Thursday, November 10, 2016

Canvassing for Hillary

I wrote this story right before our country went dark, before Trump won the elections. It seems eons ago, at a time when life still seemed pretty good in the USA. Now, I am in mourning and like millions of Americans, I am afraid for the future of this country. Still, I am grateful for the privilege of having canvassed for one of the most admirable women in American history. This story is a tribute to Hillary Rodham Clinton and the effort, stamina and courage she has shown. I only wish I could have done more.

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Every morning I sleep walk to my computer to check the polls to see where the elections stand. Those red and blue lines on the polling site 'Fivethirtyeight' have become a daily fix, taking precedence over my morning coffee or even taking a leak before I start my day.

It has become a source of enormous stress. Like the prisoner checking off the days on the wall of his cell with a piece of chalk, I have practically stopped thinking about anything else. I am neglecting my cat and my husband, I don't clean the house and cooking dinner seems like such a trivial thing these days. My OCD personality has been given free reign and it is creating havoc in my life.

So when a friend asked me to join her to volunteer for the Hillary campaign, I jumped at the opportunity. I had already spent my week-ends canvassing in my neighboring state of New Hampshire, but this time I would be joining a coalition of professional women who were organizing a nation-wide effort to help elect the first woman President in the United States. It was to be a 3-day affair in Allentown, Pennsylvania, one of a dozen or so battleground states in the country.

I packed my bags, said goodbye to my cat and my husband, picked up my friend and embarked on the a 6 hour journey to Pennsylvania. On the way, I tried to find information on who was running for the Senate and House seats in a state I had never visited before.

The ride was long and boring. We drove through Connecticut and New Jersey, crossed the Tappan Zee bridge over the mighty Hudson and finally made it in time for a dinner hosted by a local industrialist and philanthropist by the name of Charles Marcon.

His beautiful house was spacious and charming and by the end of the evening it was filled with a large group of high-powered women who were pumped up to go out and fight for their hero. I was one of them.

If you want to educate yourself about a candidate, sign up to volunteer. Clinton’s resume was too long to memorize, but we were in the GOTV phase of the campaign and convincing people of how wonderful Hillary is, was not really our job.

The next day we drove to the field office to pick up our assignments. The chaos and noise of a field office is deceiving. Everything is planned ahead. We were handed a list of addresses, briefed on how to conduct ourselves as good canvassers, given a stack of brochures explaining the wonderful merits of our parties' candidates and our coats were plastered with Hillary stickers and buttons.

We could tell, as we drove through Allentown, the third most populated town in Pennsylvania, that it has seen better days. Downtown was semi-deserted, with wide streets that were meant to accommodate a thriving business district which never materialized.

We parked our car on one of the potholed streets of Ward 8 and looked out on the small dilapidated 'row houses' of this Hispanic enclave close to the center. We understood why the DNC had sent us here. Allentown is 45% Hispanic, a group that would more than likely support Hillary.

Going door to door is the best way to understand 'the electorate', to see what those red and blue lines on a computer screen really consist of.

Ward 8 could be classified as a ghetto. Dilapidated porches with cheap plastic Jesus statues and gutted couches. The metal railings separating the units fall down at the slightest touch and trash is strewn on the tiny squares of yellow grass in front of each unit.

We climbed up the cracked steps of the first unit, and knocked on the screen door, since the bell was broken. A large handmade sign was taped to the wall that read 'Affordable Home Day Care'. An elderly woman opened the door and when we asked if she knew when and where to vote, she told us that she was not voting for anyone. Didn't she realize what would happen if Trump won? She explained: 'No importa, nosotros los Jehova's Witness no creemos en la politica'. Jehova's Witness don't believe in earthly authority. Only God knows what's best. We crossed her off as 'undecided.'

At the next address, a young African American with very few teeth, opened the door. He was from New York city, visiting his girlfriend. 'I ain't from here, but let me check with Charlene, make sure she gonna vote.' We were invited to come in and only inside the dark, messy interior did we remember our instructions not to enter 'the premises'. Charlene's boyfriend was so impressed with us having travelled all the way from Boston that he started to vigorously shake our hands, introducing himself as Ben. 'God bless, thanks for coming. God bless.' He smiled and became more and more emotional as time went on. Another few handshakes. 'Be safe, God bless'. One final handshake before he finally let us go.

All told, we knocked on about 80 doors that day, often talking to people who don't speak English. They were friendly, grateful for our efforts. They realized the importance of voting, but often didn't know where their polling station was or even knew on which date to vote. They had problems with transportation or worked 2 jobs back to back and since there is no early voting in Pennsylvania, they just couldn't find the time to vote.

The next day we were assigned an area called Lehigh Valley. It is only 10 miles out from Ward 8, but we might as well have been sent to a different country. There were gated communities and an area with houses the size of small castles, impeccably manicured lawns, wide winding streets with not one speck of dirt and driveways a mile long.

It was Sunday. Our first resident opened his oversized front door, trying to restrain a loudly barking Great Dane. He didn't want to tell us who he was voting for, but he said: 'you'll be pleased with my choice, down the ticket. Shocking what you find out about your neighbors, I mean there is more to life than money, right? But you'll be pleased with my choice'. He looked pained, seemingly disillusioned with his neighbors and with the affluent area he had chosen to live in. A lone Democrat in a sea of Trumpites.

Then, there was the mansion with a middle eastern family. They were angry. Angry at Hillary for 'killing Muslims'. There was the twenty-year old boy who was 'undecided', but when reminded about Trump potentially taking away a woman's Reproductive Rights, he promised he would do us, women, the favor of 'thinking about it'. So much for the theory that Trump supporters are poor.

Canvassing has been an incredible experience, but the most important lesson that I took away from it, is that a campaign, in its effort to be 'positive and gung-ho' tends to overestimate its lead. Trump won. Nobody expected it, least of all my co-campaigners, including me. It is taboo to doubt your own victory, but the best way to diminish your chances of winning an election, is to underestimate your opponent.

That is why Trump is now our new President and the woman who I most admire in the world is not. leave comment here