"It ain't over 'til the last vote is counted."
Florida swings on one percent of the vote. A mere 250,000 votes make or break a campaign, and will determine if Andrew Gillum is the state’s first African-American governor or Bill Nelson remains a moderate Democratic voice in the Senate. Team Florida was warned that first night (which seems like a lifetime ago), huddled in Andrew Gillum’s cramped, sparse strip mall campaign office. Marcus, the campaign manager for Pinnellas County, gave us the lowdown: “It ain’t over ‘til the last vote is counted.”
Volunteers Malanda and Shayne headed up the Organizing for America (OFA) effort, while Clara, the Local 1199 union rep, managed to get local volunteers from south St. Petersburg to pound the pavement with us. These women worked their butts off, morning to night, getting the vote out. Every morning they prepared the turf we were going to conquer that day.
It was hard work. Door after door in the heat, and when you finally got one that said “Yes, I’ll vote,” or “I’ve already voted,” you wanted to hug them. We hit neighborhoods three times. The first round was: “Did you get a ballot? Are you going to vote?”. Next was “knock and drag,” bringing a voter to the polls or helping them design a plan to vote. One of the doors I knocked on was answered by an older gentleman from Jamaica, who was visiting his brother. He spoke in a lilting accent. “The world is watching. We are all watching you,” he said. “This election is not about Donald Trump but about which direction this country will take.”
Election Day dawned hot and clear. We reported at 7:30 am to the temporary mission control across from Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Rays play baseball. Our mission: a no-holding back, no bullshit, no excuses, “get your butt to your precinct and VOTE!” effort. Malanda explained it was like wringing a wet towel: each time you squeeze, more water comes out. Every last drop is precious when there is less than one percent difference between winner and loser.
Amy Sommers and I paired up to tackle the turf further out toward the Gulf. This was a very suburban, well-kept neighborhood with a golf course running through it that required miles of walking, according to Amy’s Fitbit. Dang, we sure worked up a sweat, and by 9 am, we took shelter under a tree and assessed our strategy. As we cooled down, we waved to all the ladies driving by in their golf carts, heading to the links.
And of course, they waved back. We may have had our Andrew Gillum blue t-shirts on, but we were nice ladies just like them. This neighborhood didn’t scream Republican. In fact, the few political signs I saw were for Gillum or Second Chances, the initiative that would restore voting rights to felons. Why weren’t we knocking on their doors? Had all these people already voted?
This is the point where either I became delirious or had an aha moment. We need to get those women out of their golf carts and pounding the streets like Cynthia Issac, a lifelong resident of south St. Pete and my partner during the second half of the day. Cynthia cares for her ailing father and a special needs grandchild, as well as raising two other grandchildren. She took time out of her busy life to get out the vote because it’s the one thing that can make a difference and where color or income doesn’t matter. Cynthia believes that the vote is one way to change a system that isn’t working. At the end of the exhausting day, she turned to me and said “I want to do this some more. Where do I sign up? Where do I join a group like yours?”
To inspire people, to empower people to make a difference is the power of groups like Common Purpose and Organizing For Action. It’s how we are going to turn this country around. It’s not just one person, one group, one party that will right the course but many of us working together that will make a difference. While I hope the results in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona swing toward blue, I am ready to go again. This battle is more than one election.
Written by Seanna Browder.