Campaigning for change
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From July to November
There was no Fourth of July parade in Flint last summer because General Motors no longer sponsored it and the city couldn’t pay for it. “Every day, people told us, ‘Just call the UAW: they’ll help you out,’” says Thesing. However, the Obama campaign didn’t take money from unions, and they held to that.
More field organizers came on board, creating a dynamic and diverse staff. One staffer had quit her job as a banking consultant in North Carolina and put her house on the market in order to come to Flint and work for Obama.
As a field organizer, Thesing helped organize three wards of the city as well as Flint Township. Each week, she met weekly contact and recruitment goals. These goals began with completing eighteen one-on-one meetings with potential volunteers per week and escalated to enlisting 400 volunteers for Get Out the Vote weekend.
For her internship, Thesing kept a daily journal and documented all of her work. During her six months in Flint, she had one day off.
Their work began to pay off. Maybe it meant that someone volunteered to grill hot dogs when they opened their new office. Or that Ferosa and other women from the mosque started to provide food. Or that Idella, an older woman, came everyday to canvass and phone bank. Slowly, volunteer teams began to form. High school step teams canvassed. Lestine scheduled volunteers. Mitch pretty much managed his neighborhood. And then the Contours, a Motown group known for their hit, “Do You Love Me?,” gave a free concert, and the campaign did voter registration there and that helped, too.
Obama visited Flint twice and then Senator Hillary Clinton visited once. Thesing, who had campaigned vigorously against Clinton during the primaries, now found herself introducing Clinton before a crowd of 600 people.
“Her final portfolio was fantastic,” says Stacy VanDeveer, her faculty sponsor and associate professor of political science. “She did a phenomenal job of tracking data, writing up results, and documenting her work. In her journal, her discussion of Clinton is spirited; it’s a window into her learning about democracy and shared values.”
The power of community organizing
Obama won a decisive 16-point victory in Michigan. More than 100,000 new voters were registered. But as Thesing wrote in her final paper, “I was incredibly surprised—and equally proud—to find that in the month following the election, my volunteer leaders held their own organizational meetings to brainstorm their next steps . . . to push for education initiatives in the failing Flint schools.”
This summer Thesing has a fellowship to begin a yearlong research project on adolescent refugees at Concord High School. She hopes her work will help New Hampshire’s English Language Learning teachers and the school community to better serve the needs of those students. She sees this research as a way to further develop the skills she learned in Michigan.
And, she continues to read the Flint Journal every day. ⌘
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