Unaccustomed as I am to public service, yesterday was a lift to the heart, a jolt to the spirit, and an illuminating journey. Went with two other women, a New York Good Person—very involved in selfless deeds for the betterment of her community, and a teacher of theatre at Hofstra, the first at the wheel, the second sitting behind me chatting amiably on our journey to Bristol, Pa., to canvass for Barack. We were the first to arrive at the meeting place, at ten o’clock as prescribed, but were sent to the hall of the Boilermaker’s Union, across from which was a flower stall, hanging baskets and Halloween ornaments, where we went while waiting for others to arrive before we were sent on our assigned rounds and squares. The seeming diversion was the first in what felt like the stations of the cross, the pockets of ignorance that less than grace this once great nation. The young woman, a mother of three who was its proprietor, doesn’t trust Obama because of “his background,” didn’t want to discuss it at length(we have been forewarned not to try and argue too forcibly at this late stage of the game) but said they were carrying signs for him in Pakistan. “Why would they want him to win in Pakistan?” she asked me. Back in the shelter of the Boilermaker’s Union, Local 13, I suggested that if it were true, it might be because they wanted to live, and were hoping he had the savvy to keep India from making it all go BOOM! But by this time the rest of the out-of-town cast had assembled, and as we were richer by several hanging baskets, a witch, and a calico turkey for Thanksgiving, we did not dwell, but moved on, as Kevin, the African-American who was gently in charge, advised us to do.
The trio of women was joined by a tall young man from Guiana, who had come to this country so disapproving of the political mayhem and injustice of his land that he immediately involved himself in the politics of ours. He paired up with the tiny Hofstra person, while the doer of good and I worked our streets, courtyards, low-lying apartment complexes, only knocking on the doors that had been pre-checked by the Bristol Obama people, so we were just to encourage, reassure, ask those we knew to be friendly to make sure they voted. More people were absent than present, and those who were present were often watching football, but as Kevin was to tell me the people in charge had already decided we were so close to the election that we couldn’t be put off by the fact that we were probably intruding, and just forge on, not getting into protracted conversations or certainly not trying to convert, and just leave the print-out of how flawed McCain was from the pen of a Philadelphia Inquirer writer who had been a Republican. Alissa, my cohort, and I encountered one probable serial killer who looked like Raymond Burr in ‘Rear Window,’ had all the same nervous mannerisms and several pots on his front porch that we ventured likely contained the chopped-up remains of the gay couple who had been living there, who were our committed Democrats. Another man rolled his eyes, was obviously mad in the sanity sense, not just angry at our intrustion, would not give his name, didn’t want to know ours, and ignored our extended hand and obvious fine humor. On the whole it felt more frustrating than fulfilling, but we had done our job and seen many red-leafed trees, which cannot help but fill the heart as they warm the eyes.
There had been few doors that were locked in that working-class neighborhood, the exception being one of an African-American who seemed very anxious and uncomfortable at our knocking, but was going to vote for Barack, and one other black family who also seemed unsettled. One black sailor, on his way back to Virginia said he would vote absentee for Obama but did not talk politics with his fellows. I understand why.
What I didn’t understand was how unsettled the black locals seemed, though Cindy, our cohort who was with Jerry, the Guianan(?) did better, having actually managed a few genuine interchanges. When I got back to base I talked to Kevin, and here’s where it all becomes a sad, dark poem. He told me the reason for the dis- ease (not the sickness, the anxiety) could be traced back to the 60s, when JFK, Dr. King were assassinated, and finally Bobby. He said when the train went through carrying Bobby’s body, the blacks stood on one side of the track, the whites on the other, and all put their hands over their hearts and saluted as that carriage rolled by., And when it was gone, the blacks turned around one way, the whites another, and all went home. Since that time there has been a total disconnect in the Civil Rights movement, the reason why this is such a seminal moment in our history.
But all I could think of was that train rolling through, and the train that rolled through the country after Lincoln’s murder. And I wonder why the hatred goes so deep, and the people are so empty. Anyway, I hope he wins, and we get back what’s left of the country. Still, it felt really good to be doing something that mattered.