Building a Democratic Tsunami, One Bus Trip at a Time

By Donathan Salkaln, Reprinted from Chelsea Now / Villager (Oct 2018)

The US Senate confirmation hearings for appointing the most conservative of judges for Supreme Court has highlighted how painful the situation has become for liberals. Who do you complain to? Who do you write to? Who do you text? Thankfully, this bind of helplessness has galvanized a wave across our country in flipping Congressional and Senate seats from red to blue, in restoring a balance of power to our capitol.

Here, in Manhattan, a grassroots initiative called Vote Blue 2018 has been busing volunteers to Republican congressional strongholds across New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in support of their Democratic challengers for the Nov. 6 general election. And if you doubt outrage on the local scale, note Vote Blue 2018 coalition’s members: Greater NYC For Change, Chelsea Reform Democratic Club (CRDC), Village Independent Democrats (VID), Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, Hell’s Kitchen Democrats, Downtown Independent Democrats, Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats, Lexington Democratic Club, Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, and on and on.

At 8 a.m. on Sat., Sep. 29, I met with Evelyn Suarez, Vice President of the CRDC (and my canvassing partner dating back to Obama’s first run), along with other activists, at Union Square Park. We were to take a bus to Mount Laurel, NJ, where Democrat Andy Kim is challenging incumbent Congressman Tom MacArthur. The gerrymandered state’s 3rd Congressional District stretches from middle class and wealthy communities, just east of Philadelphia, to even wealthier areas along the Jersey Shore.

During the two-hour ride, bus captains Tony Hoffman, Campaign Chair of VID, and Erik Bottcher, Chief of Staff to NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson (whose district coverage area includes Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen), handed out Andy Kim campaign literature, a sample canvassing sheet, a sample script, and even homemade muffins, while offering us tips for the day’s agenda.

Instructed Tony Hoffman, “When you go door to door, you will be representing Andy Kim and the New Jersey Democratic Party. You are not representing yourself. That is the most important thing to remember. Especially if somebody gets difficult. Say thank you and move on. Always be polite.” Hoffman added, “Your work is so important. Every person you speak to is a person that wouldn’t have been spoken to.”

Bottcher offered the group possible talking points: “Andy Kim will protect Social Security, Medicare, lower the costs of prescription drugs, and make tax cuts permanent for the middle class… Andy doesn’t accept corporate PAC money because special interests control too much in Washington.” Botcher added, “Andy’s opponent MacArthur is the only member of Congress from New Jersey to vote for Trump’s tax plan which will hurt New Jersey homeowners.”

Upon arriving at the Andy Kim headquarters, I was encouraged by a sign welcoming not only Democrats, but also Republicans. It was accompanied by a note: “Andy’s race is about bringing concerned citizens together to participate in civic and civil discourse.”

It was refreshing — a candidate not spewing hate, but, instead, offering conversation. We were treated to sandwiches, snacks, coffee, water, sodas, and a briefing by Louise, an Andy Kim volunteer. We learned that Andy grew up in the area and served as National Security Advisor for the State Department in Afghanistan and the Pentagon under both President Bush and President Obama. His opponent, MacArthur, is pro NRA, even introducing a bill to ease gun laws. He also wrote the MacArthur Amendment that would have, if passed, denied healthcare coverage for preexisting conditions (the late Republican Senator John McCain gave the bill the thumbs down).

By 11:30 a.m., Evelyn and I were dropped off in a middle-class neighborhood with a list of nearly 100 addresses that included names, genders, and ages of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans who had answered a previous poll of being open-minded to Kim. As we knocked on doors, some were not answered (we left literature), and some were slammed in our faces with disgust (we quickly left) — yet most were excited about Kim and were going to vote for him.

What became most uplifting was the high number of young people we visited. Never before in canvassing were there so many twentysomethings on the lists, and it was somewhat startling to me when a young-looking woman would answer the door and say, “Oh yes, that’s my son, I’ll get him.” When we met the new voters, I have to use the expression “jacked-up” — because that is exactly how they expressed their support for Andy Kim and the Nov. 6 election. We even got two young people to fill out Andy commitment forms and possibly volunteer.

The day was sunny, hot, and humid, and began slowly, as Evelyn was using a walker and most of the addresses were split-level homes with lots of steps. But during the afternoon, we entered a large complex of townhouse apartments with doors at the street level and we covered ground quicker. Unfortunately, our last area was a wealthy gated community that pays for seclusion from people like us. Fortunately, we got their club house manager to display Andy literature in a communal area on the property. We then called Field Organizer Scott Dennis and were whisked back to the Andy Kim headquarters. Evelyn and I handed in our filled-out packets, and were debriefed.

By 5 p.m., we were on the bus headed back to NYC. Along the trip back, many shared their experiences, and Bottcher treated us to delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Making a difference doesn’t always mean demonstrating at Union Square but rather, boarding buses from Union Square and taking the fight elsewhere.

NOTE: ANDY KIM won the election in the most contested of the 2018 US Representatives races in America, with well over 300,000 votes cast. In PA, Susan Wild also won.

Chelsea Reform Democratic Club
PO Box 1120,
Old Chelsea Station,
New York, NY, 10113-1120