As a first-time candidate for office, I entered the summer door-knocking marathon with skepticism. How could a brief encounter on someone’s front step change a mind or solidify a vote? Now, with several months behind me and thousands of doors “hit,” I have learned that the greatest value in door-knocking comes from what you hear, not what you say. It is, in fact, the best way to get to know what’s on people’s minds. And it can help dispel the justifiable suspicion with which many people regard politicians.
To be sure, there are some residents who resent the dinner interruption and refuse to engage. There are others who seem fearful of a stranger’s face through the screen. And there are those with great poker faces who, while cordial, play their cards close to the vest and don’t reveal where their political sympathies lie.
But the vast majority of people I’ve encountered while door-knocking are very eager to talk about change – on both a state and national level. Our economy looms large on many people’s minds, of course. Folks worry about paying their taxes. And lots of working families express the fear they’ll lose whatever small gains they’ve made over the years. All legitimate concerns, and ones I expected to hear about.
But I’ve been moved and energized by the scores of people in the towns I hope to serve in the House of Representatives — Haddam, Chester, Deep River and Essex – who freely and fervently demand that politicians take meaningful action on a host of issues for which there are no obvious economic metrics. (So as not to violate anyone’s privacy, I am not using names; rest assured these are real people in real neighborhoods, with real votes they intend to cast on Nov. 6.)
I met a man whose brother-in-law was killed by a student in one of the first modern-day school shootings, right here in Connecticut. We talked about everything from mental health to wire-reinforced windows.
I met a young mother who is worried that her same-sex marriage will be invalidated “by people who don’t even know me and my wife – who know nothing about our love for each other and our child.”
I met a couple who, despite their great privilege and lovely, safe home, are outraged by the mass deportations of immigrants and the separations of families at the U.S. borders.
I met a retired librarian who fears for the future of our educational system, even as she proudly flew the original Flag of New England, flown by Colonial merchant ships in the early 1700s.
I met a woman tending her goats, who asked if the Tenth Amendment might help block deleterious environmental policies “now that the EPA has been neutered.”
I met an elderly man who struggles to take care of his ailing wife and cannot understand why anyone would take away her healthcare.
I met the mother of two teenaged daughters who fears that “everything my generation fought for in terms of reproductive rights could disappear overnight.”
I met a Millennial working two jobs who has had to move back home with her mother “because no matter how many hours I put in, I can’t afford my own place.”
And I met a man sitting on his back porch who, when he learned I was a Democrat, said, “I’m not voting for anyone who wants to take away my gun.” I assured him I didn’t; that I wanted universal background checks and an end to high-capacity magazines.
His whole body seemed to relax, and he told me about his recently widowed sister “living way up there all alone” (pointing toward an exceptionally heavily wooded part of Haddam) and how he wanted her to have a pistol “just in case.” It was a good segue into talking about women’s safety in general, and we spoke of everything from “stand your ground” laws to domestic violence to campus sexual assault. As I shook his hand and began walking down the ramshackle steps, he said I’d earned his vote.
And yes, I hear about President Trump. People – including several “lifelong” Republicans – expressed outrage over his felonious behavior, his misogyny, racism and extraordinary incivility. One older man who owns a manufacturing plant decried Trump’s business-busting tariffs, saying, “the guy knows nothing about import/export and he’s sold working people a bill of goods.”
After knocking on the door of a Republican woman who is married to an unaffiliated voter and a veteran, I thanked her for flying her flag at half-staff in honor of Sen. John McCain. “But you’re a Democrat!” she blurted out. Yes, I said, and it appears to be us Dems who are most upset about the disrespect our White House has shown McCain in not doing what you are doing. She nodded her head, thanked me, and slipped back inside her air-conditioned house.
But the most moving encounter was on a sweltering day, when an elderly man greeted me while adjusting the American flag hanging listlessly over his perennial garden.
“I’ve never been more ashamed of our country in my entire life,” he said. “My heart breaks every morning when I read the news. Who have we become?”
Who, indeed? And who will we be on Nov. 7? The answer is on the stoop of every apartment, on the steps of every modest home, and on the manicured walkway of every mansion. Beyond them all are doors that open into real people’s lives – with their real fears, and equally real hope we can turn things around before it’s too late.
Christine Palm is a candidate for state representative in the 36th assembly district (Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam). She is the principal of Sexual Harassment Prevention, LLC.