The midterms are past and I’m thrilled about all the democratic victories across the United States. Unfortunately, my own district – the fifth district of Virginia – did not flip to blue, but Virginia did flip three other seats, a huge accomplishment, especially when you see how gerrymandered Virginia is. And even though a republican won in the fifth, he won by seven points, compared to seventeen in 2016. Furthermore, at the start of the election, we were classified as “strong republican” but had to be reclassified as “lean republican” and some pollsters called the race a tossup. This district which runs north to south from Fauquier county near Washington DC, all the way to the North Carolina border, is bigger than the entire state of New Jersey.
Our dem candidate was Leslie Cockburn an investigative journalist and also mother of the actress Olivia Wilde, which added some glamour to the campaign. Going door to door is one of my least favorite things, but I signed up to volunteer and did my first canvassing shift in June, working every other weekend at first, but later working every Saturday and the weekend before the election I worked Saturday and Sunday, for a total of fourteen hours. Which is less than a lot of other people. After a while, they asked me to train canvassers, so I spent some shifts in the office instead of knocking on doors and on the last busy Sunday, I debriefed canvassers. I also spent one Sunday knocking on doors in Henry County in the far south of the district, near Danville, VA. I did my last door knocking shift on Election Day, in the evening, searching for any Leslie supporter who hadn’t voted yet.
The point of this post is that canvassing turned out to be a real opportunity for personal growth. I worked hard, but I gained so much from the experience. Most importantly, I met a lot of great people on Leslie’s staff and also among the volunteers. I know I’m down on Charlottesville a lot, but it was nice to work with my community members and see how many of us were dedicated to the same cause. I also met a lot of great people while knocking on doors. The majority were friendly and expressed strong support for Leslie and a fair amount were willing to sign up to volunteer themselves. A lot of people thanked me for my work and other canvassers also reported being thanked. I encountered only one really nasty person, a republican who yelled at me about Brett Kavanaugh. I wasn’t even bothered. I just focused on his terrible teeth and was glad I wasn’t him.
I also learned more about my community. I canvassed in rich neighborhoods and poor ones, including a trailer park down in Henry County. I encountered streets and houses I never knew existed, though I’ve lived here for twenty years. I spent a lot of time admiring porch decor as I waited for people to answer the door. I encountered sleepy cats and friendly dogs. Luckily, no mean dogs, although there were a couple of houses I skipped because they had “Beware of the Dog” signs and chain link fence around the front yard. I canvassed in blistering heat and pouring rain. Rainy canvassing really sucks. I don’t mind getting wet myself, but it’s impossible to keep your walk sheets dry, even if you carry them in plastic. I had a few silly things happen, such as on my very first shift when I found myself struggling through a tunnel in the bushes, in search of a mysterious “cottage” behind a house. I encountered a voter who spoke to me through a hatch he’d cut through his door – like the “Who rang that bell” guy in the Wizard of Oz movie. From what I could see of him, he appeared to be naked and was also extremely high. He told me that republicans and democrats are all assholes so I countered that democrats are less of assholes than republicans. “You believe that if it makes you feel better, honey,” he said and then closed his hatch.
As Election Day neared, a ton of people came from out of district to volunteer. I met people from Washington DC, Maryland, Philadelphia, and even one woman who drove all the way from New York to knock on doors for Leslie. A common refrain from the DC people was, “We don’t have representation, so this is how we get our voice.” It was so uplifting to meet all these people, willing to give up their entire weekend to help save our country from fascism.
On a personal level, the most important thing for me was that I was afraid to canvas. I’m an introvert and talking to people can be agony for me. It has been a confidence boost that I took something I was afraid to do, and did it anyway. I highly recommend doing the same if you feel in need of a lift.