I canvassed for Hillary in Columbus, Ohio this weekend. It was literal pavement-pounding that could have been pretty much mindless. But it was really very interesting to get a glimpse of how differently people live, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, and quite gratifying to put names and faces to voters who have heretofore been mere demographics to be mined by the Big Data financed by the Big Money of the modern-day presidential campaign. The process also provided needed perspective on the state of our democracy from the real people who are living into it.
I held many feelings in tension as I went from door to door beseeching registered Democrats to vote. The process brought out my inner reporter: ginning up the courage to knock on a stranger’s door to ask personal, if not intrusive questions, all the while taking in the details of the environment, studying, if you will, the sociology of a block where everyone has at least one dog and virtually every house bears a sign warning away solicitors — some even noting that they didn’t want you knocking on their door if you have anything to say about religion or politics either — often alongside a folksy sign saying “Welcome” midst the crush of brightly colored fallen leaves and spent jack o’lanterns. I would have called the neighborhoods we canvassed “Blue Collar” in the Ohio I grew up in five decades ago; but that Ohio doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Even “working class,” while accurate, falls short of describing this turf completely, mostly because, in the past, they would have been working class whites; today they are working class homeowners who are white and African-American, Asian-American, Pentecostal Christian and Muslim-American living side-by-side in distinctive precincts and zip codes carved out of the rolling hills and sun-kissed trees north of downtown Columbus.
Canvassing for Hillary also brought out my insecure former self. Think about it: my college classmate, at least once upon a time my peer, is running for President of the United States; and I am doing what? Walking through low middle income developments tallying the registered Democratic voters who have voted or say they will. The work was literally and figuratively pedestrian and I have considerable doubts about its efficacy, even though the bright, young, enthusiastic, upbeat, highly organized campaign officials argue convincingly that personal touches — like knocking on doors —do have an impact on voter turnout. We’ll see. Believe me, I will be watching the count in Franklin County, Ohio tonight hoping to be able to believe that “my” 200 households helped Hillary win the state. Humble — sometimes even humbling — though my role was, it was at once something I could do for Hillary, and something I had to do for myself to be a witness to this historical moment.
I remember when my daughter left teaching and returned to school for a graduate degree in public policy. Though she loved teaching and was good at it, there were many reasons she left, including, she told me, a sense that she no longer wanted to merely teach about other people who made history, she wanted to make some history herself. I understood. I felt the same impulse as a journalist — was I destined to always be writing about what someone else was doing? Even at Wellesley, Hillary was the Student Body President; I was the reporter writing about her. One day, after many years of self-recrimination and second-guessing, I decided that yes, that was my fate or, more accurately, my skill set. I began to believe I actually had an enviable assignment: writing what journalists like to call “the first draft of history,” as observer and note-taker, engaging ideas and people and synthesizing a narrative in a meaningful way.
Still, it’s occasionally a challenge to stand in the shadow of one who has accomplished as much as Hillary has over the last 50 years. Yet I found this weekend in Columbus that that was exactly where I wanted to be; it was the place where I belonged. I was at once grateful and proud to be standing “With Her” — and with all the women I know (and the millions I don’t) who forged their identities and lived into their lives under the same glass ceiling we hope Hillary shatters, once and for all, tonight. Michael Kruse has posted a piece on Politico that makes my story representative of the many women who have experienced being ambitious and able and having that not be enough because they were women, the women for whom Hillary represents the journey we’ve all taken to realize our full human potential.
What I learned on the streets of six different housing developments in Columbus is that it’s not just women like my classmates and me at all. What humbled me more than my simple volunteer duties, was how much I learned from the women I encountered and how they were able to put this election in perspective in a way I had not. They were not, for one thing, as consumed by it as I have been. The struggle of their daily lives — evidenced by broken down cars in the driveway, garages full of gas cans and couches and washing machines and relatively unused lawn mowers, bars on the storm doors, doorbells that don’t work, disabled family members —and the joy — proud home ownership, happy children at play, community or faith life, Ohio State Buckeyes fan-dom and work (no one was home Monday) — was their reality. It took precedence, and the opportunity and the responsibility to vote was just one small part of it. They were informed, and they’d made up their minds. They told me they had voted early because it was convenient; or they would vote today because it is Election Day and that’s when they like to vote. They answered the door when I knocked, listened to my appeal, smiled and said, in myriad different ways, “I’m with her, too!” The women my age were the most enthusiastic, the quickest to say, “It’s about time,” or “Finally!” But younger women, especially immigrants and African-Americans, connected with Hillary, too, with a kind of urgency and poignant pride I found moving. I hope Hillary knows who they are, how much their lives and the choices they make matter, and what the glass ceiling she’ll shatter tonight looks like to them. I hope she draws from their dignity as well as from their struggle and fully appreciates that she is at once a symbol of profound hope and an affirmation of their strength and their courage.
I learned in Columbus that this election is not all about Hillary. It’s not about me. It’s about all women through the ages — and for the ages.