Don’t Just Bitch. *Do* Something.

In late summer 2008, a sauna-steamy Ohio Sunday, I waded into John Boehner’s home district with: a clipboard; a pen; a walk-list of “persuadables/likely Dem voters”; and the admonitions of our local Obama team leader fresh in my ears.

Stick to the script.

Encourage early voting.

Offer voter registration cards to unregistered voters.

Most importantly, keep moving.

Leader Pat – a young man of good instincts, I must admit — might have given me the stink eye when he said, “Don’t spend too much time in one place. We have a lot of ground to cover.” Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

Fast-forward. *knock knock*

The door of a moderately-priced rental townhome opened to reveal a craggy-faced man, mid-50’s with longish stringy hair, wearing a faded Cincinnati Reds tee-shirt, and jean shorts. Fashion statement: Borderline homeless. Then again, it was Sunday afternoon, slouch time, so I’m not judging.

“Hi, I’m Joan, and I’m here on behalf of the Barack Obama campaign. We’re encouraging area residents to update their voter registrations and take advantage of early voting.” (If you’ve done it, you know the drill. If not, find out. Ground to cover, people. Boots on the ground.)

The man, whom we’ll call Bill, said somewhat challengingly, “I don’t vote. I’m sovereign.”

Alrighty then. Faaaaascinating. Fun!

“And that means…?” I asked, with a half-smile. And likely a glint in my eye.

Bill drew his shoulders back and assumed a surprised-but-pleased expression at being asked, obviously accustomed to being treated as a nutter. “Well, I’m sovereign. I don’t recognize the authority of this regime. I’m not a subject of this tyrannical and illegitimate system. I don’t vote or participate in this corrupt political process because I’m independent of it.”

(If you are holding a Buzzword Bingo card, holler “Bingo!”)

One person rambling, the other face-palming

You're kidding? Right? Just... stop talking.

More delighted and amused than irritated by this silliness, I teased, smiling, “Oh, are you now? Do you drive? Have license plates on your car? Drive on roads? Stop when the police pull you over? What about the sidewalk over there? Ever walk on it? Didya pay for it?”

Insert long, contentious-but-friendly discussion ranging from pesticides on produce to neighborly disputes. Bill shares details of his personal situation. Rapport, mutual respect and tolerance for the f-bomb are established. Time to get serious.

“But, (heavy sigh) Bill… you can’t even paint your fucking walls without getting permission from the landlord. And I use the term ‘landLORD’ advisedly. You’re not sovereign. You’re unemployed, for cryin’ out loud. No income. You’ll be lucky if you have walls six months from now, much less a castle from which to rule as a ‘sovereign.’”

Bill shuffled his feet, but said nothing, looking down. 

“Bill. Bill. Look. You know I’m not a complete idiot after this conversation. And I love it that you read up on things and enjoy a spirited discussion. But the bottom line is that you’re not ‘free’ at all. And never will be if you keep distancing yourself from ‘the process.’ That’s bullshit. It won’t get you anywhere. You’re much more likely to get what you want and need if you vote, and particularly if you vote for my guy. (shrug) I’m just saying. Read Obama’s books. You’ll like ‘em. Good stuff… And don’t buy that ‘socialist’ bullshit. There’ll be a metric shit-ton of really pissed off über-liberals two years from now. Mark my words.”

Bill said, “Not promising anything. But I’ll think about it.”

“You do that, Bill. I’m not kidding around.  I’m not pounding the pavement in this soup because I enjoy the exercise. Sweating is not fun, and I’m going to be in big trouble for spending this much time on one vote. Hear me? I gotta move on, but you take care.”

Bill, smiling, said, “I will. You too.”

Stick to the script? Nuh-uh. I don’t like ‘em. We’re not assembling widgets here. We’re trying to change somebody’s thinking — not a sport for amateurs. Luckily, Bill wasn’t one of the KKK-type sovereign guys, evidenced by the fact that he didn’t shoot me for trespassin’. Be careful out there.

What’s the take-away? Most people mean well. Even when what they’re doing and saying is destructive or apathetic in effect. They think they’re working for a higher good. They think they’re helping. Even if you and I disagree.

*gritted teeth* Even Tea Party people.*shudder*

We’re all capable of staggering cognitive dissonance. To preserve pride and sense of self, we transform our own terrible history or condition into a crusade, a statement, a blow at “the system.” Some allow rhetoric to make us feel guilty for needing help or even demanding access to that which we have earned, paid for. Some identify with others not on the basis of common circumstances and experiences, but based on deliberate self-deception about our own status, ambitions.

Unfortunately, we fail to consider by what means we will become that to which we aspire. And we utterly fail to secure those means with our votes.

Yes, I could have walked away from Bill with a smile and, “Thanks. Have a nice day.” Probably should have. I was late getting home that day.  I got stuck with a clipboard, and hubby had to make dinner. Perhaps my plan all along? Of course not.

I’m not giving up. Not on myself. Not on you. Not on “them.” All I have to do is get one particular idea through. Okay, maybe two.

Do something. It matters. Whatever your talents, use them.

And don’t screw it up for the rest of us.

This is hard enough already without mostly like-minded people working at cross-purposes. Deal?


  1. I’m with you on this, my dear. We don’t change hearts and minds by following the script. Having made many a cold call on behalf of our Prez during the campaign, and gearing up to do it again, I agree – it’s all about finding a foothold, some common ground, and making the process relevant. It’s voter apathy that kills in elections. Just look at the midterms. “Oh, our guy is in now, so I can rela. He’ll get it all done.”

    Keep fighting the good fight, Sistah. I’ll do the same. Love the blog – will be following!

  2. I hate going by scripts as well. It’s like those stupid robo calls. People don’t want to hear you spouting off talking points, at least I don’t think they do. I know I hate it. I hope the next time I come across this situation, I handle it as well as you.

  3. I find a lot of political conversations feature a lot of this:

    “If your candidate agrees with me on everything, never makes mistakes and can never be corrupted then I’ll vote, otherwise to hell with it” is a very common sentiment, I’ve found.

  4. Very good story!

    There is a side effect to what you did that you might not realize. It is something the Republicans have long taken advantage of.

    It’s word of mouth, when people talk negatively in their daily conversations about politics it creates general resentment and disenfranchisement among even those who just overhear the conversation.

    Next time I would suggest giving him a few sources for news online, otherwise the effect could be short lived.

    • FWIW, I did offer the gentleman specifics, and even scrawled a few web addresses on a torn scrap of my walk list’s border. When I was in obviously non-threatening situations (women, kids on site), I even went into people’s homes and got onto their computers to find good material for them, at times. (*whisper* Don’t tell. It’ll get me into trouble with Pat next time around.)

      I won over 63 people. I was COUNTING. They just really, really didn’t know. And all they’d heard was really hyperbolic blather from the two sides of the great divide on television from blowhards. I was a real person, nice, approachable, friendly, informed, talking to them about facts, and backing them up.

      Perhaps I’m naive, but I really believe that if we start from a position of respecting other people’s good intentions and dignity, and don’t cheat by getting nasty when it becomes obvious that we may be under-informed or misinformed, we can find at least enough common ground to ensure that we get back on a road to mutual prosperity, reasonable comfort without badly trampling anyone’s sense of “personal sovereignty.”

      What do *I* know though? It’s just a theory. One that keeps *me* engaged and feeling purposeful. There you have it.

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