A Year In Civic Gratitude
Civic Syrup hasn't been around for a year. Last Thanksgiving, Civic Syrup was a figment of imagination— a tiny leaf in a hurricane of uncertainty. Last year, I had a lot to be thankful for in my personal life. As long as I kept my awareness close to home, I could find all the gratitude a person could hope for.
This Thanksgiving, my focus is still local. This may be the thing I'm most grateful for this year: the strength and motivation to get out and talk to my neighbors. The strength to scroll on Facebook but to ask "How do you know that?" when a neighbor casually accuses immigrants of bringing disease to the US. The strength to read fewer op eds (although op eds are important— to a point) and join a book group that focuses on expanding acceptance in society.
I'm grateful for the strength to write a little; to let you all in on my flawed perspective and technique. The strength to listen first and ask questions next. The strength to (eventually) speak my piece, knowing I can't ever be perfectly informed or empathetic. The strength to speak to strangers as though they are friends, especially on the Civic Syrup podcast!
I'm grateful for the people who prove me wrong in the best possible ways.
A few short weeks ago, I sat in my living room desperately craving a nap. But I had pledged to knock on doors to get out the vote in a nearby neighborhood. I'd already cancelled once due to a miscommunication and sick child. I didn't want to cancel again.
So I hauled myself to my car and tried to appreciate the short drive. When I met the organizer, it was just the two of us. "Great," I thought, sarcastically. We'd be lucky to talk to ten people between the two of us.
I figured out where I needed to start and worried about where to park. Years ago I received some scary threats while canvassing, and since this neighborhood wasn't familiar, I had no idea what to expect. What if I parked in front of a house owned by someone with watchful eyes who didn't want me there? I decided to start at the end of the street and then work my way back to the house where I parked.
Frequently knocking on doors is little more than a literature drop. I knock, no one answers, I leave a list of the nearest polling places under the mat. This time, folks were answering. Not many were pleased to see me, but they were cordial and took my literature.
I was right to think that I was being watched from the house near my car. When I got to the house, the door opened before I reached the top stair, just as I saw a sign that said, "PLEASE DO NOT KNOCK— BABY SLEEPING! CALL OR TEXT!" A boy about the age of my own child stepped out, followed closely by his mother. I was right to think I might be watched; I was wrong to be frightened.
When I asked if she had already voted, she told me she had a baby 3 weeks ago, and wasn't sure she could find her ballot in the ensuing chaos. I chatted with her and her son, told her how and when she could get a replacement ballot if she couldn't find her own, and provided the extended election day voting hours for her husband, who wouldn't be able to get off work to vote during business hours.
The connection I felt with this family was real. Here was a family who valued voting, but life was getting in the way. It may have actually made a difference to stop by two days before election day with some logistical details and a little bit of encouragement. The mother thanked me (thanked me!), took the flier for her husband, and promised she'd vote and help him vote too.
Several unanswered doors and pleasant conversations later, I came to a house with a line of cars parked in front. I figured that with a Broncos game on, it must be a party. I caught a woman entering the house, observed that she looked busy, and asked her if she had voted. I have no idea why she didn't hurry on like many of her neighbors, taking the flier I offered and getting on with her day. For some reason she told me that her father was on his deathbed right there, in her house. All the cars were owned by the visitors who come when they know they might not have another chance.
Like the mother I spoke to, this was a person who cared deeply about voting. She wasn't going to let a death in the family keep her ballot from reaching the box. She took evident pride in voting with her father's presence so present in her home. She took my literature and apologized (apologized!) as she accepted more visitors.
I drove home feeling grateful that I'd fulfilled my pledge to do my civic duty. I was, indeed, lucky to speak to about then people that day. It was only later that evening that I realized I had witnessed the full circle of life, the greatest depths of the human condition— in one afternoon... one afternoon of talking to neighbors about voting. I am so grateful I was wrong in my apprehension. I am so grateful to the people who took the time to talk to me about what was happening in their lives. I am grateful for human connection and for human agency. I am grateful for my neighbors' fierce ownership of their right to vote. That is part of the immense gratitude I'll hold this Thanksgiving day. Happy Thanksgiving to all!