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Monday profile: Virginia Velez

Submitted by on 1, September 22, 2008 – 11:45 amNo Comment

For years Virginia Velez hung out on the margins of politics, dabbling with the Green party and supporting moderate Republicans along the way. But this election season, the 51-year-old Islander is working hard to get Democrat Barack Obama elected president. To say that she’s confident in his chances could be a bit of an understatement. “My first grandson will be born the day after Obama wins,” she said.

She’s running an outfit called Alamedans for Obama that is reaching out to battleground states to try to bring Obama votes, and the group is registering people to vote in droves. Her hard work brought her a role as an at-large delegate at the Democratic Convention this past summer. Velez is also working with the Alameda Democratic Club to try to help them boost their membership. We caught up with her at the end of a busy evening of phone banking at the Democratic Club’s offices.

What attracted you to the Obama campaign?
I started over a year ago at Camp Obama. I did a three-day thing, and I said, if this is going to be dividing, I’m going to go back home. Instead, it was very motivating to see people that were from all walks of life – religious communities, Republicans since Reagan. I’ve never seen so much diversity. I went from political science to education at Stanford when Condi (Rice) was provost, and I was confrontational at that time. When I read Obama’s books, they brought me to tears. It helped me understand how to organize, rather than resist.

How do people in other states react when they get a call from California?
There are a lot of people from California living in Nevada, Oregon and Washington. We’re not usually talking to strangers at all – they’re retired from here. They’re working families that had to leave here because the cost of living got too hard. And people from rural areas here are calling people from rural areas there, women are calling women, veterans are calling veterans. We target as much as possible.

So people are receptive to your message in the swing states?
They absolutely are. There are so many supporters who want to volunteer. Sure, you get McCain (supporters), the “no way, no how.” I’ve phone-banked from Iowa to Kentucky and all points in between. I’ve organized phone banks in every state. All over the country, people are using their vacation time to work. It’s not just kids – it’s retirees, working people. The level of participation he has inspired is the most inspiring thing.

How did you get your convention gig?
It’s embarrassing; I didn’t campaign as much as I should have. I got nominated because I did so much work. I didn’t make it in the first run but I got nominated as at-large by the elected delegates because they saw the work I did.

What was your favorite moment at the convention?
Oh, when Ted Kennedy came out, I fell out crying. When (John Kennedy) was killed, I just remember my grandmother sitting in front of the TV, and her crying, and his kids were my age, and feeling a horrible pain. I lived in that era of just utter dread that if we had a leader, we would lose them. Teddy is an affirmation that we won’t lose them all. It was good to see someone I have admired since I was young alive, fighting, kicking. It was inspiring.

What should people do if they want to help?
If they want to get involved, we’re phone-banking every night at the Alameda Democratic Club. Call the Democratic Club (at 522-3361), say you’re coming so I can get an idea of how many are going to roll through.

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