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.
On Saturday, January 21st, my 15-year-old daughter and I rode a bus from Wilmington, DE, to Washington, DC, with 33 other women (and two men), mostly from our local community, to take part in the Women’s March on Washington.
Why did we set off from Wilmington and not from home? I’m not really sure. I’d responded to a friend’s offer of tickets, and Wilmington suited me, since my mother lives there. Katy and I drove to her house on Friday evening to have dinner and spend the night. Mom had knitted 5 pink pussy hats for us to distribute to the group. The next morning, she got up at 4:45 to make us breakfast and drive us to our bus. That’s solidarity!
When we boarded the bus, it was dark, but, as we drove along the highway, it soon became clear that I-95 was filled with buses, all heading south to the capital. I knitted one last pussy hat and chatted with my neighbor, exchanging our parents’ immigrant stories. They’d lived through WW II and its aftermath in Europe, witnessed incredible progress in their lifetimes, only to see their adopted country in the hands of a lying, narcissistic demagogue.
I should perhaps say that I am not an experienced protester. In October 1983, while an exchange student in Mainz, I attended the massive rally in Bonn against the deployment of American Pershing II missiles on West German soil. In June 1989, I witnessed the student protests in Tiananmen Square, leaving Beijing for Hong Kong (with CNN videotape in my luggage) just a couple of days before the military crackdown. In both cases, I regarded myself as a sympathetic observer – not a participant. In all my years in Germany, I was conscious of my status as a “guest”, and stayed out of politics.
Riding the bus to DC, I read a blog post by former Obama staffer Jen Psaki on my phone. She made the point that the Women’s March should not be an end in itself, but the start of sustained engagement. “The march shouldn’t be a moment to rest and celebrate. It should be a warm up.” I had already figured that out. I was hoping to draw energy and inspiration from a crowd of like-minded women. I also saw it as an important moment to speak out against Trump’s offensive behavior, his lies, to shout “the Emperor has no clothes!”
My daughter sat with other girls from her school. We managed to outfit each with a pink hat by the time we arrived at RFK Stadium, on the eastern edge of Washington. The stadium parking lot was a sea of buses. As we got out of the bus, Katy said, “Can I walk with my friends?” I said yes, gave her a metro pass and a map of the city, and that was the last I saw of her for many hours.
It was a 2 1/2-mile walk to the rallying point near the Museum of the American Indian, on the National Mall. I walked with 5 other women, including my running buddy Michele and her sister-in-law, who had traveled all the way from Georgia. In the stream of people moving from the stadium toward the city center, it became more and more difficult to stick together. March organizers asked us to stay on the sidewalks, but it soon became hopeless. There were just too many people.
Our route to the Capitol and the National Mall took us through a neighborhood of rowhouses, many of which had black and white lawn signs out front with quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. People cheered us on from their stoops. On the front steps of a large church, African-American ladies in their Sunday finery waved encouragement. Katy told me later one guy had yelled, “There was no one here yesterday!” [for Trump’s inauguration].
Within sight of the Capitol, we paused for pictures. Our next priority was finding a toilet. There were plenty of port-a-potties on the west slope of Capitol Hill, but most were behind a fence. They’d been set up for the inauguration – not the march.
The brand name gave us a chuckle, and I thought, what better way to sabotage a women’s demo than by cutting off access to the toilets? A Russian conspiracy, perhaps?
Coming around the side of the Capitol, we got our first sense of the size of the crowd. Yuge! Passing the Botanic Garden, we found port-a-potties on the Mall and joined a long line. Michele and I, as veteran marathon runners, were unfazed. This was as good a place as any for people-watching and talking to other marchers.
I managed to make cellphone contact with my daughter. She wasn’t far away, but finding each other was out of the question in the mass of people. One of my march buddies was impressed by my relaxed attitude. “Well,” I said, “she’s with her friends, and at least one of those friends’ moms is a lot more protective than I am – and she’s a fifth-grade teacher to boot.” Katy was surely in better hands than she would have been with me!
After an hour or so waiting to use the toilets, my companions and I waded into the fray on Independence Avenue, just east of the official march route. There were demonstrators – mostly women – from all over the country and all ethnic backgrounds. Slogans on signs varied from the general (“There’s more to protest than I can fit on my sign.”) to the specific (Black Lives Matter, climate change is real, health care, LGBTQ rights, immigrants’ rights, equal pay for women and reproductive rights). Pink pussy hats were everywhere. Each was unique because they’d been knitted, crocheted, or sewn by hand. It was thrilling, but it was also almost impossible to move in the crowd. Indeed, the march itself – in the sense of walking from point A to point B – had been cancelled because of the overwhelming number of demonstrators.
We made our way across Independence Avenue, thinking to go around the block, around the crowd, to get a little further west, where we’d be able to see and hear speakers on the rally stage. On C Street, parallel to Independence, a much less dense crowd was marching, and we joined in, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like,” “Hey hey! Ho ho! Donald Trump has got to go!” and “We don’t want your tiny hands/anywhere near our underpants.” We caught a glimpse of Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, greeting supporters from an improvised platform as her bodyguards looked on. Then we returned to Independence Avenue behind the Air & Space Museum, in time to see Madonna take the stage.
Madonna’s delivery was rousing, but her content was angry and somewhat vague. When she started dropping the f-bomb, it seemed out of place. This march was really pretty friendly – persistent, insistent, but polite. “Make America kind again” was a more frequent slogan than calls for revolution.
With considerable effort, my buddies and I managed to move (I can’t call it marching) along Independence Avenue from one end of the National Air & Space Museum to the other. It was time to start thinking about meeting up with friends and making our way back to the bus. We headed north, across the Mall, walking over the white(ish) plastic surface that had been put down to protect the grass and that so infuriated our President by being visible on aerial photos of the sub-yuge inauguration crowd. The march had spilled over into side streets, heading north from the Mall to the central business district and the White House.
The sun was going down now. We’d been awake since at least 4:45, on our feet from about 9:30 that morning, and we were tired. We’d agreed to meet others from our bus at Metro Center station, but there was no question of taking the subway back to the stadium. The pink-hatted crowd on the pavement, waiting to get into the station, was massive and barely moving.
We resigned ourselves to walking the 3+ miles back to the stadium parking lot. Downtown hotels, restaurants and bars were overflowing, pink hats and protest signs in their windows. I wondered what the economic impact of such a march must be. As we got out of the city center, the crowd grew thinner and quieter. Opposite the church where we’d been greeted in style that morning, an African-American man in a tailored suit offered that, if we needed a rest or a bathroom, he would help us across the street and a church member would direct us inside. Make America kind again, indeed.
Approaching the stadium, we got a different view of the sea of buses, their lights now twinkling in the dark. We’d remembered enough details to be able to find ours quickly. Sure enough, my daughter was already there, well-fed and content with her day of protest. I was happy she’d been interested and able to participate. The ride back to Wilmington was quiet. Most were exhausted and tried to sleep a little. My mother picked us up, we visited briefly, gathered our things and headed home.
In the days since our exhilarating visit to DC, the Trump White House has been settling into a pattern of lies, tantrums and provocative action. The reality-show-to-end-all-reality-shows came to Philadelphia yesterday and was met by thousands of demonstrators. Just as President Trump seemed about to utter a fact about the city’s crime record, he reversed course in mid-sentence and told a whopper about surging murder rates. And so Philly Mayor Jim Kenney became the latest in what will surely be a long line of mayors and governors to set the record straight and pledge resistance.
I’ve come to believe that the most important message of the Women’s March is this: We recognize that our rights, our democracy, and our decency are fragile. We see that they are under attack, and we will fight to defend them. That we have different approaches and priorities should not be construed as disunity and is not a weakness. We just need to keep at it, bigly.
I’ve been struggling to sort through my feelings and articulate just why I am still so upset by the results of the presidential election. I’m not yet trying to think through what we might be in for, come January, with President Trump. I have no interest in “not my president” protests, and only limited curiosity about possible cabinet appointments.
For me at this moment it’s not so much about Trump. It’s about what the election revealed about my country. It’s the fact that 60 million Americans voted for someone who repeatedly and openly denigrated African-Americans, Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, women. Sixty million Americans put their (often nebulous) desire for “change” above basic human decency.
I know there are white supremacists, gun nuts and simple-minded bigots out there who were always going to vote for Trump. I understand there are voters in Appalachia who hoped Trump would prevent the lightbulb factory where they work from moving to Mexico. I guess, when your livelihood is at stake, you can overlook quite a lot. But 60 million people???
Analysis of voting patterns in Germany’s most recent election shows that the far right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland was most successful in areas that have very few immigrants or refugees. That suggests it’s easier to hate and fear the Other and easier to overlook abuse of the Other if it’s an abstraction, not tempered by your own daily experience. Indeed, there are few immigrants, refugees or African-Americans in Wyoming, where Trump scored highest, with 70% of the vote.
But what about women – half the population in every state, every town, every rural township in the nation? In the case of women, we must conclude that familiarity breeds contempt, and contempt is what I take away from this presidential election. Given the choice between a superbly qualified woman and a lying bully, 60 million people chose the bully. Throughout the campaign, the public was quick to accept the suggestion that Clinton’s missteps were character flaws and just as quick to dismiss Trump’s character flaws, his indecency, as missteps. Boys will be boys. That’s a double standard. And if it’s not sexist, then let me just say that it looks uncomfortably familiar to many accomplished women.
During the campaign, one of my kids said to me, “If you vote for Hillary just because she’s a woman, isn’t that sexist?” All other things being equal, yes. But all other things aren’t equal, and they never have been.
The last 36 hours have been an emotional roller coaster. It’s going to take a while to process my feelings and thoughts about the election and its outcome, but I feel compelled to write something now, while it’s fresh, because so many friends from around the neighborhood and around the world have contacted me with their reactions. Here’s the last chapter of my 2016 election diary:
I woke up a little before 6:00 yesterday morning, shoveled down some breakfast, bundled up against the cold weather, and drove with Eric to take my place as a poll watcher and greeter for the Democrats in nearby Ridley Township. The polling place was a community center in a neighborhood I’d canvassed a couple of weeks earlier – a solidly Republican area with lots of Trump supporters. We arrived just before the polls opened at 7:00, and there was already a crowd of people waiting in line to vote before heading off to work. The Republicans had studded the strip of grass along the street with their campaign signs. Eric added ours to the collection, while I went inside to introduce myself to the Judge of Elections.
The political parties are permitted to appoint poll watchers to keep an eye on the proceedings, making sure, for example, that no one is “politicking” or otherwise trying to influence or intimidate voters within 10 feet of the entrance to the polling place. What, exactly, is the entrance? Well, that’s up to the Judge of Elections to determine. The Judge of Elections is a local political appointee who spends the day supervising the polling and then reports the results. In this case, it was an elderly gentleman from the neighborhood named Sam.
It was apparent when we arrived that this particular polling place had never (in recent memory, at least) had a Democrat show up to watch the polls and greet voters. There were a couple of Republicans – older men, one with a red Make America Great Again cap – holding the doors to the building open and handing out campaign literature. Inside, one of the township commissioners was glad-handing and actually standing next to his constituents as they signed in. Clearly illegal, but perhaps more a case of no one ever seeing a need to enforce the rules, rather than a conscious effort to break them. I introduced myself to the commissioner, engaged him in a friendly conversation, and maneuvered him outside, where he continued shaking hands and chatting with voters in the parking lot.
I spent most of the day on the steps of that community center, greeting voters and offering them a Democratic sample ballot. In addition to Eric, other friends and neighbors from Swarthmore came by for a couple of hours to keep me company or allow me to take a break.
The crowd of voters thinned as the workday started, and we passed the time with small talk. Mr. Make America Great Again was a retiree named Butch. His partner was a laid-off Boeing employee named Sam. Both nice guys. Later in the morning, they were joined by the District Attorney for Delaware County and his wife, who seemed to know just about everybody who came to vote. At some point, a local member of the American Libertarian Party showed up for a couple of hours to pass out sample ballots with a red-white-and-blue porcupine on them.
The Republicans carried on extensive conversations with friends and neighbors. Not being from the neighborhood, my interactions with the voters were more limited. One woman recognized me from my canvassing round, and we had a brief chat. Another offered me a couple of buttons that said “Republican for Hillary”. At one point, a man took me aside and asked, “Can you explain to me how any woman can vote for Trump?” I couldn’t.
In the middle of the day, I took a break and drove back to Swarthmore to cast my vote. Our polling place, in the local elementary school, was more crowded than the one in Ridley, serving Swarthmore College students in addition to local residents. Just as the Republicans dominated Ridley, the Democrats were in the overwhelming majority here, and they seemed to be holding an impromptu block party, handing out pretzels, coffee and even freshly-baked waffles.
When Eric voted, he had taken our daughter Katy into the voting booth with him and let her push the “VOTE” button for him. Moms I met in line were doing the same with their daughters. When I got into the booth myself, I took a moment to gaze at the names on the Democratic ballot – Hillary Clinton, the first woman ever at the top of a major party’s ticket, and a couple of other women I hoped would win legislative seats. I’m not ashamed to admit it was an emotional moment.
The Pennsylvania polls closed at 8:00 p.m., but things in Ridley slowed to a crawl by 7:00. I stood next to the two Sams as Judge-of-Elections Sam opened and recorded absentee ballots. As the voting machines were shut down one by one, I asked to see the numbers for Hillary, Trump and the two candidates for our local Pennsylvania State Representative. Not surprisingly, the Republicans were the clear winners in this precinct, but, when I compared Hillary’s numbers with those lower down on the ticket, it was also apparent that a significant number of Republicans had split the ticket and voted for Hillary.
I gathered up our campaign signs, threw them in the back of my car, and drove home. I’d been looking forward all day to the Democrats’ election party at our local Inn, but by the time we got there, the story that was unfolding on the giant TV screens wasn’t the one I’d expected. Pennsylvania still looked solid early on, but Florida was already lost, and the trend was grim. I couldn’t manage small talk. I ignored people I recognized in the crowd, and the wine tasted bitter. We walked home and joined the kids on the sofa to continue watching the returns. It was going from bad to worse. I went to bed and tossed and turned while the others continued watching TV.
This morning, I woke up to feelings of shock, disappointment, anger, sadness. Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote by about 200,000 votes, but had lost the Electoral College to Donald Trump.
I had to get the kids up and off to school, but it was difficult to look them in the eye, much less carry on a conversation. What to say? Texts and emails from friends told me they were struggling, too.
It’s going to take a while to process both the emotions and the facts surrounding this election, but here are a few points that seem important to me today:
More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump.
Trump’s margin of victory was so slim, that it could be attributed to any number of discreet factors: men who hate women, women who voted for Trump, African-Americans who stayed home, young people who didn’t bother to register, idiots… As with Brexit, I have no doubt that, in the coming weeks, the numbers will be sliced and diced every which way to try to demonstrate just which group of voters played the decisive role. In my mind, everyone who didn’t vote for Hillary shares the blame.
There’s been a lot of talk throughout the campaign about the “liberal establishment” not taking seriously the pain and suffering of “Middle America”. But it seems to me this argument ignores the role of demagoguery in Trump’s campaign. The truth is many groups (if you insist on looking at them as groups and not as individuals) have it tough: older white men who’ve lost good blue-collar jobs, but also poor African-Americans, Hispanics, working women, refugees, transgender people, and so on. The Trump campaign actively stoked anger among one of these groups and directed it against the others. (Listen to Terry Gross’s interview with James Fallows for more insights.)
Finally, I’m grateful I was able to volunteer, albeit late in the campaign. It’s a relief to me today to know that I did something, and I like to think it was worthwhile, even if I couldn’t save the day for Hillary. A couple of local candidates I canvassed for made it through tough races into the Pennsylvania state legislature, so that’s a small consolation. More importantly, I got some insight into the political process (the good and the bad) and was overwhelmed by the incredible number and dedication of volunteers who came out in the last days of the campaign to knock on doors and get out the vote. All of this makes me confident that something good will come out of this.
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.
Adding 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.
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.
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.
Im Bezug auf meine Canvassing-Geschichte fragte ein Freund aus Deutschland was man genau unter “registered Democrat” versteht:
Ist ein “registered Democrat” ein Parteimitglied (dann müsste er/sie eigentlich hinreichend motiviert sein, zur Wahl zu gehen), oder ein(e) WählerIn, die lediglich durch ihre Eintragung seine/ihre Nähe zu einer Partei ausrücken will?
Gute Frage! An die Antwort erkennt man, wie verschieden die USA und Europa tatsächlich sind.
Ein “registered Democrat” ist nicht unbedingt gleich einem aktiven Parteimitglied. Da es hierzulande kein Einwohnermeldeamt gibt, muss man sich extra als Wähler registrieren, um ein Wahllokal zugewiesen zu bekommen und wählen zu dürfen. Bei der Registrierung darf man Democrat, Republican oder Independent (parteilos) ankreuzen. Damit wird man zu nichts verpflichtet, aber die Angabe ist öffentlich.
Warum überhaupt etwas ankreuzen, wenn man politisch nicht sonderlich aktiv sein will und sowiewo frei (und vertraulich) wählen darf? In manchen Bundesstaaten (z.B. Pennsylvania) dürfen nur registrierte Demokraten bzw. Republikaner an den jeweiligen Vorwahlen teilnehmen. Das bedeutet z.B., dass “registered Independents” in Pennsylvania die von Bernie Sanders begeistert waren, keine Möglichkeit hatten, für ihn im Kampf gegen Hillary Clinton zu stimmen. (“Selber schuld”, könnte man sagen, da man jederzeit die Registrierung ändern darf.)
Vorwahlen gibt es nicht nur bei der Präsidentschaftswahl, sondern auch häufig für Senatoren, Gouverneure usw. Überall dort, wo eine Partei eine überwiegende Mehrheit genießt, sind die Vorwahlen entscheidend, die Hauptwahlen unter Umständen bedeutungslos.
Die Regeln variieren von einem Bundesstaat zum anderen. In Sanders Heimat Vermont wird bei der Registrierung gar nicht nach der Partei gefragt. So gesehen sind alle Vermonter (auch Sanders) automatisch “Parteilose”. Vermont hat auch “open primaries” – offene Vorwahlen. Da darf man frei entscheiden an welcher Vorwahl (demokratisch oder republikanisch) man teilnehmen will. North Dakota ist der einzige Bundesstaat in dem es kein voter registration gibt.
Wer seinen Wohnsitz ändert, muss sich rechtzeitig vor der Wahl unter seiner neuen Adresse registrieren um wählen zu können. (Deadline für die bevorstehende Präsidentschaftswahl war in Pennsylvania der 11. Oktober.) Das vergißt man leicht, und so ist es auch völlig normal, dass Bürger die theoretisch wahlberechtigt wären doch nicht wählen dürfen. Vor jeder größeren Wahl veranstalten die Parteien und andere politischen Organisationen voter registration drives [Registrierungsaktionen] um die Anzahl der aktiven Wähler zu maximieren. Es gibt 14 Staaten in den man sich am Wahltag registrieren und gleich wählen darf.
Eine Freundin in meinem Alter erzählt eine Anekdote, die einen anderen Aspekt der Parteiregistrierung veranschaulicht: Die Freundin stammt aus einer stolzen demokratischen Familie. (Zu ihren Vorfahren gehören die Helden der Arbeiterbewegung, die in den 1930er Jahren die Autogewerkschaft UAW aufbauten.) Sie wuchs hier in Delaware County – damals einer republikanischen Hochburg – auf. Als sie 18 wurde, registrierte sie sich brav und stolz als Demokratin, aber ihre Eltern waren empört und haben sie wieder hingeschickt, um ihre Registrierung zu ändern. Sie rechneten mit Repressalien (Dauerausfall der Müllabfuhr und ähnliches), wenn im Haushalt eine bekennende Demokratin wäre!
A few days ago, an email from the Swarthmore Democrats offered the following tip:
Due to reports of stolen [campaign] signs, please put a notice on or near your sign: “If you steal this sign, I will donate to the Hillary campaign AGAIN!”
Saturday morning: Sure enough, one of my Hillary lawn signs is missing. In fact, my husband saw the thief in action! He’d gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom when he heard a car pull up and stop on the street outside. Looking out the window, he saw “some fat doofus” get out of a beat-up van, steal the sign, and drive off. He decided not to yell at the guy, figuring he’d just wake me up and possibly disturb the neighbors. When they go low, we go high?
There’s going to be a major rally in University City this evening with Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, but it’s also the Homecoming Dance at the high school, and I promised to drive kids to the diner afterwards.
Sunday afternoon: Anne and I report to the campaign office for canvassing. I get a replacement Hillary sign, plus new signs for our candidate for U.S. Senate, Katie McGinty. She’s trying to unseat the Republican Pat Toomey. He’s remained largely silent on the subject of Donald Trump, hoping to play both sides of the fence in a divided state.
The canvassing script is different today from last week’s. It’s all about voter turnout now. Do you know where your polling place is? Do you have a plan to get there on November 8th? If you’re voting for the first time with this address, don’t forget to take your ID.
The neighborhood is also very different from last week’s. Ridley Township is adjacent to Swarthmore, and the neighborhood we’ve been assigned to is only 2 miles (3 km) from my house. However, it appears we’ve wandered into Trump Country. It’s a working class area with modest, mostly well-kept homes. Lots of pickup trucks in driveways, kids’ toys on porches, and Trump/Pence signs on lawns. Make America great again. Many other lawns have signs saying “We support our police.” That may seem innocuous, but, in the current political climate, it implies a racist, Trumpian sentiment.
It’s another beautiful fall day, but Anne begins to get nervous when she realizes she’s parked her car (with its Hillary bumper sticker) across the street from the Milmont Republican Club. We’re walking along behind the shops, bars and other small businesses that face busy MacDade Boulevard. Outside one of them (a bar? a barbershop?), some guy asks what we’re doing and we tell him. Ten seconds later, through the open back door of the establishment, someone yells, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood! Hillary belongs in jail!” Then chants of “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!” OK, so maybe that wasn’t the ideal parking spot after all…
As always, we’re targeting registered Democrats, and there are more of them here than the lawn signs would suggest. Who are they? Well, again, many of them aren’t home. Many are young people, students, living with their Republican parents.
The neighborhood is overwhelmingly white, but there’s a black family with freshly-installed solar panels on their roof, a grandmother from India who doesn’t speak English, a couple of Latinas with small children. There’s also a teacher caring for her sick husband and a normal American family whose driveway is covered with their kids’ chalk drawings. We’re happy to be able to tell them that they’re not the only Hillary supporters in the neighborhood.
Progress is faster than in the more spread-out neighborhoods of Wallingford, but evening is coming on. We pause to admire the late afternoon sunshine on the fall foliage. Then it seems to get very dark very quickly, and we decide to call it quits. By my count, we knocked on 46 doors. We breathe a sigh of relief as we pull into the town center of Swarthmore.
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.
Wednesday 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.
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.
On 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!”