Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 19: and ever and ever, Amen.

          It feels like the fifth of November.  My lips are chapped.  My feet are sore.  And I could have gone to the bed for the night at about 6:30.  I spent the day walking the streets of my neighborhood with a clipboard, a list of addresses and a stack of door hanging reminders.  Until today, the Ohio for Obama canvassers have been encouraging early voting, but it’s getting a little late for that now.  So today we were making sure people know the polling place for their precinct and have a plan to get there.  Tomorrow.
       It was chilly, sunny and blue in the Buckeye Nation this morning.  I had Ankle Biter with me for the journey because he hurt his foot yesterday and though the x-rays show no fracture, he was hobbling around like an old man when he got out of bed today, and then by the time Darling Virgo was ready to bring him to pre-school he was dragging himself across the floor like the woman in that Andrew Wyeth painting.  It seemed a little irresponsible to send him to school.  So he traveled on my back in the carrier for the day’s canvassing.
          I couldn’t help but think about the day before election day three years ago when we lived in Maine.  It was a low stakes year.  No presidential race.  Or congressional.  Just a few uncontested local races, a bond issue to repair the roads, the usual attempt at a tax cap.  Oh right, and a proposed "people's veto" of my right to marry.  The Maine Legislature and Governor had passed and signed equal marriage into law the previous spring, but our rights were put on hold until the people had a chance to have their say.
          Moon Boy and Ankle Biter were days away from turning two and one.  It was a cold, sunny, blue morning in Falmouth Foreside, a White, upper-middle class, largely Democratic community overlooking the waters of Casco Bay, just north of Portland.  The wind off the water chapped my fingers as I pushed the boys in the double stroller all morning.  It’s easy to feel lonely on the morning of election eve.  Not many people are at home.  It’s a lot of door knocking, dogs barking, and waiting.  Hang the literature on the door--please vote for my family--and move on.  If we didn’t take a break and roll around in the grass every half hour the boys would get restless and start grabbing each other.  So it was a long morning.
          After a couple of hours and still half our list left to go, I thought we’d probably done about as much as we could do.  I strapped the boys in their car seats, fed them steamy hot soup out of a thermos, and then started back toward the campaign office.  But Moon Boy fell asleep before I’d gone two blocks.  And Ankle Biter was out only a few nods later.  So I turned the Bobby McFerrin lullabies up, and the car around, and strategized about my remaining streets.   The addresses left on my list were all in fairly wealthy developments, not gated, but certainly sheltered from any traffic except those who dwell within, so it worked pretty well to leave the boys in the car and sneak in and out to the houses of our supporters.  After a morning of cold wind, I was pretty sure the boys would nap for a while, and the music made the inside of the car like a tropical fishbowl, filling it to the brim with waves of warm sound.
          These all-but-gated communities were a nice change from the morning of empty houses.  Here many of the people were seniors, so they were home, and happy to chat, and thankful I was out reminding them to vote.
          My precious little fish boys stayed asleep in that car for more than an hour as I inched us through those neighborhoods.  They were so beautiful, sleeping back there.  Necks askew, drool unplugged, soft whistles of air gusting out from their loosely puckered sleep-lips.  Had they seemed uncomfortable I would have aborted the mission, but their peaceful slumber was like a blessing to continue on in the cause of their rights.
          I knocked on my last door at about 2:00 that afternoon, and there appeared at the door a woman about my age.  Shoulder length blonde hair.  Blue eyes.  Make up applied.  Jewelry on.  I say she was about my age because a three-year-old peeked out from behind her legs, which meant we were in fairly similar life stages.  But her appearance made me feel like she was older, or at least my superior.  She had money, or she wouldn't be living in an upper middle class development near the coast, she had a husband (for his name was on my canvassing list, not hers) which meant there was someone in the family who could command attention, bargain for a higher salary, state his opinion matter-of-factly and have it heard, have it acted upon.  And she wore make up and jewelry at 1:00pm on a Monday.  Unslept, unshowered, ungroomed, I looked back at her and felt like a sloppy teenager.  Though I suspect my gray hair gave her a hint that I was not.
          "Shhh," she said, as I began to introduce myself.  "I have a sleeping baby."
          Now, rule number one of canvassing is that you’re not supposed to talk to people who aren’t on your list.  One person's presumed support does not mean that other's in the household are also on our side.  And we don’t want to stir up our adversaries, now do we?  But I’m pretty sure no one follows this rule.  Because it's just too exciting to get a live body behind the door.  A real person at two o'clock in the afternoon!  And here I was at the last door, having just spoken to a dozen seniors in support of equal marriage.  This woman was their neighbor and my age peer, presumably even more likely than her elders to be on my side.  But she wasn't on my list.  I chanced it, women being more likely to believe in my rights than their husbands.
          "I'm looking for Mark, is he in?" I asked her.  Knowing that of course he was not.
          “No,” she confirmed the obvious.
          "Okay, well maybe you can help me,” I began my transgression.  “I'm Liz.  I'm a volunteer with the No On One Campaign.  We're out today encouraging our supporters to vote.  Do you support the right for same sex couples to marry."
          When I first saw the scowl begin to form on her face, I wasn’t worried.  A scowl isn’t necessarily indicative of what side the door-knockee is on.  Some people don't like being bothered whether they agree or not.  Or they feel like the campaign is working too hard to get them too the polls--money and energy that should be spent on someone else.  Or they're sick and they want me to go away.  Could be anything really.
          But in this case it wasn't just anything.
          "I haven't decided yet," she said.
          I stared at her.  She was not my first undecided voter of the day.  There had been one other.  An elderly woman with an Eastern European accent.  We had talked together for a while and she listened intently to my warm invitation to vote in favor of my rights.  But this woman felt so different.  With her make-up and jewelry, and fancy home, and high-earning husband, and three-year-old clinging to her knee.  And delicate baby asleep somewhere in that painstakingly decorated world beyond the door.  She hadn’t decided.

          It was her sleeping baby that kept me from pleading my case.  Not because I was concerned I might wake the poor thing.  But because I was so mad at that baby dozing comfortably in its cozy little crib of privilege, that I knew if I began speaking, a stream of hot tears would pour down my face.  How dare she stand there, fully entitled to mull over just exactly what rights she thinks my family deserves, and all the while my babies are strapped in their seats for today’s neck-cramped-nappers-for-justice tour of straight-White-land.  She--who gets to be on her husband’s health insurance plan, and visit him in the hospital with no questions asked when someday he has his heart attack, and then collect his Social Security after he dies--gets to stay home on this chilly afternoon.  I get to knock on her door and ask permission to marry my partner of thirteen years.
          I couldn’t bear to look at her.
          So I returned to the car without another word.  I slid in as quietly as I could and was so happy to be in the warmth of that bowl, breathing the same air as my runny nosed little boys, I just wanted to sit there for hours.  Out of the wind.  And the cold.  To just occupy that space, on that street, out in front of that house.  To claim this land for our family too.
          We lost that year of course.  As we’ve lost every time our rights have been on a ballot anywhere in the country.
          But this Monday morning, November 5, 2012, my compatriots back in Maine were knocking on doors once again, as Tuesday’s ballot will again ask the citizens of that State to extend equal marriage rights to all.  Only this time, it may just pass.
          So I was thinking about them, as I was knocking on doors this morning in my new community where my neighbors and I are tasked with the responsibility of choosing the next President on behalf of the entire country.  And I was thinking about how there is so much at stake for each of us out there knocking on doors, and for all those who live behind them.
          Ankle Biter had on his Obama ski-cap, complete with glittery lettering that qualifies this article of clothing as the first official bling I have ever purchased for my children.  He was a great sport for most of the morning, riding up on my back and “helping” me read the house numbers.  But after we stopped home for lunch he wasn’t particularly excited about getting back on the Obama train.
          “We have to do some more work for the Presdient,” I told him.
          “But I tired,” he whined.
          “I know you’re tired.  But tomorrow is the day we decide if Barack Obama gets to keep being President, and it’s really important to make sure people vote.”
          “Aww,” he slumped.  “I bring a toy?”
          He chose Cookie Monster and we were back in action.  The streets left on our list were in a staunchly middle class area of our predominantly Black neighborhood.  The overwhelming majority of the political signs in these parts are Democratic.  So even though I was only visiting the homes on my canvas sheet, I wasn’t particularly concerned about encountering people who didn’t want me to be there.
          Except on our second to last street, when I noticed someone watching us.  We were walking from a house back toward our car and Ankle Biter was giving his sore foot a little test.  Seeing how it felt to put weight on it.  Running a few steps.  Picking and blowing a dandelion gone to seed.  So it was taking us a little time to make our transition away from this home and onto our last street.
          It was the AT&T guy parked in the driveway of the house next door who was watching us.  He was a White guy.  Middle aged.  Chubby.  Smoking.  Since he was not of our neighborhood, I didn’t feel like I had much to go on regarding his political leaning.  Well, nothing except my assumptions about White, middle aged, chubby guys who smoke.  I was aware that we were marked in several ways.  There was Ankle Biter’s hat.  My clipboard and stack of Obama literature.  And we were near our car, with the rainbow sticker.  And the Pro-Choice Ohio sticker.  And the Obama sticker.  So it was pretty clear who we were and what our agenda was.
          And then he started talking.
          I couldn’t hear the first thing he said because there was some construction nearby.  So I asked him to say it again.
          “Don’t forget to vote tomorrow!” he yelled.
          “That’s what we’re telling people,” I said with a smile.
          “Just make sure you don’t knock on the wrong doors,” he stage whispered.
          And then he was out of his van and walking over to us.  Clearly just compelled by the opportunity to be with people who felt the same way he did.
          “I don’t have any idea why this election isn’t going to be a total landslide,” he told me as he got closer.  “I tell that to everyone I know.”  He told me he doesn’t understand why people think Romney would be better for the economy.  Or anything, for that matter.  But then he just kept talking about all the things Obama has done that make him proud.  Equal pay, ending the war in Iraq, naming two brilliant women to the Supreme Court, creating “tons of jobs.”
          And then he told me about his daughter.  She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 20.  Her graduation from college coincided almost exactly with the September, 2010 rollout of the Obamacare provision for children up to 26 being covered on their parents’ health insurance.
          “I tell my mother,” he told me.  “Look how this man’s policies have affected your granddaughter.  Your own granddaughter!”
          But his mother doesn’t care.  She’s  just worried the President’s a Muslim.
          “He’s not a Muslim,” my new friend tells his mother.
          But she doesn’t buy it.  So eventually, he told me, he just gives up.  “Fine,” he says to his mother, “the President’s a Muslim.  But look what he did for your granddaughter!”
          This man has a bunch of Republican buddies.  A whole bunch.  “But I talk to them about it,” he said to me. “I can’t just let it go.  I tell them, ‘please, if you care about me, if you care about my family, think about my daughter when you vote.’  But they don’t care either.  They’re just worried about their guns.”
          There was quiet between us for a moment.  Even Ankle Biter wasn’t pestering me to get going.  We just stood together, the three of us.  And then I said it:
          “It’s hard not to take it personally.  Isn’t it?”
          “You bet it is,” he agreed.
          We talked for a little while longer before Ankle Biter and I went on our way.  I learned his brother is gay, and he wants him to have the rights he deserves.  And he’s taking the day off on Tuesday so he can wait in line as long as it takes.  He didn’t want to let us go.  It’s a lonely job I suppose, riding around in the AT&T van.  But it was more than that, I think.
          I think those of us who have these stories--those of us with pre-existing conditions, or adult children on our health insurance, or a house we bought with the adoption tax credit, or new roads, or an ounce of hope that our families will someday be recognized--we feel like if we keep telling our stories, someone will hear.  And if they hear these stories, if they really listen to how our President’s landmark policies have changed our lives, we can’t imagine they will refuse to affirm our stories with their votes.  We can’t imagine why this isn’t going to be a landslide.

          So here it is.  I started writing this on November fifth.  And now it’s Tuesday, November sixth.  The day is upon us.  Like thousands of others, I will be knocking on doors again all morning and afternoon. And with any luck, by the end of the day today, the 44th President of the United States will remain such.  He has a truly remarkable record that I have no doubt will only continue to expand.
          Here’s to a day of unfettered access to our most basic democratic right.


  1. Of course I'm mostly with you on your analysis, but actually the adoption tax credit was introduced in 1997 under Clinton, and has generally been supported in a bipartisan way. It has grown over the years. It was $11,650 in 2008 when Obama took office, and now stands at $12,650. The Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") did make the credit refundable rather than simply being an offset against taxes owed, claimed over the course of years. However, without Congressional action, the credit is in danger of being automatically reduced for new adoptions on January 1 next year, to $6,000, and only applying to special needs adoptions. There are recently introduced bills to extend it, supported both by Republicans and Democrats, but it is likely the House Republicans will stand in the way during the lame duck session. Alas, the election of the president is unlikely to change the House. If this matters to you, you need to contact Congress, especially your House member.

  2. Thanks Glenn. Will do. My point about the credit in this blog and in a previous piece I wrote was that the change did indeed amount to stimulus at a time when it was gravely needed. I know many families who received outstanding credits for multiple adoptions, and like us, they put that money to use immediately to take care of things they needed for their families. For us it meant the ability to buy a house after loosing most of our equity in the real estate crash. It sounds like action needs to be taken to secure the credit in the future, but as far as meeting meeting a need, I know a lot of people who did a lot of home repairs last year with that credit, and subsequently a lot of contractors with more money in their pockets as well.

  3. Thanks so much for this whole series--such a great combination of the political and the personal. The one today made me a little teary!

  4. I need to hop in the shower - because I am headed over to the Oakland for Obama Staging Area. My wife is back from a run and my kids are making lunches and putting on socks - it's a regular Tuesday morning. And the I opened this blog- and say - "Y'all want to hear Liz this morning?" And everyone is in agreement. I begin to read - we all smile at Ankle Biter - because we know and love that little boy - I explain the Whistle painting (lost on all of them but I can't stop chuckling) - and then I get to the woman at the door with the jewelry and the make-up and I can't keep my voice steady. I can't keep the tears in. I am not feeling sorry for myself - or "sensitive". I am feeling angry. This is when X, my four year old, brings me the first tissue. I read on - and we all hold our breath when you met the phone guy - then my voice gravels out again. And more tears and more tissues are delivered. And then my 13 yo, O, who is not so crazy about me these days - not so crazy about my politics or my identities or the way that they affect her - and by not so crazy, I mean she kind of can't stand them at all - she says "I want to canvass with you."

    "You'd have to miss school," I say. (This kid does not miss school - the worst part about having to go the ER last month was that she missed math and science.)

    "I have a presentation this morning - can you pick me up at lunch?"

    And so we have a date, to canvass for Obama. To canvass for the greater good. And this is because you wrote this post, Liz. And you wrote this post because you are so moved by our President's commitment to his people. The US. The us. Thanks, Liz. Thanks, Barack. My teenager and I are going to have a day that we will always remember.

    Gotta get in the shower.

  5. Liz this series has been fabulous, and I hope you're enjoying dessert with the family and taking even the tiniest bit of credit for all the amazing victories we had last Tuesday!! I had many friends on Facebook saying "it's not personal, it's just politics", but when I had someone calling me "baby killer" because I am pro-choice, and my own father told me, "maybe I'll come and visit if you vote for Romney" (haven't seen him in 5 years, and he lives 4 hours away!)...it IS personal. And I believe it's making that personal connection that brings people over to the liberal side. Realizing they have friends with rights and freedoms are on the line, a parent in jeopardy of losing health benefits, a daughter who might not be able to make choices for her own body, this IS personal! Thank you for making it personal!!