Jen Rafferty

Democracy Isn't a Spectator Sport: An Interview With Jen Rafferty

“Democracy isn’t a spectator sport,” shared Jen Rafferty as she told me about what prompted her to get involved in this year’s election. “I mean, [gestures vaguely at everything]. If not now, when?” Jen is a dedicated warrior for democracy. There are many causes she believes in, and she’s willing to fight for each of them. So, when it came to our country’s future, she decided it was time to turn her anger into action and to do the work needed to put better people in positions of power.

Jen works for Progressive Turnout Project (PTP) as the District Operations Director for the Sarasota field office. PTP is a national organization focused on getting the vote out. They have one-on-one conversations with Democratic voters, helping them make a commitment to vote, make a plan to vote and then follow through on that planEvery election cycle, PTP opens field offices in areas where increased voter turnout has the potential to make a difference in a close race.

This is important work. Historically, there are more Democrats registered to vote than Republicans, but of all registered voters, Republicans are more likely to actually vote. PTP is making sure all registered Democrats have the tools they need to get to the polls (or mail) and to cast their votes. Jen oversees it all in her in district. “As the District Operations Director, my job is to keep the gears moving. That means I handle things like employee onboarding, keeping our supplies stocked, managing our office lease and a number of other behind-the-scenes items. Together with the District Field Director, I also help keep our team of Field Representatives motivated and on schedule.” In a typical election year, PTP would do door-to-door, in-person canvassing, so Jen’s role would involve a lot of daily logistics throughout a physical region. However, this year that changed to a virtual model — letter writing, phone banking and a whole lot more ZOOM calls.

vote blue sign Photo by Jon Tyson from Unsplash

In my time I spent talking with Jen, I found that there isn’t anything she can’t spin in a positive way, which is a really hard thing for a lot of us to do when the past few years have been so chaotic and devastating, leaving a lot of things at stake this election. “It's really easy to think about this from a doom-and-gloom perspective because clearly so much is at stake. Will we continue to have the right to make personal, medical decisions about our pregnancies? What does a future where the climate crisis goes unaddressed look like? But from a larger and more optimistic perspective, what I see in this election, is women everywhere stepping up, taking the lead, running for office, advocating for candidates and continuing to push for an equal seat at the table,” Jen said. She brought up how the 2018 election gave rise to a new wave of diverse candidates, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Katie Porter, Lauren Underwood and Lucy McBath, whose candidacies would have been unimaginable just a few short years ago. She concluded, “So while, yes, there's a lot at stake for young women here from the perspective of what we might lose if this doesn't go the way we want, there's also so much at stake, in a good way, about what we stand to gain from having so many new voices bring their own perspectives to government.” And as hard as it is to see the glass half full sometimes, who can argue with that?

Still, there is a lot about today that is different than in 2018. It’s been an exhausting four years, and a lot of young people are feeling discouraged about politics. But Jen sees this election year differently, “Voting is an opportunity to make a change! My hope is that people who are new to the voting process will find something they want to vote for, something that gets them excited to participate.” To Jen, the most important parts of voting are being passionate about it and getting involved. Whether that be the presidential election, a progressive candidate in your community, or an amendment (like raising the minimum wage in Florida), there is something for everyone to be energized about in this election.

I am a determined voter Original photo by Minnah Stein

Seeing people get involved makes Jen feel inspired and hopeful. That’s what the work she does is all about. “I'm also inspired by history. This country hasn't always lived up to its ideals, but groups of Americans [young and old] have continued to march and vote and sacrifice and legislate to make sure that we continue to make progress, and it brings me great hope to read about all that these folks have done and to watch all that contemporary Americans continue to do,” she concluded. 

I find hope and inspiration in people like Jen — dedicated warriors for democracy. I greatly admire Jen’s tenacity and positive attitude. In a time when everything can feel hopeless, she reminds us of the opportunity our present holds and helps paint a picture of a future we can all look forward to.

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