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!”)
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?