I’ve never volunteered in an election before. OK, I admit, maybe for Eugene McCarthy. Remember him?
This election is too important to sit back and do nothing. I want a future in which everyone’s rights are protected. That includes women and children and people of color, the LGBT community, immigrants, workers, students, and people with disabilities.
My friend, Nina Fendel, and I decided to go to Pennsylvania, a battleground state. I don’t usually think of myself as a battler, but Nina is. She’s an experienced election worker. She pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the streets.
We reported to a small storefront office near Temple University and were sent to the 30th Street Train Station. Nina and I divided the rows of benches. “Are you registered to vote?” we asked. We stood back as people filled out the forms for themselves. We followed the rules. Registration is non-partisan.
We registered five people that first day. And we handed out many more forms to people who wanted to register at home or online. Not a stellar record, but when we turned in our clipboards that evening, we were told that was “pretty good.”
The next day, we rang doorbells in North Philly. I was intimidated to approach strangers, especially in an unfamiliar neighborhood. You never know how people will respond as they scrutinize you from behind their screen doors. More often than not, we heard, “Thank you for doing what you’re doing.”
I lost track of how many people we encountered. Numbers are important, but what I remember are the individuals I met. I registered one man who handed me his phone. “Take my picture,” he said holding up the registration form. “I want my people to see this.” He told me he had just been released from prison. He had served 22 years. “This is part of my re-entry.”
Then, there were two people with disabilities who had never voted before. And the woman who had changed her name, because she had just gotten married for the first time – at 60. And the many people who gave us directions and cheered us on.
The saddest people were those who felt so powerless that they didn’t want to register. I wished I could have changed their minds. To some I said, “I came 3,000 miles, because without Hillary Clinton’s efforts, without her championing PL94-142, a law assuring equal access to a public education for children with disabilities, my daughter would not have had an education. She wouldn’t have been able to get in the door of a public school.” No need to speak negatively about the other guy.
No one appreciated her education or her right to vote more than my daughter. No one had to explain to her what it was like to be marginalized, to be considered “other.” She lived it every day. Yes, she saw people who mocked and ridiculed her. She had multiple disabilities, but she wasn’t blind.
I’m doing this for her.