This is a political post. But it’s not about either of the candidates or their respective parties. It’s about the next generation of voters and how hopeful I am that they will be anything but apathetic.
Yesterday, I volunteered with the group Organizing for America to get out the vote (GOTV) in the town in which I live. I’m not new to this kind of community organizing effort. In 2008, I canvassed on a couple of evenings, in mostly Republican neighborhoods, trying to convince people to vote for Obama. Then in 2010, my town had to decide on whether protection from discrimination in housing, employment, public education, and public accommodations should be extended to more people, including the LGBT community. To get those ordinances passed, I became what was known at the time as a “super volunteer,” devoting dozens of hours on the phone and on the street, but mostly on the streets canvassing voters and training other volunteers. But for this election, I had been mostly absent. My research travels kept me gone for most of August and September. I kept putting off the patient but persistent volunteer who kept calling me. I told him I would help in October. When he called back and I answered the phone, it was the last week of the month and there were 10 days before the election. I finally got on board. So, yesterday was my first canvass for this election cycle.
When I arrived, the place was all abuzz with volunteers. The folks coming to walk the streets, clipboards and literature in hand, were a cross-section of our local community. Young people, middle-aged folks, senior citizens, men and women, racial diversity, you name it, it was out (believe it or not for my small town). The staff organizers were mostly young people, traditional college age and maybe a bit older. Young adults are still heavily involved in this election, don’t let anyone fool you.
But the person who most impressed me was my canvassing partner for the afternoon. There were an odd number of volunteers who showed up for this particular shift and I was the odd one out. One of the volunteers called over her son to partner up with me. I was surprised to see that the person who came forward was a young boy, 12 years old, just a year younger than my daughter. I’ll call him “T.” T is in the seventh grade, plays soccer, and has older brothers. This is an activist family, from mom on down to her sons. T had been volunteering after school and giving up his weekends since soccer season ended doing everything from phone banking to door-to-door neighborhood canvassing.
Let me repeat myself: T is 12 years old.
We got our materials together, grabbed a couple hand warmers and a bottle of water, and headed out. I had to chuckle to myself when he asked if I had a car – clearly he wasn’t able to. And then I was just very impressed that a young person who couldn’t even vote, let alone drive, was volunteering so much of his time to this election.
As we walked together, knocking on doors, talking to a person here and there about the importance of their vote (and yes, encouraging their support of President Obama), T and I also talked. We criticized whoever “cut” our walk route, how much we both hated having to go into apartments, and how cold we were. We went together into hideaway apartment buildings downtown that he termed as “scary” and I agreed with him. We talked about strategy for talking to undecided voters.
As we returned to the staging office, he told me he was going to call one of his friends to see if he would come out for the next canvassing shift. He had been there all day and was ready to go out again for another 3 hours of walking, knocking, and talking. In this whole campaign cycle, I’ve given a total of 4.5 hours (1.5 hours last Tuesday calling folks and the 3 hours yesterday). I looked at T and immediately felt incriminated.
I signed up for a shift on Election Day because I wanted to follow T’s good example. And here I thought I was supposed to be the role model. I am reminded of Sweet Honey ‘n the Rock’s song, “Ella’s Song.” They sing about freedom and not resting until it comes, but they also remind us that it’s the youth that will lead the way and whose strength and energy will help us to keep going.
With young people like T on board, I feel confident that I will see a future in which freedom comes. With T and others his age leading the way, the future looks bright. I have hope.