.

The two biggest surprises came at the end of the day. The first was that after 13 hours of standing, I was still able to muster the energy to go to the after-party and the after-after party. The second was the result of the Presidential election, which I had not payed any attention to for the past two weeks. It was surreal to watch the returns roll in and while it was a clear night, it felt like dark clouds had gathered above. The gloom was punctured by rays of light every so often as local races were called in favor of Carbajal’s allied Democrats. We all breathed an enormous sigh of relief when the house race was finally called for Salud, by a 7% margin!

It was a bittersweet victory as all of us, especially Representative-elect Salud Carbajal, processed what the results meant for the next two years. The general consensus amongst my new comrades filled me with hope, though, as we all resolved to work even harder to face the challenges ahead.

Of all the awesome moments working for the campaign, my favorite was probably at the end of the night when I was able to look Salud in the eyes and tell him that Peace Action is looking forward to working with him and supporting him as he serves in one of the most important positions in our nation. I could tell he was genuinely grateful for that assurance, and I am truly grateful for the support of our members, who made my experience possible.

Jonathan Ritter on the Zephyr Teachout Campaign Trail


It is 9 pm on Tuesday, Nov. 8th. The polls have just closed. Our big get out the vote (GOTV) weekend has just officially ended, and I am about to head to the election night event. I’ve slept a total of 6 or so hours in the last three nights. Since Saturday, I have been running a campaign office in Schoharie county, getting out the vote for congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout.

Democrats are heavily outnumbered in the county. Progressive campaigns typically don’t bother coming here. So our presence gave some passionate Schoharie Democrats a sense that they could finally make a difference.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been back and forth between this office and the campaign headquarters in Kingston, spending most of my time recruiting and organizing a dedicated group of volunteers. Then on the Wednesday before the election, I returned to the Kingston office and we started doing 14+ hour days, preparing hundreds of district-walking packets, scheduling shifts for hundreds of volunteers, and doing as much voter persuasion phoning as time allowed. And the whole staff was there, working together. It’s amazing how quickly I felt connected to everyone. Between the outings after the mellower days earlier this week and the intense work we’ve been doing, these people have become my temporary family.

At 11 pm, I arrive at the event, knowing nothing about the election results. I meet up with the other organizers, and I ask how we are doing. No one says a word. I look beyond the podium where Zephyr is about to speak, and I see CNN being projected onto a screen that covers the whole wall, and I absorb a thought I cannot comprehend; Donald Trump is winning.

I hear the room quieting. Zephyr walks up to the podium and says, “We fought a good fight, and we gave it our all…” at which point, I realize that Zephyr has lost, that we have lost. Zephyr continues her speech, vows to fight on, and implores us to do the same. As horribly discouraged as I am in this moment, Zephyr’s words are inspirational. She will run again. She will continue to be an amazing leader.

We all leave quickly to go to the after party. In the living room, there is CNN and silence. As Trump’s numbers come in and the inevitable becomes the actual, we share every possible human emotion under the sun. None of us can believe what we are seeing. We are crying. We are shouting. We are worried. But we’re experiencing all of these things together.

Kim, the campaign manager, rallies us for an honest, yet inspirational speech – pointing out that we came within 6 points of victory, in spite of being outspent 4 to 1. I tell Alexa, the Field Director, how impressed I am with the infrastructure she’d put together. And I tell her about the volunteers in Schoharie, and how our presence there had empowered them.

I am now back at the Peace Action office. I have talked out a lot of emotions with my fellow Peace Action compatriots, as well as my other friends. I am happy to say that we have wasted no time hitting the ground running. And that’s encouraging to me, because, if we’re at it already, that means civil rights groups, women’s rights groups, environmental groups – we are all mobilizing. The support I experienced on election night was a microcosm of what the progressive movement is doing right now. The team I was a part of on the campaign, the team I’m a part of at Peace Action, we’re two teams of many, mobilizing for a better world. And I take pride in what I’m doing, and in being a part of those teams.

Lilly Dragnev on the Rick Nolan Campaign Trail


Watching the crowd linger after a campaign event with Joe Biden, waiting for their chance to talk to and take pictures with Congressman Rick Nolan, a smile spreads across my face.

I’m energized – fresh into this race – and our candidate just received an endorsement by the Vice President. Yet, I force myself to be cautious in my optimism. The last poll to come out before my flight to Minnesota placed Congressman Nolan down by 4 points. The excitement in the room masks the reality of the narrow margin of this race. After all, this is Duluth, where Nolan is favored. The 8th district – which is larger than 22 of the U.S. states – is a mixed bag of political interests, and our opponent, Stewart Mills III, only lost by 1.4 points in 2014. So I mentally prepare for the hard work to come.

And, boy, was it good that I did. As I drove into the more conservative Crow Wing County – the county I was tasked with turning out for Rick – the Mills signs lining the roads were overwhelming. Yet, we were ready to mobilize, earn and get out each and every vote of support. During the usual campaign work of precinct walking, phoning, and even one yard sign delivery day to donors, I could tell this election would be unlike any other. On my door to door excursions, some people confided in me, expressing fear that their neighbors might discover their political leanings. Some worried about putting out Hillary yard signs. Back at the office, where Trump supporters sometimes uncomfortably hovered out front, the political tension was palpable. Despite this dynamic, we had some incredible volunteers who came in whenever they could and worked hard to help keep Rick in office. As I trained them and orchestrated a few door knocking and phoning shifts, the volunteers shared with me their personal experiences about how Rick had earned their loyalty. One had a bad Medicare experience that Rick personally got involved in until it was resolved.

As the sun’s last rays vanished from the horizon, I knocked on my last door in Aitkin for the night. A middle-aged woman answered the door, and noticing my shivering, invited me inside. She told me she was leaning towards the Congressman, but said she had heard some rumors about Rick not supporting veterans. The attack ads his competitor was pouring money into seemed to be impacting people. I sat with her for a good ten minutes explaining his votes and his consistent record, and discussing other issues close to her heart, and I could tell our personal approach was impacting people, as well. At the end of our chat, she asked for a lawn sign, committed to voicing her opinion in spite of what the neighbors might think. I dropped off the sign the next day when no one was home, but drove by later and saw the sign proudly displayed in her yard. Another supporter on board!

One evening, with the Vikings playing Monday night football, Rick decided he would force his battered team to take a few hours to rest and recuperate by inviting us over for dinner and the game. I got to spend some quality time really getting to see the character of the U.S. Representative I was supporting – and found myself wishing that every district in the U.S. could have someone of his caliber representing them in the nation’s capital. He and Mary were generous, funny, caring, and deeply concerned about what was best for Minnesota and the country’s future. As a staff member told the tale of Rick forcing him to pick up a hitchhiker on their way to a recent event, Mary laughed it off as typical behavior for him. Our laughter was cut short by a Mills attack ad excoriating Rick for his welcoming stance on Syrian refugees; another scare tactic in a fear-driven election season. Abruptly, we were once more reminded of stakes.

On election night, coming up on 3 in the morning, the conference room of exhausted staffers called Rick back in, this time able to finally shout our “congratulations!” By a little over 2000 votes, Rick Nolan secured his re-election, and gave his rallying speech to those of us who had fought by his side, calling each of the people in the room – myself included – out by name and thanking us for our respective roles. Despite lines of concern for the future of our country etched on his face as he held up the plastic champagne flute, the entire room resonated with his call to stand up and keep fighting for what is right. Rick isn’t the type to turn away from a challenge, and he was not about to start now. With a renewed sense of determination, my gaze focused on him from across the room, and his eyes met mine with an understanding that Peace Action is still right there beside him, ready to help him face the challenges ahead.

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