Saturdays and Civil Service: Community Members Canvass for Odessa Kelly


Photo Courtesy of @OdessaKellyTN via Instagram

Shreya Gupta, Senior Editor

Saturday morning in Centennial Park is characteristically busy. Tucked among the morning hustle this past Saturday, Oct. 22, a group of active citizens—including a handful of Vanderbilt students—gathered to use their time for a candidate they believed in: Ms. Odessa Kelly. Odessa Kelly is the Democratic nominee for Tennessee’s 7th congressional district, running on a progressive platform of economic justice, COVID-19 recovery, and Medicare for All. 

The morning started with endorsements from representatives of local activist organizations such as Sunrise Movement Nashville, Zero Hour, and Tennessee Young Democrats. Sunrise Movement focuses on organizing calls to action against climate change. They most recently assembled in support of fossil fuel divestment at Vanderbilt. Zero Hour is a grassroots youth climate activist collective that connects diverse activists from all walks of life and organizes training programs for local activism through its 50 chapters spanning 15 countries. The Tennessee Young Democrats are a youth-led arm of the Democratic Party focused on mobilizing Democrats under the age of 36 to participate in the Democratic Party, champion progressive ideals, and train the next generation of progressive leaders. 

After disseminating canvassing materials, reviewing best practices, and receiving some words of encouragement from Ms. Kelly herself, the group dispersed to their assigned neighborhoods. My group found ourselves in Northeast Nashville. After a few houses with no one home, the group finally got to talk to a string of voters about Ms. Kelly, her campaign, and the coming election. The common denominator of these conversations was a lack of knowledge of the election and an overall hesitancy to talk to us and express their views. Voters initially seemed uninterested but curious as to why a group of young, nervous students was at their door. After some earnest conversations about why we were compelled to volunteer for Ms. Kelly, voters seemed more interested in the election. Many accepted a pamphlet with resources for making a plan to vote early or on election day. 

Lexi Abrams, a sophomore at Vanderbilt, recounts the morning fondly, “It felt really empowering and impactful to talk directly to voters and discuss how their votes can make such a marked difference in the upcoming midterm election. I’m so grateful to Odessa Kelly’s campaign for giving students this opportunity to engage with voters and make an impact on the election!”

After a few hours, Ms. Kelly met up with some groups to canvass alongside them, as Vanderbilt junior Claire Rebers recalls: 

“Even though my job over the summer was to canvass for my state [representative], canvassing is still something I admittedly get a little nervous about no matter how many times I do it. But, pushing myself out of my comfort zone is so worth it to put in the groundwork supporting candidates I believe in and reaching out to voters. Knocking doors with Odessa herself was incredible; she just has a way with people due to her genuine spirit, humor, and tenacity. We’re extremely lucky to have a leader like Odessa running for Congress for Nashville and Tennessee, and she needs all of our support these last weeks before the election!”

Interfacing with local Nashville residents as a Vanderbilt student emphasized the disconnect between politicians and voters. It is easy for college students to take for granted the extreme wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, whether a professor in class or online educational databases, but many local Nashvillians do not have the election on their minds in the fast pace of their lives. The 2020 election demonstrated Americans’ ability to get out and vote, but state and local elections are just as crucial to the political process and safeguarding our representation.