Notes From a 24-hour Political Deployment

Saturday, 7:15am: We sleepily make our way to what seems to be the only open restaurant in Center City: the IHOP. All of us note an odd sign as we walk in but eagerly sit, ask for coffee, and order hearty fare.

Why can you put your mask back on after you sit down?

Why can you put your mask back on after you sit down?

8:30am: We head southeast to the staging office, register as volunteer canvassers, are given clipboards, turf packets, and training, and disperse just before 10. I make my way further south and back west toward the Schuylkill, a bit nervous and certainly unsure. I have never canvassed before, and I am armed only with my I'm With Her shirt, a Rosie Riveter for Hillary pin, and some earnestness.

Most people don't answer their doors (though it's easy to tell quite a few are home), but those who do range in age (20s to 80s), are predominantly white, and clearly feel varying degrees of enthusiasm for this election. Many give me an enthused thumbs up, thank me for canvassing, say they can't wait to vote for Clinton. A few seem more committed to keeping Trump out of office than to any love for HRC. Almost everyone seems to have a dog.

The first conversation I get to have is with a 77-year-old man whose wife is largely bedridden. He still works and also cares for her. He seems so tired. His thinning hair is slightly mussed, his nose is running. He seems suspicious at first but we settle in. Talking with him was perhaps my favorite experience of the weekend. He said, "You know, my wife and I have voted regularly, done jury duty whenever asked, done our civic duty. But I don't know where it's gotten us. She can't get out anymore, and I think maybe we'll just let the younger folks do the voting."

"Sir, I do understand any disaffection you feel, but if I may, I do believe this election is so important and will be close. I live in Maryland but came up here this weekend because Pennsylvania seems like it's going to be an especially tight race. Every vote counts. I really believe that. Would you consider going out? I can get you a ride, I have all your voting site information."

"Well, I don't know if I'm even registered anymore. I haven't voted in a couple years. Haven't I been stripped from the rolls? That's what I've heard."

"No sir! If you have voted as a resident of this address before, you are good to go."

"Really? Well, that is something. I had no idea."

"Would you like the information on getting a ride to the voting site?"

"Oh, no, that's OK. It's not far and I could use a walk. I will go. I'll vote."

"Thank you, sir. So much." We smile, I wish his wife the best, and I head on.

One man, 50ish?, with a long ponytail, scruffy beard, and raspy voice, comes to the door just after a darling child-maybe 6-answers and begins to tell me all about his Halloween costume. What I can see from the stoop of the interior of their home is so decorated it looks like it could be a haunted house. I admire their spirit. The man politely but with a real edge of anger lacing his voice says, "I've voted Democrat my whole life. But now? You've got a clown versus the queen of darkness, and I simply cannot vote. I won't."

I thank him for his time, wish them a Happy Halloween, and head on. Across the street and down, I have a great conversation with a man my age. He and I both seem heartened by it. "Even if people don't like Clinton," he says, "how can anyone vote for Trump? He's awful, scary. Where are his tax returns? Um, sexual assault?" Yep!

Near his home, I meet another man, roughly the same age, who holds and pets his dog as we chat. He asks how he can get involved. I take his cell number and promise to pass it on to the volunteer coordinator back at the staging office.

I meet a delightful couple who are heading to the same staging office in which I'm based. I think they are just younger than my parents. They have been canvassing all month. We click and become Facebook friends.

12:30pm: Back at staging, we complete tally sheets, turn in our turf packets, and break for a quick lunch. I sit by myself, thinking about the morning. Thinking about how glad I am that I came even though knocking on doors still doesn't feel natural or particularly comfortable.

1:15pm: We obtain new turf packets and again disperse with the reminder that we need to be back by 3:30 for a "special visitor." We can head back out afterwards if we haven't finished our lists. I am near my first turf but less south and west, and the differences are interesting. The ages skew a bit younger, the population seems more diverse. It feels very hipster- coffee shops, cool restaurants, young families and parks.

Again, most people don't answer, fewer seem home. I leave information cards with the rides hotline and a URL where people can check to see if they are actually registered to vote, request an absentee ballot, confirm voting site locations and so forth. 

I don't finish my turf before needing to head back, but I'm getting tired and when I find out our "special guest" is Al Franken, I am even more psyched for the respite. He gives a brief and encouraging talk about the work we're doing. He beat Norm Coleman by 321 votes so underscores that really, every vote counts. 

Just sharing this again in case you missed it earlier.

Just sharing this again in case you missed it earlier.

We head back out, back in, get to run by the campaign's Philly headquarters which is extremely cool, and race to the hotel for five minutes so we can change for dinner. I am very tired and dying for a shower. It has been a tremendously good day. I recall that iPhones track your daily health stats. I see that I've walked 7.5 miles and taken 17,405 steps. Definitely more than my average day. After dinner, I fall asleep after briefly blogging. 

Sunday, 8:30am. I wake up and my body is stiff. It does not want to wake up. I force my eyes open. My friend* texts: real coffee or the stuff at the staging office? 

Real coffee! I order a very large latte.

10:30am: We are back at the staging office and are handed two re-walk turfs. I am still thinking about the 77-year-old man I talked to yesterday. My friend and I walk past two Trump canvassers, a boy of about 10 and a man I assume is his father. I can feel them looking back at us, their eyes boring into our retreating figures, and then I hear, "IS SHE LOCKED UP YET?" being yelled in our direction. We choose not to respond. This, I think, this is awful. This is why I came here. I have no qualms about educating children about and involving them in politics, but to teach such hate and to yell publicly such ugly things...well, it's not good. 

12pm: We turn in our packets and thank everyone for organizing us. I hadn't had breakfast, and I suddenly realize that I'm starving. We head to a grilled cheese restaurant which is, inexplicably, 900 degrees inside. We get sandwiches to go. I begin eating as soon as my feet hit the sidewalk outside. 

2pm: We leave for the train station. I'm so glad I did this. Bye, Philly. Go vote!

*A very special thanks to my friend, Liz, for her political involvement over the years and for organizing this wonderful weekend.