I never volunteered for a campaign before. I’d only ever been to one rally and it was for Walter Mondale in ’84 with my mom. They co-opted the most popular comedy movie’s theme song of that year. So, I was upset when they sang “Reaganbusters” because everyone there was being mean to the president.
I was seven then. I’ve since outgrown my distaste for being mean to a president.
I think I’ll look back on this election and, if I’m honest with myself, I’ll remember that I wasn’t that passionate about Hillary. I wanted her to be my president, though, and I felt like I had to do something, anything. So, for her campaign, I did three things. I phone banked twice and I went door-to-door to get voters to vote in Reading, Pennsylvania.
It was a drop in the bucket but I don’t think I’ll regret not doing more. I doubt any amount of action on my part could have changed the outcome.
The first phone bank was in Brooklyn. I went to the headquarters downtown and they let us into a room filled with long tables with phones. It must have been some kind of program for kids on other days because the walls were covered with drawings. They handed out packets of names of people who had been identified as Democrats and potential Hillary supporters. You went through each row and called each name to invite them to a rally for Hillary in Brooklyn. You would mark off each name. Going, not going, not home, left message.
It was boring and it was tedious but, I thought, this is volunteering. It’s not supposed to be fun. This is what it’s like to put in the work.
When I was done with that I started calling people in Florida. Florida has early voting, so, most people told us that they had already voted. I asked who they were voting for. A few people declined to answer. Some people grunted and hung up. Some people said, “Can you do me a favor? Can you take me off this list?” Other people were effusive, “Hillary! We all are, everyone in my family!” It gave me some hope.
I did another phone bank later that evening at a friend’s place. He was an old co-worker from years ago. I went to his apartment in Chelsea. He had his TV on Fox News. “For motivation,” he said.
I received another packet for more Florida voters. I went through the list. Voted for Hillary, hadn’t voted, voted for another candidate, not home, left message. So many people weren’t home but, I thought, this is the work.
On Election Day, I went to Reading, Pennsylvania. My friend and old co-worker Julie posted on Facebook, “Who wants to come to Reading with me?” It was a lucky coincidence because I didn’t have any actions planned for that day. We drove to downtown Reading and saw that the Hillary headquarters were just down the street from the other candidate’s. There was a pickup truck parked outside with several bumper stickers, one of which said, “Hillary for Prison.”
We walked around Reading, going door to door, reminding people to vote and, if they didn’t, asking if they had a plan. So many people weren’t home. But this was the work.
We drove home listening to the “Keepin’ It 1600” podcast with Jon Favreau and all the other guys who were smugly saying that since this election was in the bag, the Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump would now be persona non grata in New York. Have you ever gotten sick after eating something and then never wanted to eat it ever again? Or perhaps thrown up from a particular alcoholic drink and then anything even close to that taste makes you ill? That’s how I feel about that podcast now because it was those voices ringing in my ears when I went to an election night party – a party with actual Hillary Clinton cookies – to watch the results come in.
I only made it an hour there. The more red that I saw, the worse I felt. I had to leave. I went to my girlfriend’s apartment. We watched some election coverage but I had to stop. I brought up the David Pumpkins sketch on her computer (for the fortieth or fiftieth time) and I directed us down a sketch comedy rabbit hole just to think about something else, anything else. We went to bed without looking at the election results again.
I woke up at 4:00 AM that night thinking, as you do in a groggy state after something horrible has just happened, that it might have been a dream. I opened the computer and looked at CNN and saw the result. Then I went back to bed. That was over two months ago. Today it became real but I won’t think about that. Today, I’m thinking about volunteering for Hillary.
I won’t try to sell anyone any bullshit about hope today because one of my most vivid memories of canvassing in Reading was when some college aged kids came back to the headquarters after someone from the other campaign shouted, “Go eat Hillary’s cunt!” I believe it was the owner of the pickup truck with the bumper stickers. There’s going to be some ugliness coming and I won’t even try to make you feel okay about that.
But I’m hopeful because of the people I talked to. Frankly, connecting with people at all, for any reason, is kind of great. It makes you feel less alone.
I remember I called a house in Brooklyn three times. A woman answered and said that she couldn’t go to the rally but that she and her family and all of her friends were voting for Hillary. I called her twice more because her son and her son’s wife lived with her. Maybe it was that I had gone through several names without getting anyone or leaving a message but there was something reassuring about hearing a friendly voice again saying, “Hi, yes, we’re all still voting for Hillary, good luck!”
I called one man who lived in Florida who said, “Look I don’t have a lot of time right now, I’m on the way to the hospital to see my wife.” I said really quickly that I was calling from the Hillary campaign. He said, “I want to help. We have to do everything we can.” I said, “Well we need volunteers tomorrow to go door to door.” He said, “Well, I’m disabled, so I can’t really walk that well but I’ll do anything. Take my number, I’ll go down and volunteer.”
I called some people who said that they were the primary caretaker for their parent or spouse and couldn’t leave the house. I talked to a student in Florida who was driving an hour or two to go home and vote in his home district. I went to a house to ask a man if he was voting only to have him tell me that he was an immigrant and couldn’t vote. I talked to people whose lives were different and more difficult than mine. It reminded me how lucky I am.
When we were in Reading, we came upon a middle-aged lady sitting on her porch smoking. I didn’t know how she would receive us because she looked exactly like a middle-aged lady who would be sitting on her porch smoking. It was hard to tell if she was of the, “Get the hell off my property,” or the, “Lovely day we’re having,” variety. She was actually quite nice and she had a question for us since we were working with the Hillary campaign. Where could her granddaughter send Hillary a letter?
Alright, real quick, I promise you this actually happened. Yeah, it’s a little Hallmark-y but sometimes that’s what you need. We told her that she could send it to the White House. We all know how that plan turned out but Julie actually found an address for the girl and texted her grandmother. So, maybe she actually sent the letter.
I went to the protest outside of the Trump Hotel last night. I couldn’t hear anything because it was so crowded I couldn’t get close enough to the stage or any speakers. I take that as a good sign. Michael Moore said we’re in the majority. Who the hell knows if that’s true. But there’s a lot of us. And there’s a lot of work to be done, tedious work. It might not feel like it’s accomplishing anything but that’s the work.
I won’t try to sell you any hope but you aren’t alone. That’s something.