Election 2012: Volunteer Time Well Spent-Darren Shiroma

Volunteerism brings unique opportunities to take part in a process that people struggled
and fought to take part in just a few generations ago

My volunteerism for the 2012 election year began in March, at APALA’s “Every Vote Counts”
Kick-Off in Annandale, Virginia at the Northern Virginia Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. The event
was the start of APALA’s civic engagement campaign to ensure the Asian Pacific Islander
community’s voice is amplified and involved. I knocked on dozens of doors with nearly thirty API
volunteers, and registered voters — finding many gracious and appreciative responses for the in-
person outreach we launched within the community.

In July, I joined APALA members as we registered voters in collaboration with Obama For
America (OFA) and other API organizations at the 9th Annual Asian Festival at George Mason
University in Fairfax, Virginia. Despite rainy weather, our spirits were kept high by the many
comments of gratitude for our visibility, and “Go Obama!” expressions we received.

I connected directly with the Obama For America campaign in late July through a colleague in
Arlington, Virginia, and registered voters at a local drug store. On that day, it was invigorating to
meet many diverse, yet like-minded volunteers who mirrored our desire to “make a difference”
and take part in this election.

On September 25, I was able to participate in National Voter Registration Day, where APALA
members again deployed across D.C. and Northern Virginia to register voters at busy Metro
stations during rush hour. Paired up with APALA Executive Director Gregory Cendana, we
enjoyed high-fives and thank-you sentiments from many commuters at the Clarendon station in
Virginia.

In early October, I set off across the country for my birthplace of O’ahu, Hawai’i to use my
vacation time to volunteer for the Democratic campaigns in my home state. I made contact with
the Mazie Hirono for U.S. Senate campaign, and immediately hit the ground running. In just 18
days, I participated in 11 sign waving events (a Hawai’i tradition of roadside sign waving at major
intersections and thoroughfares), and six days of door knocking in six neighborhoods on the
island of O’ahu. During that time, I knocked on 300-plus doors, quickly racking up a canvassing
total of over 25 hours.

We spoke to residents, and asked for their support for President Barack Obama, Mazie Hirono
for Senate, and Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa for Congress. On one particular day, I was
randomly paired with a retired U.S. Postal Service manager, who was also a Vietnam Veteran.
We ended up on the doorstep of an undecided voter who took the liberty of asking what our
occupations were. My canvassing partner disclosed that he spent decades as a manager at the
post office, and I explained that I was a flight attendant doing full-time union work in Washington,
D.C.

After 10 minutes, the undecided voter said, “the most compelling thing to me is the fact that
someone from management, and someone from a labor union are both here standing on my
doorstep endorsing the same candidates!” That moment was just one shining example of how
direct engagement and face-to-face interactions can make a difference in this election.

A fundamental principle of democracy is an equal voice in the process — a right that many
Americans just a few generations ago fought — and died for.

I strongly believe that civic engagement, and connecting with our communities through one-on-
one, face-to-face interactions is a powerful platform. Throughout my 13 years of union work,
I have found that mobilization and communication have led the way to success. Through my
involvement with APALA, I have discovered a passion for advancing Asian Pacific American
issues and awareness of constituency and minority groups.

I’ve witnessed first-hand how the work of APALA makes a difference, and I’ve seen the
positive strides unions have made for Americans by working within the labor movement itself.
Collaboration with constituency groups is a proven means to achieve significant progress in so
many areas that matter to working families, and I’m proud to be a part of that network.

Throughout the past seven months, I have met dozens of fellow Americans who have the
same passion for the elections in our country. The experiences I’ve had — and the amazing
people I have encountered — have truly outweighed the free time I have invested. Blending and
broadening my interests in labor advocacy, minority rights, civic issues and community efforts are
a work in progress. Along the way, my hope is to inspire, inform and continually invest my time to
help others pay it forward — it truly is our collective responsibility.

Darren Shiroma was born in Honolulu and raised in Kane’ohe, Hawai’i. He is a 17-year Los
Angeles-based Flight Attendant, and served two terms as local president of his LAX base from
2005-2011. Darren currently resides in Washington, D.C. and is the Executive Assistant to Veda
Shook, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA-
CWA). Darren is also a National Board Member of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance,
AFL-CIO (APALA) representing CWA, the parent union of AFA-CWA.

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