Our country is in turmoil. We are simultaneously the most economically, technologically and militarily powerful nation in the world while being incredibly torn about who we are and what we believe about ourselves.
SEATTLE skies are gray. No need to note that, I know. But walking from house to house, clutching my Democratic Party lists of likely Democrats who don’t vote regularly, the gray sky seems particularly close.
I don’t mean that in a completely negative way. Actually, it is both foreboding and soft and comforting. It’s the weight of American politics, and it’s the intimacy of Seattle’s gentle climate.
I walk to each address on my list, knocking and waiting to see who opens the door, if anyone. Each time, I’m curious about who lives in this house, and how they will respond to a stranger at their door — a white, middle-aged woman with a clipboard.
And when people are home, I’m never disappointed. I don’t mean that they all receive me warmly or echo my politics. I mean that when people open the door, I get to see what they do. Do they stare at me suspiciously or in annoyance that I’ve intruded on their private domain? Do they stand behind a metal screen where they can see me but I can’t see them, or peek around a door held barely ajar?
Or do they brush me off with, “I don’t have time for this” — or even slam the door in my face once they get a glimpse of me? Or do they open the door wide, children clutching their skirts or dog barking, and while shushing and reassuring them, do they struggle to give me the attention I’ve obviously come to request? Do they invite me in and offer me water? Do they speak the same language that I do? Do they know for whom they intend to vote? Do they understand the election process? Do they know all of this so much better than I do? Do they find me as interesting as I do them?
Our country is in turmoil. We are simultaneously the most economically, technologically, and militarily powerful nation in the world while being incredibly torn about who we are and what we believe about ourselves. How can we have conservatives who are determined to never give way to liberals and liberals who can’t fathom the motivation of conservatives? How can we have this extreme split? How can we be one country while such rivalry continues to roil our daily lives?
Still, these days I’m not visiting the homes of conservatives, at least not in most cases. These people are actually mostly liberal, but their political involvement ranges from emphatic statements of, “Of course, we’re voting for Clinton and all the Democrats!” to “We’re not voting” to “I don’t know — you think it matters?”
One neighborhood is made up of white residents and one black, one Muslim, one Latino, one Asian, one wealthy, one middle-class, one poor. Each neighborhood is distinct, but one pattern dominates my observations: Whites are far more likely to range from politely dismissive to outright rejecting — I recognize myself in some of that, and vow to do better. People of color, especially immigrants, are so much more likely to open the door, greet me warmly and seem curious about who I am and what has brought me to their home — so much more likely to offer that glass of water.
I walk away from each house having been touched by another person’s life — his or her way of receiving a stranger at the door, the affluence or poverty of the surroundings, the slice of the home life I’m privileged to see, his or her determination or despair when faced with choices.
I jot down the data I’ve been asked to collect on the rain-sprinkled clipboard, but so much more is there. So much more is at stake.