In my mind it’s October 2018. I’m wearing a grey hoodie and chuck taylors, pacing the neatly paved streets of a housing development in suburban Virginia. I’ve got a clipboard, google maps, and a pen. I look down at my paper as I inch up the walkway. “Lydia Smith, F, 56. Charles Smith, M, 62” I decide I’ll call them “Mr & Mrs Smith,” based on their age. I pause at the door and press down hard on the button. I stick my ear out with my hand. I want to make sure it rings. Moments later I hear footsteps. “Mrs. Smith? Mr. Smith? I’m here with the Virginia democrats supporting….” I rehearse in my mind. I get ready to say it out loud.
This is where I’ll be in the summer and fall of 2018, hell or high water, with my mother, a friend, or a family member, with a stranger, or just by myself. In the wake of the election of Donald J. Trump: reality star, liar, propagandist, fascist, rapist, President; I can’t prioritize anything but the election of a healthy opposition. I’ll be campaigning against republican Representative Barbara Comstock in VA District 10. I will engage in an effort to check unbridled partisanship by Republicans- one so damning to the American public as to repeal the most historic health care bill in American history - one that insured 20 million more Americans and halted the astronomic rise in healthcare costs to the lowest it’s been in 50 years. I can’t sit back and let this happen to me, to my family, to America. I can’t. I can’t sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch Donald J. Trump take away my healthcare and then start a Cold War with China. So I’m driving my ass out to Virginia. In 2016 I voted early then drove my ass out to North Carolina for myself, for my family, for a senate race, for a governors race, for our first would be female president. What else is a Washingtonian with no representation in congress to do?
Nearly a decade ago, I spent weekends in the summer and fall in Loudoun County, Virginia, leaving pamphlets about Barack Obama. At times I got the privilege of speaking with individuals about the candidate. But usually not. Usually all I did was leave a piece of paper and then a week before election day, I began leaving door hangers emblazoned with “your polling place,” and the corresponding address. But we only left these on Democrat doors or known independent supporters. We didn’t tell Republicans where to vote. They could look that up online for themselves.
At the campaign office I was coached to share why I supported Barack Obama. It was hard because he had virtually no record and it didn’t feel persuasive to say “I want to elect the first Black president,” as if that was merit all its own. I decided to hang my hat on Green Jobs & Health Care. I felt compelled that both economic and environmental concerns could be solved by the development of green jobs in the rust belt. I also knew that Obama wanted to make healthcare more affordable and as a 24 year old I was paying around 600 dollars per month on private single payer health insurance. I don’t remember any significant debate with any of the citizens on whose doors I knocked. All I remember is the adrenaline rush of reading the clipboard address and name, running, thinking who to ask for, what to say, knocking, a little breathless, on the door. Nervous. Nervous I’d bother a middle aged woman who just got off her afternoon shift, nervous I’d wake a sleeping baby, or force an ancient man up from his chair.
But I had to. Every cell in my being told me that Barack Obama had to be President. His life story inspired me, his passionate ideals gave me hope, and his blackness was poetry. To see the country lead by a man who, at one time, would have been enslaved by that very same country - it was a triumph of good over evil. And it felt necessary - to see a man who was still a second class citizen, to see him ascend to the highest office in the land. He could be pulled over for driving while black, eyed fervently from the counter of a convenience store, and he could be President. President Barack Obama would revolutionize the way that we view our people and ourselves. I would call any phone, knock on any door, drive in any neighborhood, go to any county. I cleared my schedule.
And on election night, the great fruit of this work was born in the form of a young democrat who hadn’t had the time to vote, who answered the door 20 minutes before the polls closed. My friends and I ushered her into our car, “We’ll take you right to your polling place, okay? And drive you right back!” It helped that we were young women her age. I’ll never forget seeing her run into the polling place in her pajamas and raincoat, returning to us minutes later with an “I voted” sticker stuck to her lapel.
It is with great hope that I begin to clear my schedule in 2018 for a reprisal of this moment. Inspired by the audacity of hope - that we can move towards a more equitable world of peace, environmental sustainability, and a healthy middle class, one vote at a time. President Obama continues to be a role model, an inspiration, a reason to believe in our democracy, a reason to believe in possibility but he is not at the helm. Dear citizens, we are the helm.