Cell Phones for Change

Team leader Juantia Hughes trains first-time callers Sydney Matherson and her mother Sheri Freeman-Matherson

Team leader Juanita Hughes trains first-time callers Sydney Matherson and her mother Sheri Freeman-Matherson


In the last critical days of the presidential election, volunteers at the West Contra Costa United Democratic Campaign Headquarters are spending the weekends working the phones for Obama to get out the vote and clear up any confusion. Since its grand opening on September 6, the headquarters has held an Obama phone bank event every Saturday.  This past weekend, the organization expanded its efforts to include Sundays for the first time. The numbers have been steadily increasing each weekend since phone banking began.  According to Marco Calavita, the office data manager, 60 people made more than 3,000 calls on Saturday.

Juanita Hughes, an office team leader, is leading the phone banking efforts.  Hughes says she is constantly on the search for volunteers, even approaching people in grocery stores and parking lots.  She said the key to her argument is bragging rights.  “Many of us will be able to say we voted for Obama,” said Hughes.  “But how many of us will be able to say we volunteered?”  While most people have volunteered through the Obama website, on this Sunday, people walked in off the street.  One woman came in just because she had an hour to spend in between her Sunday errands.

For some volunteers, the phone bank was a family affair.  Mothers worked side-by-side with the daughters.  In one room of the office, Sydney Matherson and her mother Sheri Freeman-Matherson placed calls on their matching cell phones.  Matherson, a 17-year old senior at the Oakland School of the Arts, was volunteering for the first time.  “I think part of it is that I can’t vote so I feel like I should be doing something to help,” she said.

Across the table from Matherson sat her mother.  Seeing her daughter’s interest in the campaign has in return inspired her.  “She’s watched all of the debates, knows all of the issues.  I’m very impressed,” said Freeman-Matherson.  “She should know because it affects all of us.”

In another room, Beth Harris greeted volunteers and potential voters at the door as her daughter made cold calls at a nearby table.  This is the first campaign that Harris has worked on since George McGovern in 1972.  “I decided to volunteer because I feel our electoral process has been greatly endangered by the current administration,” said Harris.  “We need to reach a critical mass and get enough people to vote.”

For her daughter Liza Wallace, 17, this is her second time working on a presidential campaign.  In 2004, at the age of 13, she was making calls to voters on behalf of John Kerry.  Despite always being too young to vote, Walker has used her frustration to fuel her volunteering efforts. “I’m really mad that it’s the most important election of my life and I can’t vote.  It sucks so I’m making up for it,” she said.

Volunteers were given a sheet with a list of names, numbers, and their city of residence.  Since California is already predicted to go to Obama, the callers focused their efforts on battleground states.  This weekend, thousands of calls were placed to voters in New Mexico.

The goals of the calls were to find out if residents are supporting Obama, and if so, inform them of the early voting process in the their state.  The information gathered was then entered into a national database used by the Obama campaign.

During a routine phone call on Saturday, team leader Rick Guerrero discovered an incident of voter disenfranchisement.  In a neighborhood of Albuquerque, a woman was going door-to-door with a clipboard in hand.  The resident told Guerrero the woman said he could vote for Obama just by filling out a form and signing his name.  He was then told this was his official vote and he would not have to go to the polls.

Guerrero informed the man that the process was illegal.  After encouraging the man to alert his neighbors about the situation, Guerrero immediately called the Obama campaign and reported the incident.  By the end of the day, Guerrero had found a similar case of voter fraud in Las Cruces.  “There’s rampant voter disenfranchisement in New Mexico,” said Guerrero.

It is the dedicated work of Guerrero and the dozens of other volunteers that has impressed Susan Swift, one of the office managers.  “We’re building bridges and communities.  We need everyone here working together,” said Swift.  “I hope people are willing to be active in the community even after the election.”

The West Contra Costa County United Democrat Campaign Headquarters will be conducting phone banks every weekend until the election on November 4.

For more information, check out their website:

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