by David Downs
Prop 19 volunteers will spread their message at the San Francisco Giants World Series game tonight in the Bay Area, and at Jon Stewart's Rally To Restore Sanity October 30th in Washington, DC. The Prop 19 campaign says it's all part of the final, six-day push to get out the vote for the tax and regulate cannabis measure, the outcome of which has become too close to call.
Perhaps more than 1,000 Tax Cannabis 2010 volunteers have placed well more than 100,000 calls to California voters, and that number is going up by the thousands each day. Anyone in the world can become a phone bank volunteer for Prop 19, thanks to new technology the campaign has deployed, part of efforts that have little comparison to past elections, says James Rigdon, a veteran campaigner and field director for the initiative.
With more than 219,000 allies on Facebook.com, Prop 19 is organizing rallies across the state at major events like the World Series, as well as on virtually every college campus in the state. Prop 19 has more college chapters than any political movement in the state, Rigdon says, and it's all aimed at getting voters to mail in their absentee ballots, or show up at the polls Tuesday, November 2.
“It's exceeded my expectations by far,” says Rigdon, who has worked gubernatorial and assembly races up and down the East Coast. “I was always thinking it was going to be a serious hurdle overcoming people's stereotypes but there have been a lot more people getting on the bus.”
Home-based volunteers from across the country and as far away as Japan are using Prop 19's technology to lobby the electorate, and it's significantly contributing to the get out the vote drive, he says.
At 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday at Prop 19 headquarters in downtown Oakland, the office hummed with volunteers running the phone banks while others boxed and shipped thousands of “Yes on 19” rally signs destined for battleground counties like Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego. Two documentary teams paced the floor, filming every moment while “Super Dave” Meiler makes his first call of the morning.
Meiler's a 22 year-old Buffalo, New York resident and aspiring writer who flew out to Oakland to to matriculate at Oaksterdam this summer, after his career path ran into a dead end on the East Coast. Meiler accidentally ended up in the Prop 19 office, and once he heard of the initiative, became a full-time, seven-day-a-week volunteer.
The former Boy Scout slept in cardboard boxes on the streets of Oakland at first, and made more than 20,000 calls on behalf of Prop 19. He's now a volunteer coordinator for the campaign, and is staying with a newfound friend in the city.
The experience has made him decide to become a professional anti-prohibition activist across the country. “I didn't think we'd see legalization by a state in the next 25 years,” he said. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
A former debt collector, Meiler says Prop 19's “predictive dialer” technology works similar to expert debt collection-ware, screening out unanswered calls and answering machines, and putting volunteers on the phone with live voters. Instead of making maybe twenty calls a day, a volunteer can effectively make over a hundred, he says.
Phone bank calls show up as “Tax Cannabis” on the receiver's caller ID, Meiler notes, and it initially puts some people on edge. “It's understandable. People wonder where paranoia comes from, well knowing that you could be busted at any given time because you are doing something illegal,” he says.
“You get people across the entire spectrum on Prop 19 no matter where you call in the state. Two months ago it was half and half 'yes' and 'no', but now ask anyone who makes calls and it's 'yes, yes, yes', maybe one 'undecided,' and two 'nos a day,” he said. “You can tell we've made an impact from calling people, or something they saw on Facebook.”
“I've dialed over 20,000 dials and I can count one hand that ones were scary in terms of their closed-mindedness. They'll just hang up the phone. A lot of the nos are curious as to how this got on the ballot if the devil weed is so evil and then you break it down.
“Some say, 'Well, I don't want people getting high'. And I say, 'That's understandable. But look at it this way, people are going to smoke it regardless at this point, why not give those jobs to taxpayers instead of the cartels?'”
“It feels great to change minds. You're getting another 'yes' vote and you're filling a person with knowledge and they tell their friends and family,” Meiler says. “I tell people 'I used to do debt collection, this is the exact opposite.'”
On the phone with a female California voter, Meiler initially asked if she's turned in her absentee ballot. The woman said “yes,” and Meiler gingerly inquired as to how she voted on Prop 19.
The woman took a deep breath, and hesitatingly admitted “Yes, I voted for it.” The voter added that she's a former drug addict, but not all drugs are the same and alcohol prohibition didn't work.
Meiler gave her info on how to get involved in a local get-out-the vote-group using the Yeson19.com web site, and explained how she could make volunteer calls from home as well.
Prop 19 is turning a sleepy, mid-term election year in California into a global sensation, with voter turnout expected to be above the norm, especially among the young. The US Attorney General says they will continue to enforce federal drug laws if Prop 19 passes, but Rigdon says states have a long history of defying unjust federal law, including in 1996 over Prop 215 and in the 1930s over alcohol prohibition. None of that will matter if people don't vote.
“The plan is just: get as much outreach and get as many rallies as we can,” Rigdon said. “We got people going to the Giants game today who are wearing Giants caps and carrying Prop 19 signs. We got great results when we hit the NLCS. It's a lot of energy.
“We've got volunteers putting rallies together for the next six days all over the state, and all these people are doing this on a purely volunteer basis. Every contribution we get is a huge help.”
Meiler says he talks to a lot of Baby Boomers who are astonished at the Yes on 19 campaign's organization.
“When you have the Internet, that's the difference. They say, 'Well in the Sixties, we weren't this organized. And I say, 'Well you guys did a lot, but you didn't have the Internet.' That is one thing that is driving it. People can learn for themselves in a click.”