BlueWave Interview: Frannie James

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I’m delighted to present this BlueWave Interview with Frannie James, who you can find on Twitter at @KudzuFrannie. Her work as a grassroots volunteer in Alabama during Doug Jones’ run for the Senate inspired me to learn more about how we can all become more engaged as political volunteers.

Here is my interview with her. I hope you enjoy it.

TS: Were you politically active before the 2016 election?

FRANNIE: I’ve always voted, and I might have put up a yard sign, but that was about it. I wish I had done so much more in 2016. I knew that the democratic process was how we were going to fix this mess, so I decided to get involved.

TS: So what did you start doing after the election?

FRANNIE: I had always received the emails from the local Democratic party, but I had never acted on them before. After the election, I started attending their regular local meetings.

I recommend that even if your local group is weak, get involved. Alabama is known for having one of the weakest Democratic state parties. But by being involved, we helped people realize that yes, there are Democrats in Alabama! The visibility was important.

Now, I got involved with the local party, but you might also have other types of Democratic “clubs” that operate outside of the party apparatus that you could look into. Like Indivisible groups. 

TS: What is it like when you first get involved with the local party?

FRANNIE: I think it’s important to realize that it won’t all come together for you at the first meeting you attend. Try to go to a few things they do—meetings, an event, a training, etc. Figure out who is who, who seems to know a lot, what the structure is.

Don’t give up when you first start. Some groups will be more welcoming or organized than others. Some groups may not respond to you quickly because they’re not really sure how to plug you in when you offer to help. Be persistent, and things will start to happen. 

Remember that you’re not dealing with a corporation and a clean structure. These are groups of volunteers. Also, if you have ideas for what you think the group should be doing, suggest it. Just be prepared to tackle it yourself.

TS: Once you got your bearings, what kinds of projects did you end up working on?

FRANNIE: I started to help manage the headquarters, organizing volunteers, etc. I became the co-chair of the voter engagement group fairly quickly. We organized volunteers to canvass, run voter registration drives, etc.

TS: Did you already know how to do those things?

FRANNIE: No. I’ve found that there is always training available. Your group may offer their own trainings, they may bring in other groups to train, or have experienced volunteers train the newbies.

The farther away you are from an election, there is the luxury of slowing down and doing a really good job training new volunteers. For example, you would go with an experienced volunteer to canvass just to watch and learn the ropes. 

Once you get closer to the election, there is still training of course, but it’ll be more hurried. It is absolutely crazy right before election day. 

One thing I want to mention is that as Doug Jones’ campaign grew, the DNC staffers started coming to the state. I learned so much from them. 

TS: Like what?

FRANNIE: The biggest issue our party has is that Democratic voters just don’t vote regularly. The work we did with them was all about getting out the vote.

TS: Tell me about what you were doing the days leading up to Doug Jones’ election.

Frannie: Once the Jones campaign had opened up a field office in Tuscaloosa, they had a field organizer working full time. I essentially acted as her unofficial personal assistant. I helped her run the campaign office, made signage, coordinated large canvassing groups (weekly then daily), trained phone bankers, running errands, etc. 

The last few days, HQ was constantly hopping. New campaign staff were on hand and we were thick into final get out the vote (GOTV) efforts. It was nuts! Yet, very satisfying. 

On election day, I started at 4:30am. (I had left HQ the night before at 10pm.) Volunteers showed up to do a final literature-drop, put campaign signs near voting locations (within legal limits), and I was directing that action, and participating myself. 

We had canvassers and phone bankers, folks were bringing food, etc. We had brand new people show up to help that day. We had hundreds of people come through HQ. In my last hour at HQ, I was phone banking to remind people to vote. By my last calls, there were only 30-45 minutes left to vote.

Frannie James

Frannie (right) with two other volunteers at around 2pm on election day.

TS: I’m not sure I’d look that chipper if I’d been up since 4:30am!  How did you spend the evening on election day?

FRANNIE: I left HQ around 6:30pm. I was exhausted and knew my pets needed me back at home. I took care of them and then headed to the campaign watch party. I was so exhausted that when early returns looked as if we weren’t quite going to make it, I was simply numb. Luckily, the numbness faded as victory became apparent. It was fantastic. Amazing

TS: Thank you so much for sharing all this with me. I think a lot of folks out there want to help more, but they are a little apprehensive because they don’t know what to expect. Do you have any last bit of advice for us?

FRANNIE: I’d encourage people to get involved right away. Your group will connect you to the various candidates before the primary and you’ll have time to practice how to get out the vote before the general election. Just get involved. Whether it is an hour a week, or a lot more time you can give, they need your help. There is value, no matter how red your district is, to get more votes for Democratic candidates. You need that momentum to get the next wins.

POSTSCRIPT: First, a big thank you to Frannie for agreeing to talk to me and being my first BlueWave Interview. I hope you have all found this to be informative, and hopefully inspiring! I plan to talk to more grassroots heroes and hope you’ll join me for those discussions!

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