To even many of my closest friends, it’s not obvious how I’ve become so involved in this election. As an introvert and a busy science grad student, how did I come to spend my weekends knocking on doors and talking to strangers? I have no history of political involvement, experienced no life-changing event catalyzing a sudden need to make a difference. The most honest reason for why I started canvassing for Hillary Clinton’s campaign was that someone asked me to.
The psychology of how campaigns are run is fascinating (and I’ve only seen a tiny part). But it seems that at the ground level, the most deployed and most effective strategy is to give people a lot of opportunities to say yes, and very few chances to say no. One day in late September I received a call from a woman at the Princeton Community Democratic Organization asking if I could help the canvassing effort in Philadelphia. Once I made it clear I was a Hillary supporter, she made it very hard for me to say no, giving me multiple date and time options for volunteering, and going as far as to organize a ride for me.
I had never canvassed, or otherwise worked on a campaign and had very little idea what it entailed. Over the past few weeks I’ve come to understand working on a campaign is not all big rallies and photo ops with politicians and celebrities. Canvassing is a very tiring, very un-glamorous, and even tedious task. I’ve walked multiple miles over many hours, and knocked on hundreds of doors that mostly go unanswered. I’ve been pushed outside my comfort zone, having strangers look me in the eye and tell me that they are Trump supporters. I’ve been in rough neighborhoods, where people tell me to be careful, or ask me if I’m alone and warn me to avoid certain houses. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been dismissed with a “go away,” or “I’m busy,” or an “I don’t talk politics to strangers.”
But there have also been moments of light. I had one man ask me if I could help him change his voter registration from “Republican” to “Democrat.” I’ve had people greet me enthusiastically and promise that they’d make it to the polls no matter what. I’ve had strangers stop me on the street and thank me for doing an important thing. I’ve had honest, insightful, and sometimes surprising conversations about the national debt and minimum wage.
And throughout this whole time, the news keeps dropping one bomb after another. As an outspoken Clinton supporter, I am often asked for my opinions on her campaign scandals. Doesn’t the fact that she used a private email server bother me? What about the Clinton Foundation? Covering up Bill’s affairs? And the answer is, yes. These things absolutely bother me. Recently, I felt my heart drop with disappointment as I read about CNN reporter Donna Brazile having provided the Clinton campaign with debate questions prior to the debate. I wanted to believe Michelle Obama when she said “When they go low, we go high.” But I have also come to accept that Hillary is a flawed candidate.
To me, the most important thing is to keep this election in perspective. Hillary is not running against a better candidate. She is not running against a different Democratic candidate, or even a solid Republican one. She is running against Donald Trump. And I don’t need to criticize Donald Trump here. Just turn on the TV, or go to any news station to look for reasons why Donald Trump is the worst possible candidate. I believe that this is no ordinary election. This is not just “another sad election season.” It is a public, and consequential fight between a strong, progressive, highly qualified female candidate and a man who represents literally everything she has spent her life fighting against. I believe that it is a fork in the road for this country, and we can either continue on the path of progress, or towards self-destruction. To me, it could not be a more obvious choice.
I’ve run out of excuses. I can’t pretend not to care. As a non-white female of reproductive age, hoping to make a career in the sciences, many of the issues that will be decided in this election will affect me. And as an able-bodied young person with two legs and a voice, I can’t pretend that I’m too busy to give up just a few hours each weekend when called upon to help. When Sunday rolls around, I understand wanting to stay in your comfort zone – catching up on TV and doing your laundry – but I can’t. And I won’t.