Amer­i­cans

Five vot­ers ex­plain their en­thu­si­asm for Demo­cratic can­di­dates, causes and ac­tivism

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JENNA JOHN­SON — Kel­lie Gormly jenna.john­son@wash­post.com

de­scribed why they are mo­ti­vated to chal­lenge Pres­i­dent Trump’s agenda.

Dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race, much of the po­lit­i­cal ex­cite­ment and en­ergy cen­tered on Don­ald Trump and his mas­sive, rowdy cam­paign ral­lies. Now, his pres­i­dency has sparked a new po­lit­i­cal move­ment, one fo­cused on chal­leng­ing him and his party’s agenda.

As the Demo­cratic Party cel­e­brates wins in un­ex­pected places, party lead­ers hope they can sus­tain this mo­men­tum through Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tions so they can re­take Congress.

As part of an on­go­ing se­ries fea­tur­ing the voices of Amer­i­cans, The Wash­ing­ton Post dis­patched five re­porters to find out why some Democrats, left-lean­ing in­de­pen­dents and even Repub­li­cans who were un­en­thused in 2016 are feel­ing more mo­ti­vated to be­come po­lit­i­cally en­gaged in 2018.

MIL­WAU­KEE

Kae Jae John­son, a self-de­scribed “Obama Demo­crat,” could not bring her­self to vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton, a choice she now re­grets.

John­son, 44, felt as though Clin­ton ex­pected the sup­port of black vot­ers with­out ex­plain­ing why she de­served it. John­son also dis­agreed with some of the poli­cies that Bill Clin­ton im­ple­mented dur­ing his pres­i­dency, in­clud­ing sign­ing a 1998 law that de­nies fed­eral aid to col­lege stu­dents with mi­nor con­vic­tions re­lated to mar­i­juana.

“I’m se­ri­ous about how I vote,” said John­son, who was liv­ing in Chicago in 2016, “and I didn’t want my name con­nected with vot­ing for Hil­lary, be­cause I re­ally didn’t see her con­nect­ing with us.”

There was no way she was go­ing to vote for Trump, so she didn’t vote.

Black voter turnout dropped na­tion­wide in 2016. In Wis­con­sin, where John­son moved soon af­ter the elec­tion, turnout among African Amer­i­can vot­ers was down 19 per­cent from 2012, ac­cord­ing to one es­ti­mate, which helped Trump win the state by 22,000 votes.

Al­though Clin­ton won Illi­nois, John­son re­gret­ted her de­ci­sion.

“I re­al­ized that by not vot­ing at all, I ac­tu­ally voted for Trump,” she said.

She thinks many of Trump’s ac­tions have been wrong. John­son says he has pro­voked hate and has not done enough to pro­tect young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who were brought to the United States as chil­dren.

She wor­ries about her three chil­dren: Her 28-year-old daugh­ter has a good job but can’t af­ford health in­sur­ance. Her 24-year-old daugh­ter has a 4-year-old daugh­ter and can­not find a job. And she feels that she con­stantly has to worry about the safety of her youngest, check­ing up on her 20-year-old son as though he were still a child.

“Some­one has to step in and say, ‘We need to get back to the path of do­ing it right,’ ” she said. “It’s been scary, per­son­ally.”

Trump’s pres­i­dency pushed John­son, who used to work as a union or­ga­nizer, to be­come po­lit­i­cally in­volved once again.

She got a job late last year with Black Lead­ers Or­ga­niz­ing for Com­mu­ni­ties, a Wis­con­sin-based ac­tivist group. She and three other or­ga­niz­ers have knocked on more than 8,000 doors in two Mil­wau­kee Zip codes that have mostly black res­i­dents and some of the city’s high­est poverty rates. They ask vot­ers what is­sues mat­ter most to them and en­cour­age them to vote in ev­ery elec­tion. Her mes­sage: “These lit­tle races are im­por­tant to win the big races.”

Re­cently, John­son voted for a state Supreme Court po­si­tion — some­thing she had never done be­fore. She sup­ported Demo­crat­i­caligned Re­becca Dal­let, who won as a re­sult of a rush of Demo­cratic vot­ers. That win has wor­ried Repub­li­can Party lead­ers, and Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker (R) warned of a “blue wave” that could wash over the midterm elec­tions this fall.

“It’s com­ing, it’s here, it’s go­ing to blow a lot of peo­ple away,” John­son said. “I think 2016 made Democrats step up. It was a wake-up call that we have to be bet­ter.”

TULSA

Rachel Dunt­ley-Walker showed up to the Tulsa polls on Elec­tion Day in 2016 ready to vote for a Demo­crat for pres­i­dent for the first time. But she had re­cently got­ten mar­ried, and her driver’s li­cense now showed her wife’s last name, while her voter reg­is­tra­tion had her maiden name, so she wasn’t al­lowed to vote.

Trump went on to win ev­ery county in Ok­la­homa, as Repub­li­cans of­ten do.

Dunt­ley-Walker, 35, grew up in a po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive, deeply re­li­gious fam­ily in the Tulsa sub­urbs. Her dad would take her to picket at abortion clin­ics, and as soon as she was old enough to vote, she reg­is­tered as a Repub­li­can and voted for Ge­orge W. Bush for pres­i­dent. She be­came a teacher but only pas­sively fol­lowed pol­i­tics, some­times not even re­al­iz­ing an elec­tion was hap­pen­ing un­til “Vote Here” signs popped up in her neigh­bor­hood. She would of­ten call her dad and ask, “What in the world are we vot­ing for?”

“I voted Repub­li­can, no mat­ter what their stance was,” she said. “If they had an ‘ R’ next to their name, I just voted for them.”

But Trump was dif­fer­ent. She was deeply trou­bled by how he spoke about im­mi­grants, as her stu­dents voiced con­cerns about their fam­i­lies.

“They were com­ing in and telling me that they were wor­ried about be­ing de­ported or that they were wor­ried about their par­ents be­ing de­ported,” said Dunt­ley-Walker, who teaches sev­en­th­grade math at a pub­lic char­ter school in Tulsa. “I don’t feel like any kid in Amer­ica should ever live in fear, and I feel like that is what he is do­ing to our kids.”

Clin­ton was not only more com­pas­sion­ate to un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants but also more sup­port­ive of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, Dunt­ley-Walker said. And as a newly mar­ried les­bian who is rais­ing three chil­dren, Dunt­ley-Walker felt as though Clin­ton sup­ported her right to love and marry whomever she wanted.

Last year, one of her friends ran for the Ok­la­homa State Sen­ate in a con­ser­va­tive Tulsa district as a Demo­crat. That can­di­date was Allison Ik­ley-Free­man, a 26-year-old les­bian who works as a ther­a­pist at a non­profit men­tal-health agency. On the cam­paign trail, she ques­tioned why Repub­li­can law­mak­ers rammed through a state bud­get with se­vere cuts.

Ik­ley-Free­man won by 31 votes — and showed Dunt­ley-Walker that she, too, could make a dif­fer­ence in lo­cal pol­i­tics.

“I don’t think I re­al­ized how im­por­tant state and lo­cal is­sues were un­til my friend got into of­fice, and then she was like, ‘You have more of a voice than you think you do,’ ” she said.

Dunt­ley-Walker plans to up­date her voter reg­is­tra­tion and switch her party from Repub­li­can to in­de­pen­dent. Al­though she will prob­a­bly start to vote for more Democrats, she doesn’t yet fully iden­tify with the party.

As Ok­la­homa teach­ers or­ga­nized this month to de­mand raises and more state fund­ing for their schools, Dunt­ley-Walker at­tended marches and ral­lies at the state Capi­tol — ac­tivism that her fa­ther, a staunch Trump sup­porter, does not agree with or un­der­stand.

“I don’t want my kids to be short­changed, and I feel like they have been for a long time,” Dunt­ley-Walker said on Sun­day, her skin lightly sun­burned from days of protest­ing. “I don’t care about my raise. If I cared about it, I’d be in Texas. I care about the fact that my kids have to sit on desks that are cracked, that we have to share books within a whole grade, we have to beg par­ents to buy tis­sues and pen­cils and pa­per — and some of those times we don’t even get that pro­vided.”

VIR­GINIA BEACH

Frank Za­har is a reg­is­tered in­de­pen­dent who usu­ally votes for Democrats, but he just couldn’t sup­port Clin­ton.

Even now, it’s dif­fi­cult for him to put his fin­ger on what ex­actly he didn’t like about her. He thinks that as sec­re­tary of state, she should not have put U.S. per­son­nel in a dan­ger­ous place like Beng­hazi, Libya. He just didn’t trust her — and he thought that Trump was the bet­ter can­di­date, so he voted for him.

“It was a mis­take,” said Za­har, 77, a Viet­nam War veteran and long­time res­i­dent of Vir­ginia Beach who used to own a toy and kite shop and now de­liv­ers piz­zas and drives for Uber. “I’m sure a lot of older white guys like me did the same thing.”

Za­har soured on Trump within months of him tak­ing of­fice. He thinks Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has been us­ing Trump. Za­har is ap­palled that En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt has rolled back so many pro­tec­tions and reg­u­la­tions. He says he is dis­ap­pointed by Trump’s con­tin­ued mean­ness and what he sees as wide­spread cor­rup­tion in the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Za­har also feels let down by the Repub­li­can-led Congress. The tax cuts en­acted last year ben­e­fited the wealthy more than any­one, he said, and he op­poses at­tempts to undo Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act. He thinks Congress should once again ban as­sault weapons.

He longs for a time when law­mak­ers from both par­ties could meet in the mid­dle on pol­icy and work out an agree­ment over beers in Ge­orge­town. While he agrees with many Repub­li­cans that im­mi­gra­tion laws need to be tight­ened, he sup­ports es­tab­lish­ing a le­gal path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for young, un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who were brought to this coun­try as chil­dren.

Za­har misses Obama, for whom he voted twice and calls “the most in­tel­li­gent pres­i­dent we had in a long time.” And Za­har is back to vot­ing for Democrats — in­clud­ing Ralph Northam for gover­nor and Ch­eryl Turpin for the Vir­ginia House of Del­e­gates in Novem­ber. Turpin was one of at least 15 Democrats to win a state­house seat that had long been held by Repub­li­cans.

“Peo­ple — you’re speak­ing to one of them — are up­set and are go­ing to turn against Trump,” Za­har said, tak­ing a break from walk­ing his dog Sun­day af­ter­noon. “That’s for sure.”

PEO­RIA, Ariz.

Dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, Christo­pher Vigil kept wait­ing for some­one to break into the lat­est news­cast and let ev­ery­one know that Trump’s cam­paign was just a joke.

“I thought some­one was go­ing to tell us, ‘We gotcha,’ ” said Vigil, 40, who reg­is­tered as a Repub­li­can as soon as he was old enough but has voted for can­di­dates from both par­ties, in­clud­ing Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Early on, he was ex­cited by the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy of Sen. Bernie San­ders (Vt.).

“I loved his views, his whole plat­form, his stance on equal­ity,” said Vigil, who is study­ing au­dio pro­duc­tion at Glen­dale Com­mu­nity Col­lege and lives with his mother in a sin­gle-story, red-tile roof home in Peo­ria, a sub­urb north­west of Phoenix. “In­come equal­ity, health care, ed­u­ca­tion.”

When San­ders lost the nom­i­na­tion, Vigil wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t like Bill Clin­ton when he was pres­i­dent, and he didn’t like Hil­lary Clin­ton, ei­ther, say­ing that the cou­ple “left a bad taste in my mouth.” Still, he couldn’t vote for some­one as “un­be­liev­ably flawed” and “grossly in­com­pe­tent” as Trump, so he grudg­ingly voted for Clin­ton.

His dis­like of Trump has only grown since then.

“The man is a bla­tant racist,” Vigil said. “It in­fu­ri­ates me the way he talks about us. I iden­tify as Chi­cano, and we’re all brethren.”

Even though Vigil said he’s dis­gusted by Trump and the Repub­li­can Party, he has re­mained a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can, mostly as a trib­ute to his great-grand­fa­ther. Mean­while, Vigil has be­come in­volved with Our Revo­lu­tion, a pro­gres­sive ac­tivist group that spun out of the San­ders cam­paign and helps to elect like-minded can­di­dates in lo­cal elec­tions. Lately, he has spent his week­ends can­vass­ing.

Vigil is sup­port­ing Hi­ral Tipir­neni, a Demo­crat run­ning in this month’s spe­cial elec­tion for for­mer GOP con­gress­man Trent Franks’s seat in Ari­zona’s 8th Con­gres­sional District, which leans heav­ily Repub­li­can.

When asked what would push him to once again sup­port a Repub­li­can, he re­sponded: “Noth­ing short of bring­ing back Ron­ald Rea­gan.”

JEF­FER­SON HILLS, Pa.

The 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion marked the first time that Kait­lyn Har­rold could vote, and she cast her bal­lot for Trump.

It wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion for Har­rold, who lives south of Pitts­burgh in Jef­fer­son Hills. She was reg­is­tered as a Repub­li­can, but she liked stances from both par­ties. She didn’t like Trump’s lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, and she thought that it would be “cool to have a fe­male pres­i­dent” — but she thought that vot­ing for Clin­ton was al­most like vot­ing for Clin­ton’s hus­band. She wanted some­one new, so she voted for Trump.

“He was the bet­ter of the two evils,” said Har­rold, 21. “He’s not a pup­pet.”

Soon af­ter the elec­tion, Har­rold got a job work­ing in a kitchen at a Pitts­burgh ho­tel. Af­ter grow­ing up and go­ing to school in sub­urbs that were pre­dom­i­nantly white and Repub­li­can, she ex­pe­ri­enced a bit of cul­ture shock as she met fel­low em­ploy­ees, cus­tomers and oth­ers whose “story was com­pletely dif­fer­ent than mine.”

“I started talk­ing to peo­ple in the city who had very dif­fer­ent lives from me,” said Har­rold, who is now a sous chef at Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity. “It just re­ally changed my per­spec­tive on the way I viewed hu­man life and peo­ple’s rights. I guess my mo­rals changed, and I got a whole dif­fer­ent view­point on things. I started do­ing my re­search . . . on the core val­ues of the Repub­li­can Party and the core val­ues of the Demo­cratic Party.”

Mean­while, she wor­ries that Trump’s rude and crude be­hav­ior has per­ma­nently dam­aged the United States’ rep­u­ta­tion around the world. She wishes that she had voted for Lib­er­tar­ian Gary John­son.

About a year af­ter the elec­tion, Har­rold changed her party reg­is­tra­tion from Repub­li­can to Demo­crat. She’s now pas­sion­ate about pro­tect­ing the work­ing class, cre­at­ing jobs, giv­ing work­ers more job se­cu­rity, and pro­tect­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care and abortion rights. About the only thing that she still agrees with Repub­li­cans on is the rights of gun own­ers.

On March 13, she voted in the spe­cial elec­tion held in Penn­syl­va­nia’s 18th Con­gres­sional District to fill the seat pre­vi­ously held by a Repub­li­can who re­signed. Har­rold is new to vot­ing, but she’s pretty sure that she wouldn’t nor­mally vote in an elec­tion like this. She voted for Demo­crat Conor Lamb, a young for­mer pros­e­cu­tor who spent vastly less money on his cam­paign than his Repub­li­can op­po­nent — and un­ex­pect­edly won. To her, Lamb seemed hon­est and like some­one who was run­ning to help “all peo­ple in all com­mu­ni­ties” and would stick to his val­ues no mat­ter how pop­u­lar opin­ion might shift.

By vot­ing, she felt as though she had an op­por­tu­nity to change Wash­ing­ton, which has be­come dom­i­nated by Repub­li­cans, and send a mes­sage to Trump.

“We’re not happy with the way he’s run­ning the gov­ern­ment and run­ning the coun­try,” Har­rold said. “We needed a change — this isn’t work­ing. The way that you’re act­ing isn’t work­ing.”

“Peo­ple — you’re speak­ing to one of them — are up­set and are go­ing to turn against Trump. That’s for sure.” Frank Za­har, a reg­is­tered in­de­pen­dent who voted for Trump

DAN SIM­MONS FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST EVAN WY­LOGE FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST MARVIN JOSEPH/THE WASH­ING­TON POST AN­DREA EGER FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST JIM MOR­RI­SON FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: Kait­lyn Har­rold of Jef­fer­son Hills, Pa., voted for Trump but be­came dis­il­lu­sioned and is now pas­sion­ate about pro­tect­ing the work­ing class. Rachel Dunt­ley-Walker is a teacher in Tulsa who plans to change her party from Repub­li­can to in­de­pen­dent. Frank Za­har from Vir­ginia Beach voted for Trump but soured on him within months of Trump tak­ing of­fice. Christo­pher Vigil of Peo­ria, Ariz., sup­ported Sen. Bernie San­ders (Vt.) and is now in­volved in the pro­gres­sive group Our Revo­lu­tion. Kae Jae John­son of Mil­wau­kee says Trump’s pres­i­dency pushed her to work with a Wis­con­sin ac­tivist group.

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