There are certain things you can plan for when creating an electoral campaign. You can do the math to count how many volunteers it will take to call so and so number voters for so and so number of hours in a shift. You can create well-structured surveys using scientific methodology to measure the priority issues of your targeted base and you can use get-out-the-vote messages that have been tested with multiple focus groups. There is a particular science to civic engagement campaigns that people have been cultivating and perfecting over each election cycle.
So that’s what we did here at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. We created a detailed plan, built on the successes of past elections, and implemented an impressive multi-pronged campaign called “Your Vote Matters!”. Our campaign reached out to Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino, Cambodian, Thai, South Asian, and Pacific Islanders in thirteen different languages—the most languages ever been done for a regional voter campaign, as far as I can tell. We partnered with thirteen organizations and awarded mini-grants to five youth organizations. We supported the development of the first statewide Asian Pacific Islander voter guide that we mailed to over 11,000 households in Los Angeles County. Our phone bank operation was hosted out of our downtown office as well as at six of our partnering organizations’ offices, lasted for 26 days, and made 46,000 calls in 13 different languages. We even made a viral video, in partnership with the San Gabriel Valley-based Fung Brothers to encourage young people and their families to vote, which got over 13,000 views.
But what is brilliant about working on a campaign is the unexpected magic that comes from putting roomfuls of people together and empowered to make a difference. It’s when the act of talking to people is even more powerful than the act of voting itself. Our magic came from our youth volunteers.
The bulk of our volunteers were high school and college-aged youth. Capacity-wise, this age range of volunteers for a phone bank is the best because they are most able to navigate English and their mother tongues. Most of them also are required to give a certain amount of community service hours. So when we recruited volunteers, we focused on recruiting from high school and college classes. What we didn’t expect was what would happen once they got on the phones.
High school classes are growing and teens are being forced to make do with less and less. Students can no longer take school books home because there are not enough books to go around. Some high schools have cut funding to music and arts programs. As for access to higher education: with the rising cost of tuition to all public schools, youth can no longer afford to go to college; some are even taking a year off because they can no longer afford it. How do I know this? Because these were some of the messages our youth volunteers used when calling voters and asked them to vote Yes on Proposition 30.
Proposition 30 was the California proposition that would tax people who made over $250,000 to return six to nine billion dollars to the California state budget. Our phone bankers were compelling when they made their pitch. Their voices were youthful, often shaking and hesitant as they went through the script. But when a teenager called our voters and started speaking to them in-language, it was rare that they ever got hung up on. When they started in on the personal Prop 30 pitch, everyone had their heart strings pulled. Of all the people our volunteers spoke to, 61% said they would vote yes on Proposition 30.
There was Jason, our 12-year-old volunteer whose parents would drop him off at our phone bank every weekend. There was 20-year-old Khmer-speaking Liza, who was brought to volunteer by her younger sister and who, over the course of training, I found out she wasn’t registered to vote. She said she didn’t have time. So I registered her to vote online right then and there and she became one of our best volunteers. There was the night where SikhVote youth came through and our offices echoed with the Sikh greeting of “Sat Sri Akaal.” One caller got into a heated argument with a wealthy uncle on the importance of giving back and helping those that couldn’t help themselves. We had undocumented youth calling voters. We had youth who had dropped out of school to help their family calling voters. We had youth that were studying for midterm exams on their dinner break between making calls. And the best part was when they would come up to us after a call and say that they had talked to an undecided voter and convinced them to vote yes on Proposition 30.
This wasn’t just any issue. This was an issue that would have a direct effect on the youth volunteers making the calls. That energy was palpable. Most of them weren’t old enough to vote. But they were doing what they could to encourage people who could to vote so their right to education could be preserved. It was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen in my career.
On Wednesday morning, the final election results had come in. The outcome of Proposition 30 had been uncertain all night until the Los Angeles votes were submitted, tipping the scale significantly to yes, winning 54% of the votes. Here in Los Angeles County, 60% of voters voted Yes on Prop 30.
It is a glorious win and a relief. I’d like to think it had something to do with our phone bankers. Thank you to our phone bankers, and to everyone that worked hard on this campaign cycle to give a political voice back to the Asian American and NHPI communities. I think it’s pretty clear that we are finally making a difference, whether with votes or by empowering our next generation to have a voice.
--Written by APALC Voter Engagement Manager Tanzila Ahmed