What I experienced when I went out to register voters in Pennsylvania
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.
As Election Day approaches, it’s oh so easy to dismiss the important role you can play in this election. America is a big country, over 300 million people, but it’s the actions that civic-minded people take that tip the balance. There are so many different ways to help the campaign and try to make a difference.
Now is the time to contact local campaign offices and ask how to help. It’s also the time to talk to friends and family, especially those who are still undecided. It’s about helping other people and participating in our political system. Considering what the stakes are, we can’t afford to just sit back and assume the candidates you intend to vote for will be victorious.
Here’s what I experienced when I jumped into the trenches of our democracy a few weeks ago to register voters in Pennsylvania.
“This trip will take place, rain or shine,” the organizers said. “Please wear comfortable shoes, you will be walking all day. Also bring your lunch, snacks and beverages, as well as sunblock and an umbrella.”
I arrived at Hillary Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn, obediently equipped, adorned with Hillary stickers and ready to hop on a bus to campaign for Clinton. The bus was already full. Nearly 40 eager Hillary volunteers had packed every seat, leaving a spillover of approximately 20 disheartened people. Campaign leaders were scrambling to find other ways to get everyone to Pennsylvania. One or two people offered to bring their cars, but they were limited in space, and it was too late to rent a small passenger van. It looked like the trip was off, but keen to do our part, we decided to stay at headquarters and make calls.
Just as I settled in at my phone bank station, our trip leader came over to me and whispered that they had limited space in one car, but they wanted me to go since I was such a devoted regular in the Hillary campaign offices. I squeezed into a compact car with four other campaigners, and we Google-mapped our way to Philadelphia. In the car, we shared campaign stories, made Donald Trump jokes and listened to a random assortment of radio hits.
A few hours later, we pulled into Hillary headquarters in west Philadelphia. The large campaign office was filled with bubbly campaign leaders giving training sessions to volunteers who were going out to designated neighborhoods to register voters. We got our paperwork together, practiced reading from our scripts, and were assigned to a list of specific homes in West Philadelphia. I had a list of 80 houses to conquer.
My group of five drove to our assigned neighborhood, and then we split up to go individually to specific blocks on our list. I noticed right away that I was in a neighborhood that was a mix of orderly homes, dilapidated ones and seemingly abandoned places. But most homes were still lived in, and kids were often out on their front porches playing.
The first few houses on my list were shuttered, and had old mail stuffed in the mailbox slots, which looked like it hadn’t been claimed for months or more. I didn’t bother ringing those bells. The next few houses had a little more life. I quickly realized, hearing roaring cheers through the front door, that I was knocking on doors in the middle of a Philadelphia Eagles football game. Great timing, I thought, but at least everyone would be home, even if they would hate me for the interruption. I mustered the courage to knock.
Mostly women answered the doors, and had to drag the various men of the house away from their TV screens to speak to me. I cheerfully introduced myself, told them I was working for Hillary Clinton and wanted to make sure they were all registered to vote before their Pennsylvania deadline. Most people told me they were already registered, so I’d either offer information about Hillary Clinton, or take the hint to move on down the road. Being in Philadelphia, I was already in a sea of blue voters, who were really excited about bashing the Donald. I was happy to oblige.
But as I got deeper into my list of houses, I started coming across people who were not sure they were registered to vote. These were the moments that would make a difference. This was what this whole day was about.
One woman asked me to sit down with her on her porch and talk to her about Hillary. She was in her 40, and knew she was not registered to vote, nor was her husband, who was inside watching the game. The front door was open, so she would yell inside for him to get his ID and various other materials so he could come outside and register. The three of us sat on their porch and cheerfully filled out registration forms while dishing about the latest Trump mishap. They offered me some water, and I accepted the hydration for my body, as I had now been walking for over two hours. I had accomplished about five registrations at this point, and had one more long block to go.
After a few hours, I was informed that the football game had ended. This was good — everyone would be home with hopefully a spare moment to chat.
One of the next houses I successfully registered had a young man answer the door. He was surprisingly excited to see me, and shared a story about how he canvassed for Obama in the last election. He was very encouraging, and told me this was a great neighborhood to canvass in because “people love Hillary in West Philly.” He said he knew how hard it was to go door to door, but that it was worth it, especially to get people ready before the registration deadline. “Pennsylvania matters,” he said.
After about 80 houses and six hours on my feet in the bright afternoon sun, I was exhausted, yet proud. My hard work had paid off because not only did I successfully help nine people register to vote, I also got the chance to see a community brimming with confidence about how they thought Hillary would triumph handily over Trump. I got to help the Democratic Party and my candidate, by making sure people are ready to cast their vote on election day and be part of the process. And I got to hear a lot of good Trump jokes. He really does have little hands.
The sun had just started to set as I wrapped up my last few houses. I saw a 9-year-old girl playing outside with some boys. The boys high-fived me as I passed by, cheering for Hillary, and the little girl stopped me to ask a question.
“Is Hillary married to that Trump guy?” The girl was clearly confused.
I took a moment to relax and sit down with her to explain who Trump and Hillary were and why it mattered. Her little friends told her to hurry up, but she seemed genuinely interested in talking to me. She said she loved President Obama, and that if she voted she would pick the one who was most like Obama. I told her that choice would be Hillary, and that I thought she would win. I also explained that it would be the first time a girl would become president of the United States. She thought that was cool and declared that girls would be better than boys at being president. I agreed.
Soon it was time to meet my group back at the car. We returned to the Philly headquarters, a little weary and sunburnt, but beaming with pride as we handed in our completed voter registration forms. We had actually accomplished something very important for this campaign and this election, and it felt good.
After my team of canvassers left the Philadelphia headquarters, we all squeezed back into the car and shared our various stories and accomplishments from the day. We were exhausted. We were proud of ourselves. We were proud of each other. All together, our team successfully helped about 50 people to register to vote. Our hard work mattered. Now it was dark outside, and after a long, hard day, I fell asleep in the back of the car as we drove back to New York City.