Contributed by Lisa Bergson.
Last night, I ventured downtown to the Philly Convention Center for the Inaugural Pennsylvania Democratic Party Independence Dinner. Although richly diverse, it was not a very lively crowd, maybe too big bucks. Even the full-throated Pentecostal House of Prayer Mass Choir failed to rouse the room.
So, when Nancy Pelosi, who only the day before chaired the historic congressional vote to formally initiate trump’s impeachment process, later appearing on Stephen Colbert show in NYC, when this woman in the swirling vortex shaping our nation’s future said that she was here to “catch your spark – to be energized by you,” I thought, oh dear.
Fortunately, diminutive, super-brave Nancy is an extraordinary force, bringing the desultory crowd to its feet as she followed an incredibly detailed and articulate review of who and what is at stake in the 2019 PA election, with a sober assessment of the Congressional responsibility to prevent presidential violations of our Constitution.
“The times have found us,” she said, quoting Thomas Paine, the philosopher and political theoretician, who fostered the American Revolution. “Not to say that any one of us is as great as our founders. But, we do understand that we are not a monarchy. We are a republic. No one is above the rule of law.” More than a spark, Nancy upholds the flame of our democracy.
I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered the art of canvassing. For one thing, I’m slow. I go into a very quiet, humble mindframe as I approach people’s homes, standing far back from the door after knocking or ringing the bell. Sometimes little dogs inside bark and drum their paws against the door, objecting to my intrusion. Sometimes big dogs bark loudly and slam themselves with full force. (Once a little girl with a big dog opened the door. What could I do? Pet him.)
Most folks around here will not answer the door, preferring to avoid chatting with strangers. Some do, and those are the tiny vignettes a canvasser craves. But, you can’t get too attached to the outcome. In this way, it becomes a more Zen-like practice.
This is where my task gets complicated. I put much thought into the aesthetics of my literature placement. (I wish I could be more involved in the design of the literature, but that’s another topic.) What I want to achieve is a pleasing tableau. Sure, the door knocker goes on the door. But, beyond that, you can be creative in your positioning of the candidates’ flyers, stacking them neatly by a potted plant or, it being the season, tucked under a pumpkin or other Halloween decorations. The point is to show that you respect both their home and your mission. So, it takes a little more time, but I think it’s worth it.
I cringe when I am on the second pass of a canvass and find that the prior volunteer simply tossed the handouts by the citizen’s door. That’s just littering. I was disheartened recently when a huge thunderstorm that night undoubtedly drenched much of my work, not to mention my little, personal handwritten notes to each recipient.
In the past, I’ve always been stuck in Doylestown or Newtown. But this time, I insisted on a Wrightstown list. There’s so much to discover here. Normally, I just commute to work, maybe stopping at the gas station or Organnon’s natural food store. But, generally, even after 24 years in the same home, I had no sense of our neighborhood – until now.
I wouldn’t call it a community. But, it is a fascinating, disparate, demographic hodgepodge, and not necessarily the republican stronghold folks imagine. There are blocks of McMansions perched high on hills too quiet for birdsong, with the only sign of life a mail deliverer in her mini-truck; there’s a hidden community down a single lane gravel road that one homeowner calls a “working man’s association”, with its own creeks and autonomous ethos; there’s shrouded wealth and even more discreet poverty; but, mostly I met young families and older couples, unhesitatingly committed to voting, with many voicing concern for my safety as I made my rounds. “Be careful, it’s strange around here,” they would say. It occurred to me that they might not know that I am working off a Democratic list.
Then there was the time that I encountered the new owner of a once Democratic home. Wearing a gun-emblazoned NRA sweatshirt, with slogans on the back, she was surprisingly welcoming and showed me around the still-empty house, indicating where she planned to put the dining room and discussing skincare and hair dye. (“Toxic,” she warned). We shook hands as I left. “We pick the best candidates,” she assured me, promising to consider my literature.
The most gratifying part of working the polls was seeing some of “my” canvassed families show up to vote! (I didn’t see the NRA woman, but she might have voted earlier.) On the whole turnout rose dramatically, especially for an off-year election. We still lost Wrightstown, but, based on a binary choice, such as votes for coroner, our increase in turnout compared to that for 2015 was 30%+ higher than the republicans. So, with the number of Democratic voters in Wrightstown increasing 76% versus a 45% increase for republicans, we are gaining!
And, despite their local victory, our Republican counterparts at the count seemed rather glum. Later that night and the next morning, it was evident why. Wow. WE WON, WE WON, WE WON, WE WON, WE WON, WE WON! Bucks is BLUE!
Now it’s vital to identify the best candidates to support in the primaries in the spring. We have a clear path to fry Fitzpatrick, especially after his shameful, lemming-like vote against the investigation. Trump and his mob are on the run, as their toxic brand of self-dealing corruption becomes more and more of a liability for the republicans.
But, our way forward on both the Congressional and Presidential path is still murky to me. I keep thinking of Helen Tai, our lovely, brilliant, former state representative, who lost to republican Wendi Thomas a year ago, after Wendi ran a really ugly campaign that I bet would not prevail today.
As fate would have it, I ran into newly elected Democratic Judge Jordan Yaeger and Helen, with their spouses, at a Doylestown restaurant on Saturday night. “You have to run, Helen,” I urged her. “You’re a great public servant, and you have the name recognition.”
She shook her head, no.
Today, I went to a sparsely attended gathering for Elizabeth Warren on the outskirts of Doylestown. It’s encouraging that she already has at least a modest organization here, and I wanted to learn more. As we go around the room, I admitted that I worry that Warren has gotten boxed in with her position on universal healthcare. Some of my closest friends and family members, even longtime liberals, are frightened by it. I asked whether she might consider modifying her position to offer people more of a choice.
“You mean to continue to be ripped off by the insurance companies?” asks a woman with short, gray hair, a member of another local Indivisible.
“Well, that way people would realize that universal healthcare is better and transition on their own,” I tried.
“It was a fight with Medicare too,” the woman, who clearly knew her stuff, recalled. “Back in 1965, they said the same thing – that we would lose all the doctors and services. But that didn’t happen.”
It’s true; my husband and I travel a lot and see first-hand that universal healthcare works in places as far flung as Korea and Taiwan. If only we can make the case that the big macro-problems that we face, the ones that “touch people’s lives,” as Warren says, call for big badass solutions, she or another like-minded progressive can win.
When it comes to everything from climate change to income inequality to gun control to narcotics, healthcare, and more, only governments acting in the best interests of their people and working together can take remedial action before it is too late. “The children, the children, the children,” Nancy Pelosi repeated at that dinner downtown. It is for their future that we are compelled to fight, but also to heal our nation, our world.