The Yale College Democrats traveled to Virginia Beach during fall break to knock on thousands of doors in the hopes of helping Democrats regain control in the Virginia General Assembly.
Currently, Republicans have a 21–19 majority in the Virginia State Senate and a 51–49 majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. Determined to change this, the Yale Dems — the largest Democratic political advocacy organization on campus — took a nine-hour trek to Virginia Beach on Oct. 17 to canvass for four Democratic candidates for the Virginia General Assembly: senate candidate Cheryl Turpin and delegate candidates Nancy Guy, Clinton Jenkins and Alex Askew. Yale Dems say that the outcomes of these elections will determine if gun control legislation, the Equal Rights Amendment and reproductive rights legislation is passed in Virginia.
“I think local elections are often overlooked but are tremendously important and arguably as important as congressional or national elections,” Yale Dems Election Coordinator Molly Shapiro ’21 told the News. “The knowledge that we were a group of over 20 Yale students, none of [whom] were from Virginia, showing that we care deeply about all of the issues that matter to Virginians and that will be decided by the state legislature, is something that I found inspiring.”
The group spent most of their time stirring up voter turnout in majority-Democrat areas. They went door to door through the Virginia streets asking voters if they could be counted on in the upcoming election.
Before each day, canvassers spoke with the candidates they were campaigning for. Shapiro, who planned the trip, told the News that one of her goals was to encourage Yale Dems to become personally invested in the candidate for whom they were working.
Emma Wallner ’23 — the Yale Dems election committee fellow who campaigned for Virginia Senate candidate Cheryl Turpin — said she was personally interested in canvassing because Turpin was a “second-year science teacher who was really passionate about public education.”
Shapiro also told the News that she chose Virginia Beach partially because it is “deep in Virginia” and is not frequently visited. She went on to say that the area has been known as a competitive battle spot for Democrats and Republicans. In 2017, a seat in the Virginia Senate was famously determined by a coin toss.
All members of the Yale Dems — regardless of their political or canvassing experience — were encouraged to attend the trip for a waivable fee of $35. This subsidized amount bought food, transportation and lodging at a nearby hotel. Shapiro told the News that one of her goals in planning the event was to help integrate new members.
Natasha Ambriz-Villela ’23, a Yale Dems member, said that it was her first time canvassing.
“It was definitely a scary experience at first, but then I learned how to speak with strangers and navigate these uncomfortable situations. It was a moment of personal growth for me,” she said.
Vice President of the Yale Dems Paige Swanson ’20 noted that attending the annual fall break canvassing trip as a new member in her sophomore year was integral to her future involvement with the group.
Swanson told the News that she was not politically active before coming to Yale.
“The 2016 election happened my first-year fall, and I joined Dems soon after that,” she said. “When I went down to Virginia in 2017 in my sophomore fall, it was my first time canvassing, and I think it was a really great experience.”
The Virginia election will be held on Nov. 5.

Vivian Vasquez | vivian.vasquez@yale.edu