Why I Took My Tween Canvassing

We knock on the door a second time, and no one answers but a barking dog.

“What do we do now?” my daughter asks, a strong wind threatening to blow the stack of papers right out of her hands.

“Roll the fliers and stick them in the door handle. Not the mailbox. The door handle. Did you write a little note on one of them?”

She nods yes. “Good. That adds a personal touch. And your handwriting is so much better than mine.”

My daughter is 12. Last week she went trick-or-treating, probably for the last time. She blushes when she mentions a boy in her class but still has a doll on her Christmas wish list. She is filled with hope one minute, then consumed with doubt and bitterness the next. But she’s consistently idealistic and feisty, and I have chosen to help her direct those qualities toward something that matters. We are canvassing for president.

It wasn’t my idea of a good time. I am, admittedly, not as enthusiastic for the nominee as in years past. Plus, as a severely germophobic antisocialite, meeting new people and touching doorknobs isn’t really my thing. But my daughter despises Trump, and she frequently vents her frustration that she can’t vote for Hillary. I don’t want her to feel powerless. She is small and sensitive, and there’s a tough world waiting for her. I explained that there’s something she can do. And so we’ve hit the streets, armed with a clipboard and sturdy shoes.

“I don’t feel like we’re making a difference,” she says in frustration, staring at the sidewalk and kicking acorns from her path. There have been many unanswered doors, a lot of wishy-washy responses and even a few voters who have changed parties and couldn’t wait to tell us why.

“It doesn’t feel like it, but this is what works best. And no matter what happens, you did everything you could and should feel good about that.”

We live in one of the suburban counties outside Philadelphia that they keep talking about on the news. A vote here shouldn’t count more than a vote cast anywhere else, but this year it might. We’ve been given a tough district. The people here are struggling. Many of the concrete steps we’ve taken to reach their front doors have crumbled under our feet. There are children’s toys strewn about most of the porches alongside jack-o-lanterns carved too early, now shriveled from this week’s unseasonable heat wave. The people are suspicious as they look out their windows, but my daughter’s small frame seems to put them at ease. She appears harmless. I assure her she is not.

A lot of people just don’t care about politics. They have their own lives to deal with. Their jobs, their families, their bills. It’s hard to see how one vote either way could make a difference, especially when you don’t trust the candidates. They tell us this when they take the time to answer our questions.

“At least you can vote,” my daughter says dejectedly. “I can’t vote. I need you to be my vote!”

It’s nice to see her belligerence aimed at someone besides me for a change. No longer the little girl who was too shy to accept a sticker at the doctor’s office, she has become a passionate advocate. She knows the issues and has strong opinions about them that I have tried my best not to influence. I believe she must know her own heart, and to see her pushing her agenda on this blustery day, she certainly seems to. The campaign is lucky to have her.

In a matter of days this election will be over, thank goodness. If her preferred candidate wins, my daughter will feel like she played a part in that success. And if not, she will know it wasn’t for lack of trying. I hope she keeps trying, and I suspect she will. She is an engaged citizen now, someone who knows that the government is something she can help shape, not something that just happens to her, or any of us. Someone who knows that she can have a voice, even if she can’t have a vote.