From now until Election Day, Berkeley resident Lynn Davidson will be going door to door in New Mexico with the League of Conservation Voters’ Environmental Victory Project in an effort to win that state for John Kerry’s presidential bid.
The 55-year-old Davidson is an unemployed technical writer and a self-described “shy person” who has a “No Soliciting” sign on the front door of her North Berkeley home. Her only previous electioneering, she says, was a week of campaigning for Eugene McCarthy in 1968. The intensity of her newfound political activism reflects her deep apprehension about the current administration.
“I can’t see another four years of Bush. I just think it will be the end of this country and democracy. You can do a lot more in a swing state. California is going to go for Kerry, so there’s no point in staying here, as far as I can see, working on the campaign. I’ve been involved with some organizations that are trying to work swing states from here—but there’s nothing like working face-to-face with people. You want feedback, you want to know if you’re really having an effect. You can really see it happening when you’re there.”
Davidson starting looking for an organization to hook up with in May. In early June she went to the Take Back America in Washington, D.C.
“All the groups were there, and they were all saying, go work in a swing state,” she says. “I was looking for groups either in Oregon or New Mexico, because those are swing states that I was interested in spending time in. I had contacts for America Votes, which is an umbrella organization that does coordination for all these groups, and the guy from America Votes referred me to these people.”
Oregon and New Mexico are two of the five states in which the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is running its Environmental Victory Project; the others are Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Davidson chose to go to New Mexico because “they were ready for me” there, she says. The LCV is providing her and other volunteers free housing in “a block of cheap apartments” in Albuquerque, where their New Mexico operation is based. Plus, she says, the environment is “not like Iraq. It’s easier to talk to people about the environment because there are huge differences between the candidates.”
The League of Conservation Voters is a national, non-partisan organization that works full-time to strengthen a pro-environmental Congress and White House. Its environmental scorecards grade elected officials. Bush is the first president who’s ever gotten an F.
The LCV’s Environmental Victory Project is one of the so-called 527s, groups that can run partisan campaigns as long as they are not coordinated with the official presidential or party efforts.
“We cannot coordinate in any way with Kerry or the Democratic National Committee,” says Davidson,” but we can coordinate with groups like MoveOn and America Coming Together [ACT]. In fact, we share a data base with ACT.”
Davidson initially went to New Mexico at the end of July. She stayed for two weeks, knowing that she would return to Berkeley in mid-August when her daughter would be visiting from New York. Her idea was to test the waters. If she liked it, she would go back in late August and stay until Nov. 2—and that’s what’s she’s done.
The Environmental Victory Project’s New Mexico office has a staff of five and, during Davidson’s first stint, about 20 volunteer canvassers. “The office is really run by a bunch of 25-year-olds,” Davidson says, “and most of the volunteers over the summer have been college interns” who are going back to college in the fall.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lark, think again. Davidson and her compatriots typically work Monday through Thursday, from 1 to 10 p.m.
“The vans pick us up, we go into the office, we’ve got paperwork from the night before.” she says. “We’re writing postcards to follow up on the undecideds we talked to the night before. There’s data entry: every time you talk to somebody, you fill out a form. So that stuff has to be entered in the computer. We have a meeting every day. Usually someone’s done research on an issue, so they make a presentation—like Kerry health care.”
At about 4 p.m., a van takes canvassers to targeted precincts, where they work for four hours. “We’re canvassing registered voters—going door-to-door. We’re in the first stage, which has basically been I.D.ing voters—asking them who they’re going to vote for, so that later, when we’re getting out the vote, we’re not bothering Bush people. The precincts we’re going into are very mixed”—not solid working class or minority. “I go home and tally up every day, and I’ve got half Republicans and half Democrats. We carry registration forms in case somebody wants them, but we’re working from voter registration rolls. We’re asking two questions: who are they going to vote for, and which two political issues are most important?”
What’s she’s hearing is “a lot of national security. Also Iraq, the economy, the environment, health care,” Davidson says.
“Maybe, on a good night, I’ll get half a dozen undecided voters. I’ll knock on maybe 75 doors, maybe I’ll talk to 35 people, and maybe get five or six who aren’t totally committed.” That may sound like peanuts, but Davidson emphasizes that in 2000, Gore won New Mexico by only 366 votes.
Friday is the day off, unless it rained on one of the regular work days. Which, says, Davidson, it did in early August (this is Albuquerque’s rainy season).
“Saturday’s you normally do what’s called community canvass. There’s going to be more of this in the next stage, where we bring on local volunteers to canvass with us.” And Sunday’s a half day.
“Sometimes we don’t canvass on Sundays,” says Davidson. Instead the LCVers will go out to an event. During her first stint, Vice President Dick Cheney visited New Mexico on a Sunday, and Davidson and her colleagues went out to picket him—an experience she describes as “something else.”
“First of all, he was outside of Albuquerque in one of these exurbs called Rio Rancho—way, way out on the edge of nowhere. We were not allowed within a couple miles of the place, and you had to sign a loyalty oath to go hear him speak. He was talking at a middle school, but in order to go in there you had to endorse them.”
Davidson says she hasn’t seen much Bush activity in Albuquerque.
“I don’t think they’re going door to door,” she says. “We in the office are convinced that if Kerry carries New Mexico, it’s going to be because of us. I believe that—and I’m not an optimistic person….The polls are showing Kerry ahead in New Mexico.”
But that’s no reason to relax, Davidson says, since “it’s neck and neck when I total the people I’m talking to in suburban Albuquerque.”
For information about volunteering for the Environmental Victory Project in New Mexico, contact Olivia Stockman at (505) 244-1077 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about the project in other swing states, call 1-866- 528-2284 or log on to www.envirovictory.org.