Fabia’s story is really the stories of the connections she makes, whether it’s coordinating the work of Arlington Democrats with Indivisible and other grassroots groups, gaining the trust of the disillusioned or angry voters whose doors she knocks on, supporting campaigns in other states like Pennsylvania, or fielding responses to her steady stream of political posts on Facebook. It’s not about her service as (former) chair of Beyond Arlington or as an advisor to We of Action Virginia.
It’s her exchanging calendars with folks at 31st Street Swing Left, a grassroots organization in the DC-Maryland-Virginia region formed in the aftermath of the 2016 election that Fabia says is one of the largest and best organized groups around.
It’s her coordinating volunteers for five campaigns during Virginia’s 2021 election cycle, including the campaigns of Dan Helmer, Brianna Sewell, Wendy Gooditis, Joshua Cole, and Paul Siker.
And it’s her taking a call recently from the office of Delegate Dan Helmer (D-Fairfax), who won his re-election campaign last year, because his people needed some information. In this particular instance, they were looking for an opportunity to get Helmer involved in support of Elaine Luria or Abigail Spanberger, US representatives from Virginia’s second and seventh congressional districts, respectively, who are seeking re-election. Knowing that Helmer is a West Point graduate who served multiple tours of duty and knowing where Beyond Arlington was planning to send its volunteers, she was able to suggest a perfect fit: A weekend event late in September for Luria sponsored by Veterans and Military Families Caucus of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Canvassing is at the heart of Fabia’s commitment to the democratic process. Knocking on doors, talking to people about why their vote matters and getting them to think about their vote – those are the stories that she comes back to time and again. It’s what animates Fabia when she talks about her role among Virginia Democrats. Perhaps it was her work at Veterans Affairs, where she navigated among Republicans and Democrats to develop legislation, that prepared her to negotiate the conversations she has when canvassing. Whatever the source of her skill, it is why she is the person campaigns look to for training new volunteers.
Every Vote Counts
One of the first times that Fabia volunteered to canvass in Virginia was in the mid-aughts – either 2006 or ‘07, she’s not sure. At the time, she was volunteering with the Alexandria Democrats when she was given a packet to knock on doors in the lower income Black community on the edge of Old Town. The general response that she remembers from all the doors she knocked on was, “I can’t believe you’re knocking on our door. Nobody ever knocks on our door and cares what we say, what our opinion is.”
Fabia recalls her reply with just a touch of indignation in her voice. It carried a message that said, “You’re a voter. Why wouldn’t I knock on your door? You have as much influence as a guy who has a million dollar mansion, and you should act like you have as much influence as him. Everyone has one vote.”
Those frequent encounters in Old Town “really touched me”, she says today.
Breaking Through the Frustration
Another story Fabia likes to tell: She recently knocked on a door answered by a woman who told her she wasn’t voting, that both parties were the same, and she was angry at the whole system because her family was struggling financially. Fabia gently invited her to have a conversation, asking her what particular issue was on her mind.
The woman said, “Taxes. Our taxes are going to things we don’t need. We don’t even know we’re going to be able to afford our house.”
Fabia learned that the woman was a daycare worker and expressed her own frustration that the people who care for our children are so undervalued. Suspecting the woman was an immigrant, she asked if this was so. When the woman confirmed that she was, Fabia explained that her own parents were also immigrants and when they arrived in America, they had just one wish – that their children would have the opportunity to succeed.
“I think that’s the same thing that you want for your children”, Fabia said, “and that means getting a quality education. That’s what Democrats value – quality of education and affordability and a minimum wage so that everyone can succeed.”
The woman quietly mumbled, “Yeah.”
Fabia continued, “So I have to disagree with you when you say that both parties are the same. One doesn’t respect what you look like. When they look at you, they see a woman, an immigrant, and a minority. I’m a woman and a minority and the daughter of immigrants. And I’m volunteering for the Democratic Party and for this candidate.”
And the woman said, “You’re absolutely right.”
Fabia’s point: They never talked about taxes. Instead, she connected with the person and what she wants for herself and her family, the same kind of aspirations that drive Fabia and so many others to participate in the democratic process.
Taking the time to talk
Fabia understands how bad information gets lodged in people’s minds. And she’s adept at rooting it out. It just means knowing when someone is willing to be open-minded enough to have a genuine exchange of ideas.
“You can’t have a conversation with somebody who lies”, she says.
She then told the story of the guy in Loudoun County who spotted her and other canvassers in the neighborhood while mowing his lawn. He paused his yardwork and approached, sticking his finger in her face and telling her he wanted to talk with her. He correctly understood her to be the lead canvasser.
Unfazed by his aggressive posture, the 5’1” Fabia asked what he wanted to talk about. They ended up having a conversation that in Fabia’s telling, went something like this:
Lawnmower man: “CRT. But don’t think I’m a racist. I’m married to a Korean American.”
Fabia, who describes herself as Asian American: “Ok, I’m married to a Caucasian American, so I guess I’m not racist either.”
Lawnmower man: “That’s right.”
Fabia: “So if you recognize that we’re all Americans, including your wife who wasn’t born here and me who was, then you understand that we all contribute to what this country is. And part of that is that we are a country that learns from our mistakes. That’s why it’s important to learn about slavery and about the Chinese who built the railroads and how shamefully they were treated.”
The conversation continued, during which Fabia compared those in this country who don’t want to teach about slavery with the far right in Germany who are downplaying the Holocaust and questioning whether the gas chambers were really used to kill people. He found that appalling, but then he diverted to another topic:
Lawnmower man: “What about Black Lives Matter? Don’t all lives matter?”
Fabia: “It depends on who you’re talking about. If a White guy with a badge shoots a Black man in the back, or keeps his knee on a Black man’s neck for nine minutes till he’s dead, or if three White vigilantes chase down a Black man who’s just out for a jog and shoot him dead, I hope you think those Black lives matter enough that you would denounce the killings and not condone them.”
Lawnmower man: “You’re right. Their lives do matter, and it’s horrible what happened to them.”
So Fabia ended up having a conversation on two topics that were important to the man. In the end, Fabia recalls, he told her, “Everyone’s calling me a racist, and I just had to tell you I’m not a racist, and you took the time to talk to me. I never thought of things like you do but talking to you, it all makes more sense.”
Fabia laughed at the suggestion of being profiled for The American Leader. Not because she doesn’t understand the important role she has carved out in Virginia politics, but because she doesn’t like the spotlight. She prefers to stay in the background where, as she says, she can “make things happen or just quietly talk to somebody, and then it starts creating something positive.”
Why is Fabia ok with spending so much time in her “golden years” knocking on doors, talking to sometimes angry and disillusioned citizens, and supporting multiple campaigns?
“I worry that we’re going down a path that could take away everything that we enjoy in everyday life. There’s such a fear for my daughter. It’s her future, and I really care what world she lives in.”