Cut off! Canvassing as an Independent

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Whether you love it or hate it, if you’ve canvassed for a liberal, progressive, or DFL candidate for office in the last few years, you’re probably aware of the Voter Activation Network (VAN). Grassroots campaigns can “make or break” on their ability to reach out to communities and connect with voters on the issues, and the VAN is a crucial tool for any campaign, making the recent developments for Robin Wonsley Worlobah’s campaign all the more jarring.

A statement (available to read here) from the campaign provides some background for the situation. On Wednesday, September 20th, the access to VAN was revoked. Since April 2021, when VAN access was first granted, it has been used by their independent campaign for office. To their knowledge this is the first time VAN access, which has been used by independent campaigns in the past, was revoked without notice. Nothing has changed in the time, there was no deception or concealing the intent not to seek the DFL endorsement.

The dynamics of this race are important to note, as Ward 2 presents an exception to the typical dynamic in the city, with a Green party incumbent, no endorsed Democratic candidate, and a race that is nominally for non-partisan office. To give some context, the DSA licensing agreement would prevent us using our VAN if we were backing a candidate where there was a Democratic (DFL endorsed) candidate. Additionally, while this may be the first instance of access being revoked without notice, there are past reports elsewhere alleging the denial of access to progressive campaigns to protect conservative incumbent democrats, such as in 2020 to Rachel Ventura in the Illinois 11th district. Nothing here, however, provides any adequate indication why, at this moment, lacking a Democratic incumbent, lacking a Democratic nominee, after six months of permitted use, VAN access was cut off suddenly, six weeks before the election.

This was a setback for the campaign. Records were kept that lessened the overall impact, but this has required time as they sought to determine what had happened, if it could be reversed, and if another avenue of access was available. This has required resources and funds to go to gaining access to a voter database independent of the DFL. In this case though, a fix was found. On October 8th, 2021, 18 days after access was revoked and one week after they put out a call for donations to fund the new database, they announced they had met their goal, had access to a new database, and would begin campaigning again.

Robin Wonsley Worlobah is running for Ward 2 City Council position in Minneapolis. She is endorsed by Twin Cities DSA, among other endorsers, and is running as a democratic socialist without party endorsement.

by Tim H., co-chair of Electoral Committee and Treasurer of TCDSA