I woke up today particularly grumpy, feeling groggy from a suboptimal diet of coffee and doughnuts and pizza coupled with inadequate sleep, the true hallmarks of a life buried in VAN turf, talking points, and walk literature while in the sprint of an electoral campaign. It’s an odd level of voyeurism to interrupt an afternoon of family bonding time, of watching a televised sports event together, of ringing a door bell that sends dogs howling and gives me a strange glimpse into someone’s house, their living room, their Saturday morning with pajamas and waffles with their children At times, it feels oddly indulgent and self-important, to ask people to put their lives on pause during the few hours of life in which they don’t have a litany of professional and personal responsibility, to jarringly intervene in their private lives, and the act of canvassing is one that still occasionally discomforts me despite having knocked on doors for campaigns for just under half of my life (pretty sure I knocked on my first doors for John Kerry with the Oregon League of Conservation Voters).
And yet, this afternoon, I’m filled with satisfaction and contentment, having spent the afternoon walking through northeast Portland, enjoying the cherry blossoms in bucolic neighborhoods, and talking to everyday Portlanders whose Saturday afternoons I interrupted to remind them of the upcoming special election that’ll get the lead out of the water at all ninety PPS schools.
What a tremendous privilege it is, to have an opportunity to talk to everyday neighbors about the growing pains of our public schools, connecting with parents about their unwavering faith in municipally supported public education as a moral imperative at a time with a white supremacist fascist attempting to dismantle . To remind folks that Benson Polytechnic and Madison High School students deserve classrooms they can learn in, that neighborhoods in which the student body is 60, 70, 80% nonwhite and on free/reduced lunch should have classrooms as nice as any in the city, with potable water, ADA accessibility, and roofs that don’t leak. This is an environmental justice issue, this is an intergenerational justice issue, this is a socioeconomic justice issue, this is a chance to pay forward the promise of public education that I and many of us benefitted from due to the generosity of those who came before us.
It’s oddly fitting that in the throes of campaign life, in which the minutiae of phone calls, press release revisions, social media optimized bullshit and butcher-papered walls inundating our office with reminders of the hard and fast metrics of the number of voter contacts, dollars raised, endorsements accrued.. that the best way to center oneself and be reminded how extremely privileged I am to participate in this field of work is to take a walk through Portland neighborhoods and talk to people on their front porches, their children often in tow, about what a public education means to them, to their families, to their neighborhoods, their communities, their city. To many of my peers buried in the midst of advocacies concerning Portland’s ongoing housing crises, climate resiliency, transportation inadequacies or law enforcement overreach, it’s easy to forget just how crucial a functioning, integrated, excellent public school is for setting up the communities ties that provide a pathway for the next generation’s future. Without a reliably excellent, well-funded, and safe public school, how else do families meet across the well-worn lines of race and socioeconomic status? It’s at the public school where the PTAs hold bake sales, where students who end up supporting and often employed at the local businesses down the block live, where youth soccer teams practice and where, at the end of the day, a parent can transcend language, race, class, and background barriers to wear the same color sweatshirt as a neighboring parent down the street and see their collective futures intertwined in the classroom that their children share.
That “urbanists” tend to overlook the role of a functioning, equitable public education is an indicator of obliviousness to the real logistical work that parents (and let’s be honest, it’s typically mothers) play in arranging childcare, after school activities, and the wrap-around services that typify a well-functioning education system, and the extent to which this laborious energy constitutes a significant facet of daily living for parents. Anyone who doesn’t believe that public schools are an integral piece of a well-functioning neighborhood should ask themselves why landowners spend thousands of dollars on lawyers to challenge redistricting processes to ensure their house remains in a particular school’s district, even if they no longer have plans to matriculate their children through these institutions. There’s another discussion to be had about Oregon’s simple refusal to tax corporations their fair share to pay for the wrap around education services that would allow parents, particularly single-parents, a modicum of relief in their difficult work of balancing professional and caretaking needs. A vote in support of the public infrastructure of the buildings that give kids STEM classrooms, auditoriums and playgrounds is a vote in support of the stage at which families can live our lives, and helps augment the interrelated cause for increased funding for the stage’s actors who perform Jane Jacobs’ ballet of urban life; the teachers, counselors, social service and caretaking providers whose collective work constitutes the Hillary Clinton’s village that raises a child.
I know canvassing sounds legitimately terrifying to the vast majority of my friends and peers and colleagues who would never volunteer to intrude on strangers and badger them for votes, but if you’ve been feeling any sort of anxiety or angst about our political systems, our we as a country communicate with one another (especially across lines of age, race, and class), our city, our values, our country, I’d encourage you to consider joining us in the next few weeks. We’ll be knocking on doors, making phone cards, and writing postcards every weekend through May 16th, and you’ll finish a short volunteer shift with a combination of a smug satisfaction of civic participation, endorphins from a brisk walk in a neighborhood that is perhaps new or foreign to you, and a better understanding of what on earth people who live around the corner from you are thinking about in regards to their concerns for the future.
And hey, at the worst, you’re just signing up to get a phone call reminding you to take a walk in your neighborhood and enjoy the spring weather after a particularly gnarly winter. What’s so wrong with that?