Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Canvassing Adventure


My friend Karen and I are wading through a thick layer of multi-colored autumn leaves, going door to door in a lower class neighborhood in Nashua, New Hampshire. There are 3 days left before voting day, when Americans all over the country, will go to the polls for the mid-term elections. Since our home state of Massachusetts is considered a sure thing for the Democratic party, we decided to change the course of history by canvassing in beautiful New Hampshire.

Canvassing is a very American art of persuasion. It is part of any political campaign and although there is no clear evidence that it makes an iota of difference in the overall outcome of an election, it gives the people who are involved the feeling that they are doing something, which is what we all badly need right now.

We chose Nashua, the second largest city in the Granite State, because it is close to the state line and more importantly, because it is dotted with Dunkin’ Donuts stores, which is a very important part of our canvassing routine.

The modest home of a devoted Democrat functions as our field office. Political parties invest a great deal of money in their GOTV (get out the vote) campaigns, which is an admirably well-organized machinery. After we sign in, we are adorned with stickers, given a stack of flyers and instructed to only talk to registered voters and not try to convince the enemy of switching sides. This way, we don’t have to worry about being greeted with loaded shotguns, of which there are many in New Hampshire.

Nashua is a typical New England mill town. As you approach the city, you can see the massive, red brick mill buildings tower over the nearby houses, which seem flimsy in comparison. Many of these are now converted into luxury apartments, but their brutish simplicity reminds the visitor that this was and still is a working man’s town. There are no picturesque little winding roads or gentle hills with parks. The main artery through downtown is especially wide, which used to accommodate the now paved over trolley line.

Karen, who is bold and confident is our spokesperson. I function as her mental dictionary, where she quickly can reference facts about the candidates and what they stand for.

The rain is now pouring down. After we load up on coffee and doughnuts, we drive to our first target, a low-income housing project, to convince the voters of the righteousness of our cause. We ring our first bell, are buzzed in and walk up to the second floor.

"Hello, my name is Karen and this is my friend Madeleine. We are here on behalf of the Democratic Party and would like to encourage you to vote next Tuesday."

"¡No voy a votar! No me gusto Trump" (I am not going to vote! I don’t like Trump), says the woman who opens the door.

She speaks loudly, trying to drown out the children’s voices coming from the apartment. After many unsuccessful attempts to make her understand (in broken Spanish) that it is because she doesn’t like Trump that she should vote Democratic, we leave with our tail between our legs. She is convinced that NOT voting will solve the Trump problem.

Our second attempt is more successful. An old woman answers the door, but when she keeps staring at us, we realize that she doesn’t speak English. A younger woman joins her who understands why we are invading her privacy on this lazy Sunday morning. She smiles and invites us in, asks many questions in Spanish, which I understand and can answer. There are many photographs on the wall, one of a man with a large Mexican hat. It is her father as a young man, back in the Dominican Republic. She is enthralled with our visit and the fact that we speak (some) Spanish. She won’t let us leave before she gives us a recipe for ‘arroz con gandules’ (rice with pigeon peas).

This is why I love canvassing: In a few hours, you get a front row seat into the lives of total strangers who open their doors to you, no questions asked. People are mostly friendly, curious but often ignorant or misinformed about their rights as American voters and telling them about what the candidates stand for requires a lot more Spanish than what we have at our disposal.

Our second day brings us to a very different neighborhood. Sprawling mansions, with driveways a mile long and chiseled hedges. This is where the high-tech commuters live. They are equally friendly and know everything about the candidates. The occasional Republican amongst them admits reluctantly that he is now voting for the Democratic ticket, because ‘things have gotten out of hand’.

As I finish writing this article, the elections have come and gone and I now know more about New Hampshire politics than those of my own state. The Democrats gained the majority in the House, but the Republicans are still in control of the Senate. Of the candidates Karen and I canvassed for, one has won, the other has lost.

But hopefully we managed to convince at least one resident of the importance of making that short trip to the polling station and that will have been worth our effort. leave comment here