July 2, 2004
Last Saturday I went knocking on doors in Lancaster, Penn., with the AFL-CIO to talk about the election. We knocked on only union household doors, but a tragic 34 percent of union members who voted in 2000 voted for Bush, and recent polls have shockingly suggested no change in that figure. So I didn’t know what to expect.
Every single person who told me and my door-knocking partner who they were voting for was for Kerry, and all of their household members were for Kerry. No one was for any third party candidate. One kid whose parents weren’t home thought they were for Bush.
But a handful of people wouldn’t say who they planned to vote for or said they were undecided. And several of those who said they were for Kerry only said so after we’d made clear that we were for Kerry. The usual assumption would be that most of those who wouldn’t say were for Bush. But I suspect that some of them were afraid to say they were against Bush.
Several of the people who told us, with various degrees of enthusiasm, that they were for Kerry also told us that they were the only Democrats in the neighborhood. It was always enjoyable to tell them that we’d already talked to a dozen Kerry supporters right on their street. One woman, who was not from a union household but lived next-door to a house we knocked at, said she always voted Democrat but kept her registration Republican because “When in Rome you do as the Romans do.” We told her some things about Rome (in this case, Lancaster) that she didn’t know but that we’d learned in the course of one quite enjoyable day.
I once gave a ReDefeat Bush bumper sticker to a woman on the Metro in D.C. who wanted to know if it was legal, and then hid it quickly in her bag and accused me of trying to get her into trouble. I misunderstood her until I realized that she was afraid. There is a tremendous level of fear in the country that we don’t all recognize. We know that the Bush administration has used fear to sell an illegal war and a shifting of wealth to the wealthy, but how much thought have we given to the effect that fear may have on the election? Bush may not need phony felon lists or even direct intimidation to keep voters away, not if everyone is scared already.
Many of us do not know all of our neighbors. We know the people we work with, the people we hang out with, but not all of the people who actually live closest to our homes. If you want to do something for your country, I’d recommend that you make up flyers about a Vote-Bush-Out Party at your house on any evening in the near future. Then take the flyers around knocking on all of your neighbors’ doors, every single one, even the ones you are certain are Republican. Tell them that anyone who wants to vote Bush out or is undecided should come. Talk to whoever is home and give them your flyer. Leave the flyers beside the doorknobs of those not home.
When the people come to your house, have a stack of voter registration forms available as well as information about the candidates. There are plenty of good fact sheets available on the internet, for example from the AFL-CIO.
I suspect that in many cases you will be surprised at how much company you have.