With the midterm elections on the horizon, neighborhoods are filling with political canvassers, volunteers stomping the sidewalks for candidates seeking greater name recognition and all-important votes.
Some see these folks, armed with shiny campaign materials, as pests to be ignored. As someone who has knocked on her share of unopened doors, I certainly understand that.
But I also want to note that in many cases, the one-on-one connection between a canvasser and a willing citizen can yield interesting and illuminating results.
Take last week, when I was campaigning for two candidates running for the Pennsylvania legislature. While the candidates were both Democrats, the lists of houses my friend and I were to hit included a number of Republicans and Independents, who might be persuaded to switch their party allegiance on Election Day.
We weren't guaranteed a warm welcome from everyone we were about to meet.
But I'm here to report that far from shutting any doors in our faces, everyone who answered their doorbells gave us a fair hearing, without exception. And that, in many cases, people were more than willing to come onto their front steps on this sunny day and talk to us about their concerns and their beliefs.
While no one seemed willing to commit to a change in their party allegiance, everyone readily engaged and discussed the issues, from clean water to better public schools to health care.
In some cases, we had broader discussions: We talked about the candidates and their connections to the community. We talked how the neighborhood had changed over the years, how new people were moving in and older folks were downsizing. We did a fair amount of shaking our heads about the state of affairs in Washington – both Republicans and Democrats.
As a person interested in the politics, I've canvassed for years. And each time I'm out in the streets of our suburban neighborhood, I'm reminded of how actively participating in grassroots politics can remind you of how democracy is supposed to operate.
I'm no Pollyanna. I'm canvassing this year to relieve my years-long anxieties over the future of the U.S., both at home and abroad.
Yet I can't ignore how there is something very pure about going to a person's home and inviting them to talk about issues they care about and affect them daily. As always, on this particular Saturday, I was struck by how people are better educated on both local and national issues than for which they are often given credit.
It's also worth noting that no matter how controversial the topic – abortion, gerrymandering, gun control — I've never gotten into an argument with anyone I'm spoken with. If we do disagree, we seem to also agree silently to be civil and hear one another out.
It would be great to say that every one of my conversations led the candidates I'm working for to victory. But even as I set out their stands and talk about why they might be best for the job, that isn't what I take with me from the experience of canvassing.
Instead, I carry home the vision of people — total strangers — who are willing to stop their lawn mowers, come out from their garages, sometimes even turn around their cars, to take the time to share their opinions on topics that concern us all.
I believe our country has serious problems — with race, with income inequality, with digital inequities, the environment, voting rights. Canvassing gives me a little boost that even if we don't agree on problems or how to deal with them, for a few minutes on a Saturday afternoon, we were willing to stop, listen to one another, and take each other seriously.