Clinton volunteers toil against the odds in conservative Waukesha, Wisconsin

By Nia Prater

It’s a Saturday afternoon in Waukesha and the tenants at 272 W. Main St. are hard at work.

The large front windows that directly face the busy thoroughfare are decorated with signage for local Wisconsin candidates. There’s a display marking how many days there are until the election. Today, a large number 17 cut from lime green paper is hanging up. Seventeen more busy days for the volunteers at the local Hillary for America campaign office.

The main room is spacious with plenty of tables, places where volunteers can sit and make phone calls to prospective voters. A small area to the side has hot food, BBQ sandwiches and pickles for anyone who wanted to partake.

In addition to being a Clinton campaign office, in many ways the Main Street office acts as another base for the Democratic Party in the area. Volunteers here are campaigning for Clinton to be elected, but also working to help other Wisconsin Democrats. Candidates like Russ Feingold who is fighting for the Senate seat he lost in 2011 after serving since 1993 and Khary Penebaker, a first time politician running to be the U.S. Representative for Wisconsin’s 5th district.

But for all their preparation, the volunteers here have a long road ahead of them. Waukesha County is one of Wisconsin’s most consistently conservative areas, with Republican candidates often winning by larger percentages here than anywhere else in the state.

According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan ticket won Waukesha County by 66.76 percent in 2012. The state of Wisconsin itself was won by President Obama and Vice President Biden, with them receiving 52.83 percent of the vote.

This knowledge however, does not discourage volunteers like Kasha Riggsbee. She sits at the table near the entrance which holds baskets full of buttons with different slogans and a sign-in sheet for anyone new looking to help out.

Riggsbee has lived in Waukesha since 1979 and first began volunteering in 2000 for former vice president Al Gore in his presidential campaign against George W. Bush. She’s been campaigning ever since, even though Gore, too, lost Waukesha County by over 68,000 votes.

“I tend to be a very passionate person,” said Riggsbee.

At first glance, that fact rings true. Riggsbee wears a white hat was covered in buttons with various sayings and designs: “I’m With Her”, Clinton/Kaine, Russ with a green Wisconsin logo in the background for Russ Feingold. Riggsbee is retired after working years as a social worker. Her volunteering is still based around the idea of aiding others.

“I believe I am my brother’s keeper, and the Democratic Party allows me to work within that framework, said Riggsbee. “We all need help sometimes.”

She continued, “People who need help far outnumber the people who don’t need help,”

Riggsbee is passionate about furthering the Democratic Party’s cause, but favors a more behind-the-scenes role.

“I’ll cook, clean bathrooms. I’ve had enough doors slammed in my face,” she said.

One of Riggsbee’s greatest political experiences was during the recall election of Governor Scott Walker in 2012.

“It was one of the most thrilling days of my life,” said Riggsbee.

On that day, when she was one of the many Wisconsinites that gathered at the state capitol building in Madison, Riggsbee recalled thinking, “This is what democracy looks like.”

Rose Farrar is another person determined to volunteer for the Democrats despite the conservative area. To the 69-year-old, voting for Hillary Clinton was hardly a difficult decision.

“I support her because she’s obviously the strongest candidate,” said Farrar. “She has plans, not just rhetoric and talk.”

The Delafield resident who retired after working for years in Milwaukee Technical College’s workforce and economic development office, is far from being new to campaigning. She calls her involvement in politics “a lifelong thing”, mentioning her support of labor leader and activist Cesar Chavez. She has been campaigning for Clinton for about a year and did a lot of work for the Obama campaign as well.

Farrar helps out by doing a lot of phone-banking. Pain in her hip has caused her to step back from door-to-door canvassing.

“It’s important to me, I hope I make a difference,” said Farrar.

Farrar is fluent in Spanish, a skill that she uses to reach Spanish-speaking voters in order to inform them about the election. Lately, she’s been providing information regarding the state’s voter ID law which will be enforced during a presidential election for the first time.

Farrar, too, has seen the foothold that the Republican Party has in this part of the state.

“Trump, Trump, Trump,” said Farrar, about the signs that dot front lawns in the area. “There’s not one sign. There’s seven or eight of them giving the message.”

She has personally experienced the contentious nature of this election season’s politics. A few weeks back, Farrar was shopping for groceries when a couple came up to her and started to verbally harass her. The reason for the husband and wife’s ire? A Hillary button that Farrar openly wore.

“It’s almost like in your face. Especially…I’m not that small, but when somebody taller is leaning over, you can’t help but feeling uncomfortable,” she said. “They’re hovering over, it’s like ‘go away.’ Intimidating.”

There are times when it can be hard being a Democrat in such a staunchly conservative area. In elections past, Farrar would put an Obama bumper sticker on her car only to find out later that someone tore it off. And now?

“You don’t see bumper stickers anymore,” said Farrar.

Though there might be some pushback or difficulties along the way, there’s very little that could keep these volunteers away from their mission.

“The onus is on us. We have to fight for ourselves, said Riggsbee. “We have to take care of ourselves.”

Photo at top: A sign in the window of the Democratic campaign office in Waukesha, Wisconsin counts down the days until the election. (Nia Prater/MEDILL)