By Valeria Pedroza
There are two things I will always remember about the summer of 2013: First is the heat two degrees shy of hell, and second is the experiences I had as a canvasser. In February, Michael Rubio resigned his seat in the California Senate and, because there were already two vacant seats, losing him meant the Democrats no longer had the supermajority. Although he cited not spending enough time with his wife and two daughters as his reason for stepping down, many were unhappy to hear he’d taken a job as a lobbyist for Chevron.
To replace Rubio, a special election was needed. Initially, there were five candidates: three Democrats (Paulina Miranda, Leticia Perez and Francisco Ramirez), one Peace and Freedom candidate (Mohammad “O” Arif) and one Republican (Andy Vidak). After the May 21 election, there was a short period of time when Vidak was named the winner, however, after the final count of late provisional ballots came in, it was revealed that no candidate had received 50% or more of the votes, which would have garnered the win. Vidak got 49.8% of the vote and Perez 43.9%. A runoff election was then set for July 23.
I worked for Californians for Voter Turnout, Education and Registration (CALVOTER), and I can honestly say it was the most educational job I’ve ever had. Along with other canvassers, I combed the streets of precincts from many cities in the 16th Senate District motivating citizens to let their voices be heard. We spent the blazing summer talking to people from all walks of life about getting involved in the political process and we often had very different reactions from the people we spoke to.
I noticed a few disturbing patterns as I spoke one-on-one with prospective voters. To begin with, I found that many Latino men simply would not vote for a woman. I did not need to infer this information most of the time. Many would say to me, “¿Ella qué podía saber acerca de esto?” (What could she know about this?). I also heard from others that they felt she should be home with her young son. Another man told me that although he was a Democrat and supported Perez’s platform, which included raising the minimum wage and supporting high-speed rail, he didn’t feel a woman could adequately juggle both motherhood and a career in politics. Each time I heard this reasoning I became more and more disturbed.
Another trend I found was that many Latina women would tell me they couldn’t decide who to vote for without their husbands. I asked each woman who mentioned this to me if she had ever voted differently than her spouse to which not a single one answered “yes.” It’s important to note that in both cases, the Latino voters were in their mid- to late 50s or older. Could this be generational? I believe so. As younger generations have come, more and more awareness of sexism—and many other isms—has created a space for critical analysis and an understanding that these types of ideologies can be detrimental to society.
As a progressive activist, I of course had my own reasoning and opinions. This interaction with others taught me to take a look from other perspectives. I couldn’t count how many times I had to force myself to move on to my next door because the conversation I was having was so intriguing. I felt like I was being given a special glimpse into the lives of others.
Admittedly, not all of the people I spoke to were friendly. Many preferred not to talk politics at all. One voter suggested to me that I—in less than kind words—take my “hippie talk” and put it in a inconvenient place.
Often, it would be the encouraging words of a voter to keep up the good work that got me through the next dozen or so rough doors where others were less receptive. Despite the frustrating apathy of many who felt their vote did not count, I remained faithful to the belief that my voice has value, and on both May 21 and July 23 I cast my vote for Perez.
Although I did not agree with her views on everything (such as her support of fracking), I was disappointed to hear she’d lost the Senate seat to Republican candidate Vidak. She was hands-down the better candidate, in my humble opinion, because she was willing to put working families first. And far too often, this is not the case for politicians.
Valeria Pedroza is the secretary of POWER at Fresno State and a community activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.