Behind the political curtain

Many people are angry about San Diego’s special election on Nov. 19, not only because it’s expected to cost taxpayers nearly $5 million but because it’s a bitter reminder of Mayor Bob Filner’s resignation as a result of allegations of sexual harassment.

But the special election was like music to the ears of low-income, part-time or unemployed workers because it meant a chance to earn money to survive another month.

I am one of those workers, a canvasser, hired by political campaigns to line up votes for their candidate or cause. We are hired to persuade possible voters by phoning them or knocking on their doors. The campaign gives us a script to use that promotes the candidate’s accomplishments and his endorsements.

Canvassing is a difficult, even dangerous job. In the three years I have been doing it, I have been attacked several times by canvassers of rival campaigns and their supporters.

Once, while working for the Labor Council against Carl DeMaio’s campaign for pension reform, a young man threatened to throw acid in my face. My co-worker and I had to flee.

A canvasser tried to hit me outside Best Buy in Mission Valley. A police officer who responded to the confrontation asked me how much I was being paid to do this work.

“Fourteen dollars per hour,” I answered.

“It’s not worth it,” he told me.

During the same campaign, a couple of young Anglo canvassers outside a Wal-Mart in Clairemont made racist comments about me.

“Why you aren’t you working at a strawberry field instead of being here? You would be better there,” one shouted at me, while trying to stop me from taking their photos so I could report them to the authorities.

Once in Rancho Peñasquitos, we set up outside a market next to canvassers trying to get signatures to put DeMaio’s pension reform plan on the ballot. We held up a sign that said, “Please be careful before you sign.”

A shopper, who identified himself as a Republican approached me, pointed his finger at me angrily and told me: “How many babies have you killed? When you get home, tell your daughters you are a baby killer.”

Those who have confronted me can’t imagine that I am a good mother to my daughters, risking my health and life to put food on our table.

In my experience, we are expected to “sell” the candidate using whatever spin is necessary, including telling half-truths and falsehoods. A friend, a fellow canvasser, always complains about having to lie. Honestly, we have to deliver to the clients what they want.

Most candidates are nicer before they get elected. Afterwards, some of them just walk past us, acting as if they are doing us a favor by being there. Maybe they see the poverty and need in our eyes —- or in our clothes.

They are the ignorant ones because, no offense, we are the ones doing the dirty work: the walking, the phone calling, the persuading. Many of us take this work so seriously that we even get stressed when we don’t get enough people saying “yes” they will vote for our candidates.

In the current mayoral race, organizers for the David Alvarez campaign called me to work for them. However, I missed the campaign’s first training. My employer, a 93-year-old woman with a terminal diagnosis, was sent to a hospice and I had to help her that day.

The Alvarez campaign refused to hire me.

Fortunately, I was hired by Nathan Fletcher’s campaign. It’s been a great experience for me to be in an environment where the job of canvassers is respected.

For the first time, the candidate shook my hand while I was working saying, “Thank you for the job you are doing. I really appreciate it.”

Fletcher’s organizers have informed us that they don’t want us delivering negative messages, even when he’s being attacked with flyers full of negative information.

Some of us are nostalgic about previous campaigns we have worked for. We miss the camaraderie. But we know that the work means extra money for a time, and that we will work for whoever pays our next month’s rent.

Donate to City Times

Your donation will support the student journalists of San Diego City College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, cover the cost of training and travel to conferences, and fund student scholarships. Credit card donations are not tax deductible. Instead, those donations must be made by check. Please contact adviser Nicole Vargas for more information at [email protected].

More to Discover
Donate to City Times

Activate Search
The news site of San Diego City College
Behind the political curtain