Let them in: a photo essay from a special guest

The following photos were taken by my husband at the Philadelphia International Airport on Sunday, January 29th.

The day before, an Executive Order from President Trump caused legal immigrants, permanent residents and fully-vetted refugees from 7 predominantly Muslim countries to be detained upon arrival and, in some cases, sent back to their countries of origin. Lawyers worked through the night to secure the release of at least some of the detainees.

This article in Politico from Dartmouth College professor Daniel Benjamin helps explain why we think the Executive Order is a bad idea.

The next day’s protests in multiple locations were meant to express outrage at the Executive Order and to provide support to those attorneys and elected officials who are fighting it. Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the organizers, reported that over 5,000 people protested at PHL.

Eric thinks the photos speak for themselves.










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Election Diary 6: The Homestretch

Friday morning: I drive to Berwyn to meet a friend. This is the affluent Main Line suburb where Melania Trump spoke last night. Lawns in Marion’s neighborhood are now bristling with Trump/Pence signs that people took home from the rally. It’s a very prosperous, well-educated area. I don’t understand how Trump’s angry, xenophobic, misogynistic, Democrats-wrecked-my-life message can appeal to people here.

Saturday morning: Anne and I are going to canvas again. This is the final weekend of the campaign, and the get-out-the-vote effort is in high gear. The campaign office in Swarthmore is a hive of activity.

trump-supporterAdding to the excitement, there’s a Trump supporter walking around on the pavement outside, holding up a sign. Make America great again. He seems to be yelling at people occasionally, but mostly he’s just walking around quietly. I ask if I can take his picture, and we get into a conversation. I try to keep it friendly, and the more he talks, the less hostile he becomes. He’s not a bad guy. He admits some of Trump’s remarks have been outrageous, but believes he’ll tone it down once he takes office.

Parked along the street and in the steady stream of cars drifting by are many with out-of-state plates, mostly from Washington, DC, and New York. A couple of drivers roll down their windows and ask where the campaign office is. These are Hillary supporters coming to help with GOTV, alarmed by just how close the race has become in Pennsylvania. Their home states are “safe”, so they hope to have a greater impact by canvassing here.

Out-of-state plates outside campaign HQ. Photo credit: Anne Tallent
Out-of-state plates outside campaign HQ. Photo credit: Anne Tallent

Among the out-of-towners are Anne’s friends Brenda and Vicky from Washington, two highly accomplished scientists and experienced canvassers. They pull up in their Prius and position their Hillary buttons on their jackets. Love Trumps Hate. After two-and-a-half hours in the car, they’re anxious to get to work. We take two canvassing packets, get a quick briefing, and we’re on our way.

Gotta get a picture of that one! Photo credit: Brenda Ekwurzel
Gotta get a picture of that one! Photo credit: Brenda Ekwurzel

So it’s another gorgeous fall day, and here I am, walking around the neighborhood surrounding my kids’ middle school with one of our nation’s top climate scientists. Wow! Canvassing seems to go better this time: more people are at home, and more of them understand and support what we’re doing. Many on our list are young voters; most of them aren’t home, but their parents assure us they have a solid plan to vote.

One lady is new to the neighborhood, but couldn’t be better prepared for Election Day. She’s a graduate of both Wellesley College (Hillary’s alma mater) and the University of Chicago Law School, where she was taught by President Obama! Now and again, however, we get a glimpse into more complicated family situations and divided political leanings.

Saturday afternoon: Following a lunch break at home, I’m back at the canvassing staging location on Chipmunk Lane. My friend Linda needs me to fill in again on Monday, and I need to get a better understanding of how they do things.

Things are buzzing here, too. In addition to the local folks, they have people coming over from nearby Media, where the campaign office had more volunteers than it could use.

Except for one paid organizer, everyone coordinating and participating in this canvassing effort is a volunteer. Some are more effective than others, but Linda is relentlessly positive, thanking people for showing up to help and praising their efforts. It seems chaotic, with canvassers returning from the earlier shift at the same time others arrive for new assignments. Fortunately, the underlying system is pretty straightforward.

Saturday evening: At a neighborhood cocktail party, I talk with an acquaintance in the catering business, and she confirms that voting on a workday will be a real challenge for many people in the city – all the more so thanks to the transit strike. One of her employees is scheduled to work on Tuesday from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. (The polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) She plans to relieve him for a couple of hours in the middle of the day and lend him her car, so that he can drive to his polling place and vote.

It’s maddening to think that the SEPTA strike could affect the outcome of the election. German friends have often asked me whether the German system of holding elections on Sundays isn’t better than mid-week elections. I’ve always said that everything has its pros and cons, and I could think of some arguments for each approach. Now, in light of the strike, I think we’d absolutely be better off with weekend elections.

"Even if you really like this sign, you should buy one of your own and not steal it."
“Even if you really like this sign, you should buy one of your own and not steal it.”

The Repat's Election Diary 2

Saturday afternoon: I’m feeling virtuous after my first canvassing effort, but the day’s schedule has begun to spin out of control. I need to crack the whip on kids with homework, and I said I’d pick up campaign lawn signs for myself and a couple of friends.

I have an address for the signs, and it’s easy to find. This lady has covered her own lawn with campaign signs, and her living room is full of hundreds more identical signs for Clinton/Kaine and a handful of “down-ballot” candidates.

That’s right: the Democratic Party Machine is a nice mom in a modest suburban neighborhood with a living room full of lawn signs. Sign Lady would love to chat, but I have to dash – I want to get down to Boathouse Row in Philadelphia to watch my daughter row in the first regatta of the season.


Sunday morning: I’m up early to run with my friend Liz. She’s a teacher, and, while I was going door to door on Saturday, she attended a campaign rally in West Philly organized by teachers’ unions. She was surprised to see a bus full of New York teachers drive up, but one of the organizers explained: New York is “in the tank” for the Democrats. All possible resources are being deployed to Pennsylvania, where they might be able to make a difference to the outcome of the election.

Monday evening: GOTV (get out the vote) training at the local campaign office. Three young campaign workers and a room full of senior citizens. Where are the younger people? Well, 6:00 pm on a Monday is the worst possible timing for parents with little kids, and the local college students have their own campaign organization.

GOTV will target voters who are registered as Democrats, but who have voted only intermittently in recent elections. (How you vote is secret, but whether you vote is a matter of public record.) There are more registered Democrats than Republicans in our county, so our best chance of success lies in making sure these people get to the polls on November 8th. Knocking on all those doors is time-consuming, but it’s been proven more effective than phone calls. Do people know where their polling place is? Do they have a solid plan to get there on Election Day? We should commit to specific canvassing shifts, but I need to check the family calendar first.

I walk home with my neighbor, a doctor from Germany. He’s married to an American, and they both work at the big children’s hospital in Philly. He canvassed for Obama in 2008 and 2012. “Are you a US citizen?” I ask. “Not yet. I’ve applied, but the system is so backed-up, it’s taking forever.” Extreme vetting? This is what people are referring to when they say the immigration system is “broken”: immigration and naturalization processes that are so slow, even for the most straightforward cases, that it encourages others to bypass the system.

My neighbor asks whether I heard John McCain on the radio. The Republican senator gave an interview a few hours earlier on one of our local stations.  He made the case for re-electing his colleague Pat Toomey. McCain is (finally) disgusted with Trump, but says we Pennsylvanians need to return Toomey to Washington, so that the Senate can block any Supreme Court appointments President Clinton might propose. So there you have it, folks: Split the ticket and vote for gridlock! Thanks for clarifying that, Senator.

Tuesday morning: The parade of celebrities continues. Bill Clinton is speaking this afternoon in the very neighborhood where I grew up! And Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood will be right here on the Swarthmore campus! Unfortunately, between family obligations and my non-profit work, I won’t make it to either.

Wednesday morning: I’m still trying to figure out when I can canvas on the weekend. The family calendar is complicated…

Out of the blue, my friends Deiv and Merit call from Finland, just to say hello! Merit is worried by stories of Donald Trump telling his supporters to watch polls for signs of irregularities. Is he encouraging the “deplorables” to take the law into their own hands? In fact, he’s been practicing this rhetoric right here in Pennsylvania, and he’s been pretty clear: His supporters upstate in Trump Country should vote early and then come on down to Philly to check on things in minority neighborhoods. Perhaps the real objective is to depress voter turnout through intimidation.

The piano tuner comes by. He’s registered as an independent, but, he says, “last time I pulled the ‘D’ lever so hard, I think I broke it!” We agree vociferously with each other for a good 15 minutes before he heads off to the next piano.

regattaWednesday afternoon and evening: It’s my turn to drive the crew carpool, so here I am, back again at Boathouse Row in Philly. Thousands of mostly young people are out enjoying the sunshine, on and along the river.

Trump describes America’s cities as hell-holes. He doesn’t know (or deliberately ignores) the transformation my beautiful city has undergone in the last 30 years. It’s not perfect by a long shot, but we’re working on it.

Finally, it’s time for the third and final TV debate between Hillary and Trump. I’m ready with a big glass of red wine. Things get off to an interesting start with a question about the Supreme Court. Trump reiterates the GOP platform, more or less. Hillary says just the right thing about abortion rights.

Soon, Donald’s attention span is reaching its limit. Friends keep up a running commentary on Facebook: Is he saying “bigly”? The whole thing becomes almost surreal as it appears that Trump is now impersonating Alec Baldwin impersonating Trump on Saturday Night Live.

The evening ends with the reality TV star declaring he will not necessarily accept the results of the election. And with that he ensures his own place in the headlines for the rest of the week.

Red state?
Red state?

Saturday in suburbia: the Repat's election diary


Picture my friend Anne and me: Two well-educated women in our early fifties, with professional backgrounds in financial analysis and public health. We’re stay-at-home moms to a total of six teenagers. We’re not particularly religious. We both come from that kind of immigrant family that emphasizes education (not inheritance) as the way to get ahead. We drive minivans and feed our kids organic kale. We love Hillary Clinton, hate Donald Trump, and – because we happen to live in the Philadelphia suburbs – we’re the Republican Party’s worst nightmare right about now.

Analysis suggests Pennsylvania might determine the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, and the Philadelphia suburbs could decide who wins Pennsylvania. Nearly 21% of the state’s voters live in four counties surrounding Philadelphia, and we are being showered with attention and inundated with campaign advertising.

Anne and I attended a cocktail party on Friday evening at which Madeleine Albright – America’s first female UN ambassador and first female Secretary of State – made a personal appearance. She talked about her experience working with Hillary Clinton, and it was energizing.

campaign-officeOn Saturday morning, the two of us reported for duty at the local Hillary Clinton campaign office, a small storefront here in town, furnished with folding tables, a random assortment of chairs, and decorated with campaign posters. A couple of campaign workers were there to greet us. We’d volunteered for that most American of campaign activities: canvassing.

To understand what canvassing is all about, you have to understand that Americans are less likely than Europeans to go to the polls on Election Day. In the last presidential election, in 2012, only 53.6% of the voting-age population actually voted. Election results are determined by who shows up. Canvassing means going door to door to encourage people to show up.

Hillary’s local campaign organizer, a 20-something Texan named Chase, gave us a map and a list of about 40 names and addresses in nearby neighborhoods – all were voters registered as Democrats. Our job was to go to each house and try to speak to the person on the list. Had they already decided how they were going to vote? Could we count on their vote for Hillary? Did they need more information about down-ballot candidates? Most importantly, would they be willing to volunteer between now and Election Day to get out the vote (GOTV)?

Several of the people on our list were students who’d gone away to college and no longer lived with their (not necessarily like-minded) parents. One was the husband of a friend. She readily volunteered (and I finally got to meet the new puppy I’d been hearing about). Half the people we were looking for weren’t home.

The neighborhoods had no sidewalks. We parked the car, walked from house to house in a cluster of addresses, and then drove on to the next cluster. Progress was slow, but it was a picture-perfect fall day. As the sun grew stronger, Anne fretted that she should have used more sunscreen. I pulled off my fleece and repositioned my Clinton/Kaine sticker onto my Hillary t-shirt. (Note to self: next time, wear a lint-free jacket!)

Most of those we spoke to were supportive. At one house, we met what must surely be the nicest lady in the county. It was actually her husband who was on our list. “He’s painting in his studio, but you can go knock on the door. I know he’d love to talk to you – he’s very upset about this election.” We followed her directions. Turns out the world’s nicest lady is married to the world’s nicest man, and he’s already volunteering with the GOTV effort.

At another house, the front door was behind a fence that was clearly built to contain a fierce animal. As we wondered how to proceed, a car drove up. The driver wasn’t the guy we were looking for: “That’s my brother. You can go through the gate. They have a dog, but it’s stupid.” Stupid enough to eat us for breakfast? The brother turned out to be a teacher, a solid Democrat, but juggling work and childcare with his wife, no time to volunteer. We could relate.

Four hours and a dozen conversations after we’d started, we returned to the campaign office. We’d recruited three new volunteers – a pretty good haul, we thought. Now, in the middle of the afternoon, the office was a scene of organized chaos. Men with union t-shirts were milling around on the sidewalk outside. People were going in and out, dropping off canvassing packets and picking up lawn signs, some of them speaking Spanish. Inside, kids from the local school and their mothers were all over the place, eating pizza and making phone calls to registered Democrats. Chase was grinning from ear to ear: “These kids have made 500 phone calls!”


The Pope has spoken. Were you listening?

In case you haven’t heard, the Vatican has a new leader, and he is a rock star! Pope Francis visited Philadelphia this weekend, and it was sensational. Catholics and non-Catholics alike say they have been moved and inspired by the Pope. One of his key messages is that we must combat climate change and protect the natural environment. But is anyone really listening?

trash in the traffic box
Trash in the Traffic Box: Sorry, Francis, I don’t think they heard you!