Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, tensions are understandably running high. Over in Nevada, where voters could determine whether Democrats can take back the Senate, a fierce battle is taking place. For one reproductive rights organizer, though, the push has become personal. This millennial reproductive rights advocate has been on the ground in a battleground state, and she has plenty to say about what she's seeing and hearing ahead of the election and how she's still changing hearts and minds.
Karina Provost, 29, is an organizing coordinator for NARAL Pro-Choice America. Ahead of the 2018 midterms, she's been hitting the pavement to campaign in her home state of Nevada for Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who's running for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Dean Heller. A couple of weeks ago, she tells me in an interview for Elite Daily, she knocked on a door in a nonpartisan-listed household. A woman answered. A few lines into her spiel, the woman stopped her. "I'm going to stop you right there," she said. "I'm a Republican."
"So is my fiancé," Provost responded. "I'm sure we can have an amazing conversation. What's important to you?" The two women were able to find common ground on reproductive issues. By the end of the conversation, the woman had committed to voting for Democratic candidates who would uphold reproductive rights.
On the weekends, this is what Provost is out doing with volunteers (and her fiancé) for hours a day: going door to door talking to voters in households that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 — primarily households registered as Libertarian, Independent, Democratic, and nonpartisan.
"I don’t want to have regrets," she tells me. "I remember thinking in 2016, I didn't do enough, and this is why we're here. So I don't mind doing it now." She became a full-time organizer for NARAL this fall but began volunteering for NARAL following the 2016 election, just shy of two years ago, feeling that she needed to do more than just "vote and donate" to ensure change.
Aside from knocking doors, Provost spends her working hours calling up supporters, asking for donations, and pushing for people to get out and vote — all the while encouraging them to support pro-choice measures and candidates (like Rosen) who have been endorsed by NARAL for their stances on upholding access to reproductive healthcare.
If the work of being an on-the-ground organizer wasn't hard enough, Provost is doing it in one of the most high-pressure locations possible: A midterms battleground state, where the Senate seat is crucial for Democrats to take back the chamber in November. The race is tight: A CNN poll concluded on Oct. 29 showed Rosen in the lead by 3 points, while others show Heller ahead. The chances that Democrats take back the Senate as a whole, though, are about 1 in 7, per FiveThirtyEight's latest projections.
Nevada went for Hillary Clinton in 2016's presidential election, and Heller was criticized for his reversals on voting on health care in 2017 and his vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh earlier in October. (Kavanaugh was heavily opposed by reproductive rights groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood over his record on abortion.) In Nevada, NARAL has over 44,000 members, which, while only about 1.5 percent of the state's total population, is one of the largest membership organizations in the state, according to the group. Nationally, NARAL members vote at a rate of over 90 percent, the organization says.
A NARAL poll conducted in mid-October found that 78 percent of suburban women in key districts across parties said they think politicians should not prevent a woman from having an abortion if she chooses. This sticks fairly close to the national opinion: Per Pew Research polling updated Oct. 15, 58 percent of Americans support abortion being legal in some or all cases. And as the country heads to the polls, the issue of abortion may be a factor that drives Democratic energy.
Generationally, Provost says that older women seem to appreciate the necessity of reproductive rights, whereas she says a lot of younger women who were born well after 1973's Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide, don't know from experience just how far we've come — and how much we stand to lose. "I wish people in my generation realized what has to happen when people have a back alley abortion," she says. "My mom had to have one in Brazil and she still has issues from it. That was over 45 years ago."
"I've had older women who who would be happy to tell me they were conservative Republicans, but this is the issue they will stand behind," Provost says, because they remember the dark days before Roe. I point out that these older women weren't, presumably, interested in securing reproductive rights for themselves — rather, they wanted to ensure that other women had that access and care. Seeing voters who care about upholding rights for others, not just themselves — "That's the reason why I do this work," Provost says.
Having face-to-face conversations with those across the political aisle may strike some as a kind of dying art, or at least, one that's badly hemorrhaging, as partisanship seems to have grown only more stark in contrast since the 2016 election.
But it's worth noting that these older women who are ready proponents of reproductive health care aren't liberals or Democrats. Overall, she estimates that a third of the conservative-leaning voters in Nevada that she talks to support reproductive rights — a counterexample to the myth that there's no common ground anymore between conservatives and liberals.
Referring to the Republican woman who's door she'd knocked on, Provost adds, "She and I were able to have this amazing conversation when we're not really allowed to have discourse anymore." In fact, the reason the woman was inclined to change her vote was in part, she said, because she felt that Democratic candidates would be more answerable to constituents to have just these sort of transparent, non-combative conversations.
A lesson for those who aren't full-time organizers knocking on hundreds of doors every weekend: The biggest difference that you can make might be a case of quality over quantity. Tellingly, when I ask if she thinks she's made a difference, Provost says, "I think I have, even if it's just the people in my life." She doesn't cite winning over voters; she describes the feeling of knowing that the people she knows, men especially, are seeing politics through a more inclusive lens. It's one example, at least, of the fact that change isn't always shouted over a bullhorn. And it's these real face-to-face discussions, whether with people in her life or strangers in another district, that Provost believes can amount to real progress. For her, it seems to be working.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated that Nevada-specific NARAL members vote at a rate of over 90 percent. It has been updated to reflect that it is a national statistic.