Friday, January 22, 2010

A Standout Tuesday

Despite my disappointment and frustration at the results of Tuesday’s election, I otherwise had a very good day. For the first time, I spent much of the day out at the polls holding signs and greeting voters on behalf of my candidate, and even though she lost, the experience was well worth it.

There is an old adage that lawn signs don’t vote. I believe that. I also believe that standing out at the polls doesn’t actually win any votes. I imagine everyone who came out to vote Tuesday already had an idea who they were voting for.

But I think visibility at the polls saves votes. There were most likely some voters who came out whose support for Martha Coakley was tepid, at best. Had they arrived at the polling place and seen enthusiasm for Scott Brown and no support for Coakley, I can see some of them saying “Well, if she doesn’t care enough to get people out and campaign, why should I care enough to give her my vote?”

But more importantly than that, I learned that the visibility boosts the morale of those who do come out to vote and that—more than anything—made the day worth it.

Sterling is a Republican town. Those who vote Democratic know that, and it’s clear that they are much more apt to go about their business quietly. So it was nice to see so many smiles and clandestine thumbs-up as we greeted voters. A number of voters thanked me and the other Democrats who stood out to support Coakley. Some went as far as to say that they didn’t expect to see any support out there and they were happy to see that they weren’t alone.

By 7:30 pm, I was about done. There were hardly any more voters left to cast ballots, and many of those who did come out were able to park right in front of the entrance to the school, so our signs weren’t visible to them anyway. Every once in a while, someone would park in the main parking lot and walk by our location, but by that time of night, it was very rare.

I had been debating whether or not I really wanted to stand out in the snow for another 30 minutes (I’d been there for seven hours already; I figured I’d done what I could) and was just about to pack up my signs when a young woman heading back to her car stopped to thank me for being out there. She told me that she was so thankful that I had taken the time to stand out there in the weather and that she was happy that there were others who shared her support. I figured that I couldn’t leave after that, so I stuck it out the rest of the night.

The point I took from that was that even if she and others were disappointed about their candidate or the result, because she knew that she wasn’t alone she might be apt to keep voting or volunteering or doing whatever it is that she does when election time comes around. My being there didn’t influence her vote Tuesday, but it might have some effect in the next election.

Another thing that heartened me was that my fellow Sterlingites are, if nothing else, very polite. Knowing that most of the folks who came out to vote were going to be opposing my candidate filled me with a little trepidation, but me and my follow Democrats holding signs were generally treated well.

I tried to greet everyone who came by and for the most part I got a hello in reply. Those neighbors who just couldn’t bear the thought of acknowledging a Democrat walked by with their heads down. There were a couple of scowls here and there, but with a few exceptions, nothing untoward.

One guy came by wearing a yellow windbreaker. He muttered “Communists!” when he walked in to vote and followed by rolling his window down and yelling “Communists!” out the window of his SUV as he left the parking lot. (‘Communists’ is so 60’s. ‘European-style Socialists’ is much more in vogue, all though that is probably too many words for that guy to string together.) Otherwise, the only time I got yelled at was by two Coakley voters who wanted to let me know that they were voting for Coakley because they supported her issues, but that they were disgusted by the tone of her campaign. Fair enough.

I also took some good-natured ribbing from members of the Town Republican Committee who were out to hold signs for Scott Brown. I was wearing my Red Sox jacket and hat and they wanted to know if Martha Coakley thought I was a Yankees’ fan. I actually got that from a few people, now that I think of it, but each time we were able to share a laugh about it.

I had some good discussions with them about the campaign, how good or bad the schools in town were, what our kids like about Davis know, neighborly stuff. With all of the fire and anger that comes through in TV commercials and the internet, it was very nice to know that as neighbors, the difference in our politics wasn’t any different or more contentious than the difference in the brand of car we drive or TV shows we watch.

Even though we lost, the whole experience was worth it. I definitely plan to be out there again in the fall. Hopefully it will be a bit warmer and a bit less snowy...and that we win a few more votes.
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