On Election Day morning, I head out on another canvassing ‘packet’ of doors to knock. The list is designed to identify known Democratic supporters with patchy voting records. Our aim is to remind them of their polling station, cajole them to come out early, ensure they don’t forget. One family is so sick of being pestered that they’ve stuck a cardboard sign to their front door with a smiley face, a voting sticker and the words “I voted today at 8.30am” in felt tip. They are a canvassing dream. But most people are not home, or pretending not to be. I scribble their polling location onto our campaign sticky note and add it to another door.
“What are you doing?” asks a man from his porch. “Hi, I’m Dominic and I’m volunteering with the Hillary Clinton campaign” I repeat for the hundredth time, walking over and straining to achieve ‘friendly’ and ‘approachable’.
“Are you coming to my house?”
Actually no, I explain. His house isn’t on the list. But is he voting for Clinton? He is. I try to shake his hand, and he turns it into a complicated fist bump which I fail to pass but he forgives. He’s maybe 40, and I understand maybe half of what he’s saying. This is not a normal problem for me, and hasn’t come up in any of the canvassing so far. I’m really not sure where he’s from, or what he’s telling me, but after a couple of attempts I realise he’s asking me about my jeans.
I’m feeling sensitive about my jeans, because the previous morning I was threatened off a nearby street by a group of men (plus dog) who objected to my “gay jeans” in the strongest possible terms. But this guy is merely making conversation and I try to think of a response. I look down, look back up, and then – in full and total awareness of the ridiculousness of what I’m about to say – break the silence with “thanks, they’re from Uniqlo!”.
Suffice to say, there is not a Starbucks in downtown Toledo, let alone Japanese casual wear. Many homes are boarded up or demolished. One woman told us about the parks, pools and ice skating rinks which used to exist when she was growing up, but they are all gone now, along with the manufacturing which paid for them. The city is deserted, especially at weekends. Its remaining residents could be Trump’s imagined target audience, except they aren’t white. (On average, Trump voters are actually richer, and live further out.)
Even to annoying canvassers, however, people here are kind and generous with their time. One undecided voter appears at his door with his hand over his mouth and apologises for yawning: he was recording a studio session late last night. From his t-shirt and voting priorities, I guess Christian music. He thanks me with ultra-American Midwestern politeness for trying to sway him to Clinton. Another woman gives me a hug because she likes my accent. (She’s into languages and speaks some French, Spanish and Swahili.) In one strange encounter, a man agrees to vote early today because thinks he can make it before 5pm. I’m pleased, but I wasn’t expecting him to literally close his apartment door and walk off to vote the next moment without even stopping to pick up a coat. (Later on, when I see the multi-hour queue at the early voting centre, I feel guilty.)
And then there are the real heroes. Starting, of course, with the campaign team and volunteers who welcome and feed us like family despite us only showing up for the final four days. The young, homeless woman who sees my t-shirt and approaches me with enthusiasm to ask if she can still vote for Hillary. (She’s registered in Detroit, so she can’t.) There’s Monica, standing outside a polling station in support of renewing the city’s zoo levy, who buys us hot chocolate as we hand out Democratic sample ballots. Later, a local Republican and his 14 year old son show up to give out the Republican equivalent. He is kind to us, and we chat amiably, and for a brief moment there is a tiny window into civil democracy which is probably more widespread, even now, than you might think.
My favourite person is the young man who rescues us from the seventh floor of an apartment building, after Randi and I tailgate and then realise you need a keycard to get out as well as in. Pushing my luck, I ask if he’d lend us his keycard for an hour so we can canvass the whole building, and he agrees on account of it being for Hillary.
I thought it might be better to write about these people, who made life better for me, Randi and Christina in Toledo, rather than writing the same thing about Trump you can find on your Facebook feed. It is not supposed to be an uplifting distraction. These are good people who will be hurt by President Trump. They will be hurt in the worst-case scenarios, and they will be hurt in the ‘best-case’ scenarios where Trump is ‘only’ a Republican and ‘only’ does generic Republican things. I am sorry.
Deborah Herrick, Sue Buxton, Gillian Self, Katie Self, Amanda Schalk, Caroline Cummins, Karen Troop, Natasha Self, Steven Petitpas-Polselli, Paul Osbiston, Christina Constantine, Chloe Booth, Sharon Dinkin, Jason Zhou, Randi Lawrence liked this post.
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Dominic vs. Freedom #3: Toledo