In September 2018, the JCCP launched the Student Political Engagement Fund to support students to do political campaign work over Fall Break. Grantees were given up to $500 to do work locally, in their home communities, or beyond. Read other reflections here, and visit the JCCP website to learn more about our other programs.
Rachel Godfrey ’19
Major(s): African American Studies and Science and Society
Hometown: Perth Amboy, NJ
Location of Political Action: Sayreville, NJ
Campaign/Organization: Pallone for New Jersey and Middlesex County Democratic Organization
This past fall break taught me a great deal about two things I thought I already knew about community organizing/politics, but apparently did not internalize well enough: 1) planning does not mean people will show and 2) not doing thorough research is setting one’s self up for disaster – or at least a few days of aggressive biting of the tongue. My break consisted of volunteer phone banking, canvassing, and holding a poster-making session in Perth Amboy at my friend’s church.
My main goal going into this break was to find a way to get Black and Brown voters around me who were eligible to vote, to vote. My second goal was to create space for hope in what often feels like a hopeless sociopolitical climate, specifically with people I’ve known for a long time. During my phone banking and canvassing experience, I will admit that I was uncomfortable. I did not see many people who looked like me. This was saddening, but also spoke to the nature of who has the time/energy/funds to involve themselves in this kind of work. It was also during my canvassing my experience that I learned that the candidate I was working for was an adamant supporter of another politician who I am in no way, shape or form a fan of. The older woman canvassing with me made a remark along the lines of “Could be worse.” It was disheartening to hear.
My main activity was holding a poster-making session for members of my friend’s church in Perth Amboy, Radiance. The goal was to make supportive posters to bring to candidate Pallone’s forum in Marlboro, NJ on Sunday. I thought the members of Radiance would be a good spot because the make-up of the church is predominantly Black and Brown folks. It was also a great potential spot because they were people I had known for a long time, from visiting the church with my friend so often. He helped me spread the word – it was pretty last minute (I had thought of the idea Thursday night, and the plan was for Saturday evening). Optimistic, I planned for about 50 people. Around 20 people came, which was still great. Feeling okay about the turnout, I was still feeling uncomfortable throughout the event after finding out about Pallone’s alignment with a candidate I did not necessarily favor.
I woke up the morning of the forum with a very strange feeling; being the self-appointed queen of cancellation myself, I knew that the amount of people who showed up to make posters and hang out would not equal the amount of people who showed up to forum. What I did not expect, though, was for as little as one – one being myself – to show up. I had received a few “won’t be able to make it” and “my ride cancelled” messages, but not from everyone. Being unable to drive, it also limited the amount I could do for helping get people to the forum (which was about 30 minutes away). One of the mistakes I made was not thinking about organizing some carpools.
My civic engagement experience was definitely not what I had hoped it would be. The falling through of my DC plans was definitely disheartening but it was far from the end of the world. What bothered me more was that it left me with very little time to do more effective work over the weekend, as well as left me with very little time to do more thorough research on Pallone and his political associations. But while my experience was not what I hoped it would be, I learned even more about the systemic barriers that create limiting circumstances for people who want to be involved – from lack of access to lack of better options for candidates. I am still grateful that the fund allowed me to go home and begin a conversation with my peers and members of my community about the possibilities for civic engagement in 2018.