It’s what campaigners say every November, I know, but this year’s election really is as important as it gets. Will US voters choose to halt the progress of Donald J. Trump’s slow-motion coup? Or will the tide just continue rolling over us? So much depends on what happens in Nevada—a state that once elected a senator by a mere 401 votes. The race between Jacky Rosen and Dean Heller represents the best chance we have of taking the Senate away from the GOP this year. That’s why 40 people are spending two months living in a hotel this fall, working to make it happen. I’m one of them.
It’s 11:00 on a Tuesday morning in Reno, Nevada, when Christina, Cesar, and Nate step to the front of the room to start the meeting. They begin a slow, accelerating clapping, and the room responds in kind. “¿Se puede o no se puede?” shouts Cesar. (“Can we do it or not?”) “¡Sí se puede!” comes the thunderous answer. (“Yes, we can!”)
Next, a canvasser named Tonya gives the weather report: “It’s gonna get up to 92 today, with just a little bit of breeze. So drink lots of water.” Then Christina goes over yesterday’s numbers: “We knocked on 2,148 doors and talked to 612 voters. We identified 429 Rosen supporters and 419 for Sisolak. That’s great!” Again, everyone applauds.
Christina, Cesar, and Nate are our team captains, the “leads,” as we call them, of this election effort. We’re all part of what’s known as an “independent expenditure campaign”; that is, we do our work without coordination or even communication with any candidate’s organization. Our campaign has been mounted by Culinary Workers Local 226 under the auspices of the AFL-CIO to elect Democrats to the US Senate and the governor’s mansion.
Like the leads, Tonya is one of almost 40 rank-and-file members of UNITE HERE, the hotel, casino, and food-service workers union in North America. Along with some family and friends, they’re now in Nevada for the duration. They’ve taken a leave of absence from their jobs as cooks, casino workers, hotel housekeepers, and airport catering workers to help elect Jacky Rosen senator and Steve Sisolak governor. For two months they’re living away from their homes and families in an extended-stay hotel.
Six days a week, these men and women hit the streets of Washoe County, knocking on doors to talk with voters about the issues that truly matter: the rising cost of living, a stagnant minimum wage, the overcrowding and underfunding of local schools, and Republican efforts to deny health insurance to Nevadans with preexisting conditions or throw hundreds of thousands of people off the Medicaid rolls. They listen to voters’ stories and respond with their own.