On the Ground Running: My Volunteer Vacation in WA
October 11, 2012
Working to win marriage every day from Freedom to Marry's New York City office has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, but there's nothing like being on the front lines of a state campaign. Two weeks ago, with a historic election looming and several vacation days to use up before the end of the year, I took a Volunteer Vacation through United for Marriage and traded in my communications hat for a stab at field organizing.
I caught a flight to Seattle - my first time on the West Coast - and arrived Saturday night. Kathy, the woman who generously volunteered to host me during my stay, was like the political activist mom I always wished I had. She chatted my ear off about the presidential election, Washington state politics, her involvement in her statewide "League of Women Voters," and her decades of work in LGBT activism. Her husband contributed occasional side remarks and jokes, and made me feel at home with huge plates of homemade food every night.
On Sunday I began work out of one of the newest offices for Washington United for Marriage, the coalition working in Washington to secure marriage for same-sex couples in November. The office is in Shoreline, just north of Seattle. The Shoreline office had just two full-time staff and a handful of dedicated interns, and they weren't kidding around. My field director, Halei (pictured, with me!), and her field organizer, Jake, put me to work immediately researching and updating documents, making volunteer recruitment calls to get more hands on deck in our office, and contacting schools in the area to prepare for "Student Week," one of the campaign's upcoming themes. On several different days, I joined Jake and our intern Natalie in canvassing at local universities to get students registered to vote, collecting their pledge cards to "Approve Referendum 74," and signing them up for volunteer shifts at the office. On other days, Halei and I traveled to help out other staff at the main headquarters in downtown Seattle and the bustling office at Capitol Hill.
Every night, we hosted phone banks where we trained volunteers on making calls to undecided voters throughout the state - to ask them if they knew about Referendum 74, to encourage them to "approve" it, to tell our personal stories, and to talk about why same-sex couples want to get married. The phone banks were a refreshing, concrete example of Freedom to Marry's philosophy that everyday conversations and personal stories are what move people's minds most on marriage. It was encouraging to see a different group of volunteers - some regulars, some brand new - come into the office every night and bond over this common goal.
What surprised me most during my own calls were the people who picked up the phone and indicated their opposition to marriage for gay couples - but didn't hang up. Some of them still seemed steadfastly opposed by the time we finished our conversation, while others did sound more thoughtful and persuaded by what I had to say. But often, they just would listen quietly while I spoke for a few minutes about the campaign and what I was doing. Then they would politely thank me and end the call, and I'd hang up, uneasy and anxious by the lack of feedback. Halei called it "planting the seed" and reminded us that many of these voters will continue thinking about our conversations long after the calls are over and when the ballot is in their hands.
Even though I worked more than ten hours a day every day I was in Washington, the week flew by. We celebrated by going out with other members of the team Friday night (before heading into the office again on Saturday for orientations and more phone banks!). I flew home Saturday night with signs, stickers, buttons, and a fresh perspective on my own work and future goals.
Here at Freedom to Marry we're working hard to win in every state on Election Day, but in our (rare) spare time when we plan for next year's big states, I can't help but start planning my 2013 Volunteer Vacation. My trip to Washington was an amazing opportunity to play a small part in a campaign that will affect millions of gay people and their families. I'm now more invested than ever to see Washington, as well as Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota, win on November 6. If you're even considering a Volunteer Vacation or a Drive for Marriage, please sign up today! These campaigns need as much help as possible in these critical final weeks, and you won't regret doing everything you can to help them win in this historic election.
Read more about the four states where marriage will appear on the ballot in November! And learn more about UNITED FOR MARRIAGE, the effort to mobilize supporters of the freedom to marry nationwide to support the four states facing marriage ballot measures.