The #Walkaway Movement Isn’t Real — And Here’s Why:
I visited hundreds of Democrats in one of the most pro-Trump zip codes in the nation. What I found was an awe-inspiringly diverse collection of people struggling to find civility in the heart of MAGA-land. What I didn’t find was even the faintest hint of the #walkaway movement.
As I backed out of my driveway this past Sunday morning, I took note of my next door neighbor’s weathered pickup truck: a beat up Chevy with a gun rack mounted in its bed and a “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder” bumper sticker on the tailgate. A few doors down, another neighbor — and another pickup truck — this one a Ford with a window decal inspiring fellow motorists to “Annoy A Liberal: Work Hard & Be Happy”. There are almost as many Donald Trump flags displayed on the front porches in my neighborhood as there are star-spangled banners.
Welcome to Peoria, Arizona: a comfortably middle class Phoenix suburb dotted with parks, schools, golf courses, megachurches and alarmingly similar strip malls every square mile on a nearly perfect square grid. This particular zip code is more than 85% white — the balance being almost exclusively Hispanic — with a median yearly household income of almost $100,000.
It’s a quiet neighborhood. It’s a nice neighborhood. It’s my neighborhood — but it’s also very much Donald Trump’s, having won the popular vote in this precinct by 35%. Was it also, as social media would have me believe, ground zero for the #walkaway movement? If it’s making inroads anywhere, it should be here.
Clipboard in hand, unfazed by the monsoon humidity hanging in the Sunday morning air, I set off to knock on doors with the goal of registering folks who’ve voted in previous Arizona Democratic primaries for the PEVL (Permanent Early Voting List), which would enable them to vote in the general election and all future general elections either by mail or by skipping the line and dropping off their ballot on Election Day.
Selfishly, I also took the opportunity to ask people about the shadowy, largely Russian social media campaign known as #walkaway, who describe themselves as a movement of Democrats who have recently, suddenly and irrevocably become supporters of Donald Trump and the #MAGA milieu.
And so I approached my first door of the day and knocked. A slightly tipsy man opened the door with a glass of what appeared to be rosé in his hand.
“How can I help ‘ya?”
“Good morning! My name’s Josh and I’m with the Arizona Democratic Party — “
“The Democratic Party!” he interrupted. “Hallelujah, you exist.”
“Hey,” I said, pointing at my map, black dots scattered across blocks and tucked into cul-de-sacs. “We’re spread out all over the neighborhood.”
He looked incredulous. “Are you going door-to-door around here?”
“Not exactly, no. Today, I’m visiting with folks who’ve voted in one of the past few Arizona Democratic primary elections. Do you vote up at the Unitarian Church?”
“Me too. Remember a couple of years ago when the lines were so long that folks went and bought cases of water to hand out?”
“Yes. My mom — we lost her last year — she had to leave. She was getting sick from the heat so she didn’t end up getting to vote. We were in line for three hours!”
“That’s horrible, and I’m so sorry. No one should have to decide between their health and their vote. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t trust that it won’t happen again. So I want to take this opportunity to get you registered for the Arizona Permanent Early Voting List. What this means is that you’ll receive your ballot in the mail, and you can choose to either send it in or deliver it to your precinct on Election Day. Either way, you won’t have to wait in line.”
“Why didn’t we have this two years ago?!”
“Actually, we did. It just wasn’t very well publicized.”
He took the clipboard from me eagerly, filled out the form, and handed it back to me. Just as I’d been prepared for, there was a small unchecked box on the right side of the form.
“Would you do me a favor and check this box?” I asked. “If you don’t, they’ll only mail you a ballot this time.”
“But it says Permanent Early Voting List Request right at the top!”
“Yep. They kinda hide it, don’t they?”
“It’s almost like they want us to mess it up.”
“Mhm.” Not almost, I thought. “Thank you very much for your time today. May I ask you one other question, out of my own curiosity?”
“Have you, at any point, considered joining the #walkaway movement? Do you know anyone who has?”
“I don’t even know what that is.”
“That’s all I wanted to know! Have a great Sunday.”
It was, to put things mildly, an auspicious start. No one was home at the next few houses, and the next door that opened was a house divided, where I was invited to sit in the living room while my voting target’s wife loudly reminded him of all the times she was right about President Obama and the Muslims.
He pressed the form into my hand and nodded as his wife continued, unabated. I peeked; he had checked the box. Good on him. As I left, I held the door for him so as to invite him outside; he obliged.
“Have you heard of the #walkaway movement?” I asked him in a whisper.
He answered loudly: “My wife thinks she’s gonna make me walk away. Hah!” He shook his head. “Walk away from the Democrats? To what?”
“That’s a good question.”
“Where am I gonna go? Where am I gonna walk away to, the GOP? To Trump? Give me a break. Fake news!”
And that’s #walkaway’s fatal flaw: it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s conceivable that someone may, for example, resent the relative silence of Democrats in Congress on Trump’s relationship with Russia. But there is no logical path for this frustration to turn into support for the President’s policies or his party. The idea that someone deeply morally opposed to the separation and indefinite detention of families could suddenly, spontaneously support it is, to put it gently, absurd. The notion that a gay Democrat, taken with the notion that Trump is being treated unfairly in the media, could decide that their own marriage should no longer be legal is clearly ridiculous.
It’s the same sentiment I heard echoed in doorways, foyers, garages and kitchens of Democrats all over my neighborhood. Everyone agreed on one thing: no one we knew — and surely none of us — would even consider this; it runs contrary to reason. Truly, I posited, no one who believes in the ideals of the Democratic Party could come to see the GOP as a reasonable alternative in this tenuous new era of American politics.
As I stepped back out of the Arizona heat into the local Democratic Party office, PEVL registration forms in hand, sweat bleeding through the last few dry inches of my t-shirt, exhausted, the director clapped his hand onto my shoulder and smiled broadly. He couldn’t be a day older than twenty-five.
“You don’t know how much this helps,” he told me. “Every single one of these forms is a voter for life! Will you be back next weekend, Josh?”
“Hit me up in two weeks,” I said with a smirk, and let the strip mall door swing shut behind me.
I didn’t notice the Trump flags as I turned onto my street. The pickup trucks were put away in their garages. The sky burned a deep orange and, as my own garage closed, I grinned with the pride of participation in democracy and the satisfaction of a mystery solved.
The #walkaway movement? Two words: fake news.