120 mind-numbing minutes inside the Recall Gavin Newsom campaign
Who would’ve guessed a coordinated attack on progressivism would be so dull
Toiling away in a minimally air-conditioned, multi-use business suite in Escondido, a group of volunteers are working to recall the California governor. This is the headquarters of the San Diego chapter of Reform California, whose mission is to defeat the enemy of personal freedom, adamant mask-lover, and the king of coastal liberal elitism, Gavin Newsom.
I step through the door of Reform California HQ and a young man in a Packers hat and patchy facial hair regards me with unkindness.
“I’m here to volunteer,” I say.
“Well,” he says, resigned. “Just sign in and we’ll put you to work.”
I’m guessing he doesn’t get many of the under-40 crowd, and that’s why he seems so put out by my presence. I glance around and would guess the median age of the other volunteers to be about 70. Of course this young coordinator is going to be suspicious of me. Who else besides the elderly has the kind of time on their hands to willingly spend hours volunteering for a political campaign? I’ll tell you: a saboteur. An agent provocateur!
Or maybe that’s how Packers Hat Guy regards everyone. Every young, white Republican: suspicious of everything and irrationally angry at the world.
But he’s right to be distrustful. I’m not volunteering because I think Gavin Newsom should be recalled, but to get an inside look at Trumpism 2.0, and to gauge whether we should take it seriously.
And we should.
There’s a very real chance that Gavin Newsom could be recalled this year. According to today’s San Diego Union-Tribune, a recent poll revealed that voters are evenly split between recalling the current governor and keeping him in office.
A few months ago, I laughed at the prospect of anyone unseating Newsom. Remember that bear guy? Or manslaughterer du jour, Caitlyn Jenner? Or creamed corn personified, former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer? For a brief period, it seemed that every opportunist in the Republican clown car was vying for a chance at governor, and we all laughed and laughed.
But that’s how they win. We don’t take them seriously until it’s too late.
Now, with two months to go, the Republican party has found a frontrunner in Larry Elder, a conservative talk show host and Libertarian who hates minimum wage, as well as any form of welfare. Given the rabid individualism that COVID has revealed in our country (as evidenced by Dr. Fauci’s now-famous words: “I don't know how to explain to you that you should care about other people”), Elder’s platform will likely resonate with a lot of folks.
But you wouldn’t know that there’s a complex, coordinated attack on progressivism based on the scene at Reform California HQ.
The room is painted dark blue, giving it a dull oppressiveness. It feels like a doctor’s waiting room or the DMV or some other unpleasant environment. Bad vibes abound. It’s not necessarily messy, but cluttered in a way that feels chaotic-lite, like a makeshift LLC. There’s a large flatscreen on the wall, pumping out Fox News. The volume is turned up so high that it’s difficult to hear anything, and the network’s signature brand of fear permeates the air like a toxin.
Framed slogans hang around the room. “UPHOLD CITIZENS INITIATIVES” and “FIX THE ROADS.” Very They Live. It makes me sad to imagine someone buying frames for these aesthetically unpleasing pieces of propaganda.
Packers Hat Guy puts me at the end of a long table, next to two older gentlemen—let’s call them Phil and Doug. It’s immediately apparent that this is some sort of social occasion for these guys, and it doesn’t take long for them to dive back into their bantering bullshit. Behind them sits Vivianne, opening envelopes and tallying donations. Packers Hat Guy gives me a stack of letters with auto-generated names and addresses and tells me to copy the address from the letter onto an envelope. I am then to fill the envelope with anti-Newsom flyers.
Vivianne opens a contribution envelope and finds a handwritten note inside. “Sheesh. Some nasty person calling us racists again.”
“Nasty people,” confirms Phil.
“What a bunch of fucking idiots,” Vivianne says.
But they quickly forget their outrage, and Phil and Doug get back to joking. Phil mentions his sister and Doug asks “The pretty one or the ugly one?” and Phil says, “There’s a difference?” Their rapport is exactly like the old heckling muppets, Statler and Waldorf, but if Statler and Waldorf complained about the welfare state and wished the government would bring back the draft.
“I think a little conscription would do a lot of good,” Doug says.
During those awkward moments, I’d turn my attention to Packer Hat Guys’ dog, Moose, a super cute labradoodle.
I take a leisurely 10 minutes to fill my first envelope—I’m not exactly motivated to contribute labor to this cause—but even my intentionally sluggish pace is faster than Doug and Phil, who just don’t quit talking.
Phil tells a story about his alcoholic step-father, a bible salesman who could sell a bible to an atheist. The man’s boozy debauchery actually sounds frightening and quite abusive, but Phil recalls it like it was the good ol’ days. Doug talks about marching in the military, and asks us if we know this military marching song:
“Last night, I stayed at home and masturbated,
It felt so good, I knew it would
Last night, I stayed at home and masturbated
It felt so nice, I did it twice
You should have seen me on the short stroke
It felt so grand, I used my hand
You should have seen me on the long stroke
It felt so neat, I used my feet”
Now, just imagine a 70 year-old man, singing this to me with unwavering eye-contact. In your mind, is it a slow, devastating zoom in on my face? Does my mouth not know whether to frown or smile, so it becomes a horrified combination of both? Like some sort of peanut shape? Because that’s what it feels like.
Good lord, where is that dog when I need him?
I retreat to the break-room and stress-eat two slices of pizza, which are free (that’s good), but also Little Caesers (that’s bad). In the main room, I can hear Vivianne complimenting Newsmax anchor Chris Salcedo for referring to Biden as “Mr. Biden” and not “President Biden,” and it just seems so strange that she’d have a problem with Biden but not old men singing about jerking off.
I return to my seat and Doug is looking at one of the flyers. “That’s a good picture of Carl,” he says, referring to Carl DeMaio, whose drowned rat face adorns the flyer and it is, in fact, not a good picture at all.
Truthfully, Carl DeMaio is one of the main reasons I’m here. If Recall Newsom fails, I will take great joy in it—not because I’m a big Newsom fan (although I think he’s done a fine job of navigating an incredibly difficult health crisis)—but because the San Diego chapter of Reform California is run by none other than political-hack-turned-talk-radio-nut Carl DeMaio. If the recall fails, it’ll give DeMaio a score of, like, 0 for 5 in terms of political victories. A compassionate person might see DeMaio’s consistent failure as nothing to celebrate, but not me, baby. I’m still [Michael Jackson eating popcorn gif].
I think it takes a special kind of sociopath to capitalize on COVID anger and push through a tax-funded special election, even though Newsom is up for reelectionnext year. If DeMaio and his frothy-mouthed followers could’ve just waited a little bit, they’d probably get their result without wasting an incredible amount of time and money, butbecause a few people whose britches were really burned when Mean Mr. Newsom told them to wear a mask (and who also fell prey to a white supremacist-led blitz of disinformation), we now have to endure this bullshit power grab. But, you know, anything to own the libs, I guess—even if that means wasting resources.
At the end of my shift, I’ve stuffed about 15 envelopes. Some of the addressee’s names are misspelled—not intentionally, but I don’t care enough to fix them. I’m sure my elementary school-style scrawl looks like Reform California is using child labor, and I’ve never been so proud of my naturally atrocious handwriting.
Before leaving, I ask Packer Hat Guy if I can take a photo of Moose. He reluctantly agrees. Packer Hat Guy hates me, I know it. Whatever. I snap the pic, and it’s a reminder that goodness can exist among anger, disinformation and selfish, masturbatory individualism.
I hope you all vote on September 14.
THE WEEKLY GOODS
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a horror movie so baffling-yet-entertaining as Here Comes Hell, and I’m still not sure if I liked it. But seeing that the genre seems to generally be settling into two camps these days—the pulpy Blumhouse camp and the arthouse A24 camp—it’s refreshing to see something so wildly left field. Here Comes Hell is like Haunting of Hill House meets Evil Dead in that a group of tenuously connected strangers abscond to a dilapidated mansion and then unwittingly unleash a possessing spirit. Perhaps not the most original story, but the magic is in the execution. Filmed in classic 4:3 ratio, Here Comes Hell looks like a classic spooky movie from the ‘30s, but once the spirit is unleashed, it has the kinetic energy of a Sam Raimi or early Peter Jackson flick. Because this is also a debut feature, the quality of each scene varies wildly—sometimes it feels amateur, but there are moments that are incredibly striking. I’m still not sure if this is supposed to be a parody or a legit horror-comedy, but I don’t really care. If you’re a fan of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, I think you’ll dig it.
Buy tix to this
Every week, I feel like I’m this close to bringing back the concert calendar, but I feel like maybe we should get those COVID case numbers down before I start recommending an entire week of live music. Here that, you vaxx hold outs—you’re the reason we can’t have nice things! That said, there is a killer show this Sunday at Soda Bar featuring San Diego’s latest excellent goth post-punk outfit, The Passengers. I was lucky to see them shortly before the pandemic, and I knew instantly they were a force to be reckoned with. Tonight will be their record release show, so if you’re into the driving intensity of Savages mixed with the abrasive heaviness of Metz, be sure to pick up this album. The equally captivating D.WREX and Blood Ponies are also on the bill. Sadly, this will be Blood Ponies last show in San Diego before they relocate to Richmond, Virginia :( :( :(. Don’t miss this one.
Some of you may remember that I’m going back to school, and a few weeks ago, I laid out how expensive it was just to get accepted. Well, the cruel reality of actual tuition reared its ugly face this week as I pulled out most of my savings to pay for the first semester. You should’ve seen my panicked, shaky hand as I hovered over the “money transfer” button for what felt like hours. I’m truly excited, and it’s probably the most responsible spending I’ve ever done, but there’s still that panic of “oh god, what am I doing?” So, if you want to help alleviate your ol’ pal Ryan’s financial anxiety, please consider buying this AWKSD merch combo that I’ve been hocking for the past two weeks. $30 gets you my brand new illustrated zine “Let’s Hope We Never Have to Do That Again” (which is about my experience running a polling site during the 2020 General Election), plus the new “Birth/Awkward/Death” T-shirt, PLUS a sad CA burrito enamel pin. Just send a Venmo to Ryan-Bradford-2 with your shirt size and address (unfortunately, I’m all out of Medium shirts).
Or, if you don’t want the merch, maybe consider buying a subscription to AWKSD? Or tell your friends to? That would be cool. Thank you so much.
Got a tip or wanna say hi? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter @theryanbradford. And if you like what you’ve just read, please hit that little heart icon at the end of the post.
Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.