If I learned anything from the recent primary election, it’s the fact that retail politics is probably my favorite part of the campaign trail. Although I am disappointed by the outcome in many of the local races in Prince George’s County, I will fondly remember the enthusiastic response I received as I knocked on hundreds of doors daily in the past four months to campaign for the candidate that I supported.
I must admit that I was quite surprised by the number of residents who opened their doors, welcomed me into their homes, offered refreshments, and listened to me discuss the platform of the candidate that I represented. However, what surprised me the most about the experience was the fact that not once did a resident ever tell me that someone else had knocked on their door to personally ask for their vote. They complained about the endless robocalls, the piles of junk mail, the signs all over the roads, and the lack of real information reported in the media. They were impressed that a volunteer would actually take the time to come to their home, explain their platform, and respond to their concerns.
Although I met hundreds of wonderful people who really care about the future of our county, two people really stand out to me, and I want to share their stories with you. The first is one of our senior residents, and I met him just a few days before the primary election. I was out on a Friday evening, and feeling a bit discouraged and tired. He was outside in his yard, watering his lawn, and seemed lost in his own thoughts. I wondered if he would really even want to listen to my campaign pitch, or whether I would be interrupting his peace and quiet. I introduced myself, and who I represented, and handed him some literature. He told me he was partially blind, and couldn’t see well, so he asked if I could read the information to him, and explain my candidate’s platform. I spent the next 30 minutes going through every detail, responding to his questions honestly, and quite frankly wondering whether I would even get to another person before nightfall. As we wrapped up our conversation, he told me that in his 16 years living in his home, not one person had ever bothered to come and ask for his vote, and explain why he should vote for them. He told me not only would he vote for my candidate, but he grabbed my hand and prayed for me, gave me a hug, and thanked me for coming by. That brought me a tremendous sense of peace and encouragement, and motivated me to stick with it until we crossed the finish line.
The other person who I will never forget meeting is a young man who lived right in my neighborhood. When I knocked on his door, I heard his parents ask him to answer because they didn’t feel like talking to me. I didn’t expect much from him, except to pass along my candidate’s literature. However, I was pleasantly surprised that he kept listening as I explained our platform, and began reading the literature I handed to him. I asked if he had ever voted, or whether he was even registered. He said he had registered, but at 20 years old, he had never gone to cast a vote for anyone before. I told him why our local elections are so important, and really got excited about the possibility of engaging him in the process and talked to him for a few more minutes. I closed with the question I always ask, which is “Can I count on your vote on September 14?” He paused, looked right at me, and said “You have really pretty eyes, thank you for coming by.” I have to admit, I’m usually not at a loss for words, but that left me speechless. I thanked him for his time, and moved on, disappointed at the outcome.
On election day, I worked the poll near my home, and after several long hours of chasing after voters, somebody was actually tapping me on the shoulder to get my attention. When I turned around, I saw that very same young man coming to cast his vote for the first time. He smiled, shook my hand, and thanked me for coming to his door that day to talk about my candidate and explain why it was important for him to vote. After I spent some time reflecting on our loss, I found this silver lining in the campaign is the memory I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Next time I’ll get back to some of my real work of bring more transparency about how the election process really worked, outside of the public eye, but for today I wanted to give everyone a reason to keep pressing on, because you never know when and where you might be making a difference.