For more than a year, Beto O’Rourke has campaigned to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate knowing that a successful election strategy would depend on increased turnout by Texas Democrats and traditional non-voters in the 2018 midterms. For the final month of the campaign, O’Rourke’s field organization has channelled its get-out-the-vote efforts into more than seven hundred pop-up campaign offices. All over the state, people have offered their living rooms, home offices, bars, garages, restaurant patios, or breweries as spaces for neighborhood volunteers to gather for outreach efforts.
Paid staffers who oversee several pop-ups at once are available to do trainings, supply campaign literature, and coördinate strategy, but the spaces are volunteer-run, often by homeowners, many of whom have kept their doors open to their neighbors for nearly a month. They offer snacks, bug spray, or rain ponchos to block-walkers, or a quiet place to sit for people making phone calls. After several election cycles where targeted analytics and social media dominated discussions of strategy, the pop-ups are a return to the belief that face-to-face interaction is what motivates voters the most.
Lolly Lockhart, Pflugerville, Texas.
In late October, I visited some pop-ups with Bill McCullough, a photographer who has been documenting the offices in Austin, where he lives. Near the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, we visited the home of Julie Gilberg, who had opened a pop-up in her Colonial brick home. Gilberg is a longtime Democratic voter but was new to volunteering for the Party. After the election of Donald Trump, in 2016, she had read the Indivisible guide to political organizing and soon became the chair of her Democratic Party precinct, a position that had been vacant before she assumed it. “What I’m slowly learning is that one of the reasons why Texas is a red state is it hasn’t had the canvassing infrastructure, people haven’t been going out, knocking on doors, and that’s probably one of the bigger reasons besides gerrymandering that this is not a voting state,” she said.
Valerie Broussard and Denise Geleitsmann, Austin, Texas.
Ruby Ku, Austin, Texas.
She has been volunteering for O’Rourke’s campaign for more than a year, and offered her home because it is so near to campus, where the campaign has been trying to motivate young and first-time voters. She has been operating the pop-up from 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. every day and is overseeing an effort to knock on more than fifteen hundred doors each week in the surrounding neighborhood. She said it’s especially busy on weekends, when as many as thirty or forty volunteers will come to the house.
Cynde ONeill, Randy Wymore, Maddox Wymore, Randy Wymore, and two additional volunteers, Cedar Creek, Texas.
The pop-up volunteers target likely O’Rourke voters, mostly Democrats who might need a nudge to get out and vote. “We try never to argue with anyone,” Dwayne Howell, a retiree who runs a pop-up out of his house, said. “If they’re supporting Cruz”—Ted Cruz, the Republican incumbent—“we wish them a good day and move right along.”
Willie McKinney and Eileen Bristol, Austin, Texas.
Eileen Bristol, a co-owner of the Sahara Lounge, a bar in east Austin, hosts a pop-up on the bar patio.
“They said they needed a meeting spot in this neighborhood, and we have a lot of parking. We’re very supportive of the campaign, and we’re very supportive of people voting, so we were very happy to help out.”
She said she was most concerned about the environment, income disparity and the low federal minimum wage, and racial discrimination. “You know, for a lot of my life this was a Democratic state, and it flipped at some point,” she said. “I think it’s going to flip again.”
“If Beto wins we’re going to throw a party, that’s for sure.”
Alexis Baltazar and Jaime Gallegos, Austin, Texas.
Eric Seibel and Jared Everitt, Austin, Texas.
Shaleiah Fox, Zuri Drapp, Reid Drapp, and Mohan Rao, Austin, Texas.
Carmen Pagliari, Austin, Texas.
Mia Iseman, Brian Grothues, and Robert Wong, Austin, Texas.
Larry Kelly-Mahaffey and Valerie Broussard, Austin, Texas.