Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Talk to me!

All I'm asking for is a political discussion. I should wear a shirt that says this as I knock on Seattlites' doors, inviting people to contribute to the Democratic National Committee. It's the truth. But I don't think too many people would believe those words, even if I did wear them.

I've now been on the Democrats' grassroots campaign trail for two weeks. Some nights, I run into excited people who can't wait to see change happen in the country and believe the Democrats are capable of bringing it about. They donate money, and I end the night feeling useful, like I've helped the country move towards a better education system, more responsible energy choices, and an end to the war in Iraq. Other nights are pretty discouraging, and tonight was one of those nights. I knocked on 86 doors, talked to 49 people, and made a measly $15 for the cause. Ouch.

Don't get me wrong, I never expected anyone to be psyched to see a stranger at their doorstep asking for money. But I did hope to find a higher percentage of people willing to talk to me about the cause. My past few nights out, my attempts to make conversation at the door keep coming to a halt at the sound of various types of no. There's the guilty, hiding behind a nervous smile no. The absolutely clueless about the importance of the cause no. The conspiracy theorist, "the corruption is beyond help" no. And the busy, sometimes legitimately but more often not, no.

Admittedly, I'm probably the tenth thing asking for "a few minutes of (their) time." I understand. These external cries for attention can get overwhelming, so a no is not offensive. But there is one type of response that has left me particular unsettled--the offended no. Some people seem to think that politics is personal, like a religion, and should not be discussed openly with strangers.

"Don't push it," one guy said to me tonight. "We're Democrats here. Strong Democrats," he said, raising his hands up in a "nothing fishy going on here" sort of way before shutting the door.

Worse was last week, when one woman said to me, behind a screen door and from the top of the carpeted stairs inside, "My vote is my private business."

That same day, a few doors down, I asked another woman if she was a supporter of the Democratic party. Before shutting the door in my face, she answered, shortly and not so sweetly, "That's private."

Woah. Since when did politics become such a closed, personal matter? Since when did the idea of admitting which politician you support become like admitting to a crime? With the looks I've been getting--dismay, fear, anger--you would think I was asking people if they'd ever killed someone.

It should not be this difficult to discuss politics with strangers. I understand that politics is one of those things you "aren't supposed to talk about," but that rule should be limited to happy occasions like weddings and parties. In the day to day goings on of life, we need to be checking in with each other about how our nation's system is working for all of us. We can't afford to stay silent on these issues, to stop the free exchange of ideas before it starts. Is this why we can't seem to improve our struggling educational system? Because we're too afraid to talk about how? Is this why we, as a nation, did not realize that Bush had gotten us into a war for different reasons than he'd originally said? I'm going to venture a yes on both these questions. And it's got to stop.

If what we want is change, we're all going to have to start talking to each other about how. Ideas are not to be feared, they are to be shared, Seattle.


Carly said...

Jeanine, you make some very good points. I really like how you frame what you say. I can definitely tell you are passionate about the issue.

Talk to you soon!

Brian K said...

I'm actually not sure that door to door is the best place to start this type of conversation. I wouldn't talk to you at my door...irrespective of whether I'd tell you who I'm voting for or what my party affiliation is. But I do talk to people in the cafe or on the bus - mainly after I poke at them to see what their less "hidden" views are.

Really this is because I don't like arguing with the entrenched conservative though...which isn't a limitation for you I suppose.

My question for you - why should I give money to the party if I am really against the (current) party system? Talk me into giving money to a system which I despise.

Tosscandy said...

@ Brian K,
Fundraising canvassers don't have time to argue with anyone. We entice and manipulate people to contribute to the Democratic Party because we have an election to win.

You should contribute to the DNC or Barack Obama because:
1. Wining this election for the Democrats is immediately important. The fact is, we will either have John McCain or Barack Obama for president. Obviously, we need to have Barack Obama. Right now, none of us can afford to have delicate sensibilities about giving money to the party system. Compromise in the short term for the sake of immediate, desperately needed progress.

2. Changing the party system will take decades since the existing party structures are so powerful. The only way to change the system that you despise is to participate in politics. You do this by voting, but you can also contribute to the Democratic party to amplify the political influence of your vote.

Jeanine Stewart said...

Well said, Tosscandy