Wednesday, April 9, 2008
I Saved Jager for Hillary
My weekend in Pennsylvania
The light rail screeches unpleasantly as we turn the corner away from the Baltimore Washington International Airport. The route takes me through downtown, passed smoke stacks and Camden Yards, before reaching my stop in Hunt Valley. I am meeting Frank Pratka, a volunteer whom I have only spoken with on the phone. He offered to drive me to the regional campaign office in York, Pennsylvania, and because I didn’t want to pay for an hour-long cab ride, I figured I’d chance it. The train ride is long and complete with two electrical shorts that cause us to halt unexpectedly, but it gives me a chance to reflect on how and why I’m sitting here right now. Exactly one month has passed since the March 4 Texas Primary, and while I’ve been completely focused on projects, papers and deadlines, I knew that I somehow had to find my way back on the trail. As I look out through the window at the cloudy gray sky hovering above inner city properties, factories, and the occasional display of dilapidated foliage, I know that I am headed for the battleground.
Next stop, Hunt Valley. I call Frank to let him know I’ve arrived. He is there waiting in his orange convertible Volkswagon Beetle, complete with colorful flags and a “celebrate diversity” sticker stuck proudly to his dashboard. I find out later that he took the day off work to drive me to York and volunteer. I like Frank.
Before I know it, we arrive in York City, PA. I am greeted by my friend and Regional Field Director for South Central Pennsylvania, Graeme Joeck, who I first met at a Hillary Clinton rally in Dallas, Tx. I spend the day helping to prepare turf packets for the statewide weekend of canvassing ahead, where along with other volunteers, I will go door to door to talk to voters and identify Clinton supporters. In a world where people barely speak with their neighbors, approaching complete strangers is a little bit uncomfortable at first, but I get used to it. I am accompanied by Nitoy Lopez, a retired electrical engineer and out of state volunteer who believes so much in Clinton that he is getting involved in a campaign for the first time. We split up the neighborhood and head off in separate directions.
Walking around alone down unfamiliar streets can present some unusual challenges, such as realizing that you have to use the restroom. Do I knock on someone’s door and ask to come inside, or do I risk being arrested for indecent exposure with pictures of me in my “I heart Hilary” tee blanketing the Internet? As Democrats tend to do, I find the appropriate solution to the problem.
For some reason, people in many of the houses I visit look outside at someone they don’t know carrying a backpack and a large packet of paper and don’t answer their doors. I wonder why? It’s a little frustrating, but I keep going, hoping for contacts. At one house, a middle-aged man comes to the door in an uncomfortably stained wife beater and boxer shorts. I ask if Patricia is there, the name of the voter on my list, and he informs me that she is sleeping. A yappy little dog at his feet is barking so obnoxiously that I don’t bother trying to speak over the noise, so I offer him a piece of literature on Hillary instead. He opens the screen door to grab it, and the dog takes off. He steps out on the porch beside me and yells in his Texas like accent, “JAGER!!!” The commotion wakes up Patricia, who joins us in her nightgown on the steps, as all three of us trying coaxing the dog out of the street and back inside. Nothing is working. Jager is now turning the corner at the end of the street and the half-naked man is chasing after him, leaving me with the perfect opportunity to ask the angry woman if she is supporting Hillary for President. She is undecided. I apologize profusely for the missing animal situation, and leave her with a bumper sticker and a button to compensate for the loss. I cross the street as the angry man comes back around the corner empty-handed, muttering to himself. The only words I can hear are that one that begins with “f” and Jager. I continue down the street, feeling awful and thinking about how two undecided voters will head the polls on April 22 and remember the Hillary Clinton volunteer who came to their house and lost their beloved pet. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I see the yappy little mutt running in my direction. I call its name and he comes to me. I pick him up and triumphantly return to their doorstep. The arguing I hear inside ceases, as they come to the door in shock and express their appreciation. I hand him over with a smile and exit with a simple but more effective than ever, “Vote for Hillary!”
The rest of the weekend consists more of the same; visits to the campaign office in Gettysburg, canvassing in New Oxford, tallying and recording our progress in the evenings. Over two days, 2,000 doors are knocked in the South Central Region and over 37,000 statewide. I meet interesting and passionate people, listen in on campaign conference calls, leave a bar to avoid drinking in front of the press, and listen to amazing stories from the crazy world of campaigning. A part of me wants to stay.
During the long drive to Reagan airport in D.C, Graeme and I play this game of questions. Among other things, he asks me where I’d be right now if I could choose anywhere in the world. As someone who longs to travel the globe and see new places, I think long and hard. Then, I think about this country, this election, and how much I believe in Hillary Clinton. The answer is simple.
At the hotel, I look out the tenth story window at the city before me. To my left I can see the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, and straight ahead I see the Air Force Memorial. I think of my family. I think of my sister Christy and her husband Chris, who is currently stationed in Korea. It may seem silly to some that I would fly across the country to knock on doors and chase around a yappy little dog in a strange neighborhood, but my window view reminds me why I’m here.
Check out photos from my trip!