Canvassing Las Vegas, a Scary Moment Just Before Election Day

Sign on the gate 2 doors from the home of our Las Vegas trouble-maker.

“Get out of my neighborhood. I have guns! If you two don’t leave right now I’m gonna go get them.”

It was the Saturday before election day and we were canvassing in Las Vegas in a sprawling cookie-cutter development – not a fancy one – with “front yards” of sand, not grass.  Worn Halloween figures and flags hung on the doors; fake spider webs stuck stubbornly to doorways and bushes.  My son Dan and I had just arrived and this was our first block.  It was the weekend before his birthday but both of us were beyond anxious about the election and hoped that going door-to-door, even more than making calls, might ease our souls a bit; at least we were doing something.

A moment earlier we’d been joking with this same 30-something guy over the neighborhood Halloween decorations. He asked what we were doing walking along his block and Dan said “Just talking to people.” “What about,” he asked. “What are you talking to people about?” “Hillary Clinton” I said, smiling at him – (that almost always works.)

Not this time. As we moved beyond him and on up the street, he was still yelling. “Get out!  Get out!”  Shaken, we decided to move up a block and try the next house on our tally sheet but he and his friend were making their way toward us, his friend telling him to “do something about it” if  he was going to yell anyway.  We fled.

I’ve seen angry crowds before, including demonstrators and police in Chicago in 1968.  I’d seen reports of scary Trump rally crowds too.  But this single person, focused on us with such rage, was a different kind of scary.  My heart was pounding as if I’d had way too much coffee.  As that response ebbed, I just got sad.  And then sadder.  “This isn’t how our country is supposed to be.” I kept saying to Dan.  He, wisely, was more concerned about danger than he was with analyzing the social meaning of all this.  He has a two-year-old son and was unsettled more for him, and for his wife; he needed to stay safe for them.

That was wise, but for me, the cruelty and rage of these two men, who’d turned on a dime from “We all DO love our Halloween here” to “Get the fuck out of my neighborhood” was painful on so many levels.

They weren’t the only ones.  At least two more times, the response to our question: “Have you voted yet?” was “I don’t do Democrats.  Go away,” declared with icy affect and stone cold eyes.

Saturday afternoon, as we waited at headquarters for a new neighborhood assignment, we were visited by Gabby Giffords, and her husband Mark Kelly, as well as Lucy McBath, one of the Mothers of the Movement, a sad sisterhood of moms whose children, her son Jordan Davis among them, had been killed by police officers.  The combination of the realities faced by these people and their efforts to reenforce the critical nature of every vote we could pull out of our assigned areas was a reminder of all that is at stake in our country.

Enthusiastic volunteers wait for Gabby Gifford and husband Mark Kelly to address to the crowd.

Lucy McBath, one of the Mothers of the Movement. Her son was Jordan Davis

Here’s the thing though:

This anger didn’t arise on its own. It’s been enabled, and not just by Mr. Trump and his allies and followers. Not all the angry people we met lived in lesser circumstances, with less education and income, than the norm but they do live differently from the people who govern them – and the people who cover them.

Listen to Columnist Sarah Smarsh in The Guardian

sarah-smarsh-sized*  Earlier this year, primary exit polls revealed that Trump voters were, in fact, more affluent than most Americans, with a median household income of $72,000higher than that of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporterss.

*  Forty-four percent of them had college degrees, well above the national average of 33% among whites or 29% overall. . . .
These facts haven’t stopped pundits and journalists from pushing story after story about the white working class’s giddy embrace of a bloviating demagogue. . . .
*  The faces journalists do train the cameras on – hateful ones screaming sexist vitriol next to Confederate flags – must receive coverage but do not speak for the communities I know well.
*  One-dimensional stereotypes fester where journalism fails to tread. The last time I saw my native class receive substantial focus, before now, was over 20 years ago – not in the news but on the television show Roseanne, the fictional storylines of which remain more accurate than the musings of comfortable commentators in New York studios.

* In lieu of such coverage, media makers cast the white working class as a monolith and imply an old, treacherous story convenient to capitalism: that the poor are dangerous idiots.

Sure political passions on both sides are self-defined far differently than they’re defined from the outside. But if those who cover non-elites never go near them except to write about them; if they’re described more through sociology than personal stories, oddities instead of neighbors, the divisions we’ve experienced in this election will not ease.

We don’t go to the same schools, we don’t live in the same neighborhoods, we don’t share military/non-military histories and we don’t agree on politics. We also don’t have access to simple exchanges: in the carpool line, as room parents or scout leaders, at the supermarket or the gas station, at the playground or even at neighborhood Halloween events.

I grew up in a steel town on the Monongahela River.  I was the lawyer’s daughter; when we graduated I went to an Ivy League college that almost no one in my community had even heard of.  Several of the kids from my high school who went to college did so by joining the Army.  Because of Viet Nam, many of them never made it home to enroll.

We all went to the same dances and football games though, and parties in each other’s homes.  I know – know – that every day that I spent as a journalist I did a better job because I’d grown up among so many different kinds of kids, even though it was always clear my future was going to be different from many of theirs.

We need to be able to depend on journalists to translate a bit for us and right now that doesn’t happen enough. Of course no American should threaten another with a gun.  Of course not.  But we also need to be able to expect from those who deliver information to us that they’ve gone beyond their own experiences to learn how others live- and to share that understanding with the rest of us.

Trump, Kennedy, Kemp and Les Miz (and Maybe Paris)

Donald_Trump_Laconia smDonald Trump is important.  Maybe he’s channeling Huey Long, maybe Lonesome Rhodes, maybe just “the Donald,” but despite his xenophobia and thinly veiled racist take on immigrants, he has spun a new American dream and captured those who have been without one for a long time.

Despite those excluded, whom Ta-Nehesi Coates describes so well, the belief that the dream exists is a gigantic part of the American story even though, for many, it’s faded from view. Today, in the shadow of the attacks in Paris, I wonder whether his message will thrive or wither in the face of such horror and fear.

Jack KempTeddy Kennedy smWith all that in mind, what does Trump have to do with John Valjean? What did the story mean to Jack Kemp (there’s a new biography ) and Teddy Kennedy (there’s a new book about him, too) both of whom, from opposite parties and ideologies, saw Les Miz multiple times? Can what spoke to them teach or maybe comfort us as we recoil from another bloody revolution in the streets of Paris?  Tell me that this* is not what they – and we – are feeling today.

dan kidThis little boy is now a father, but when he was six, we took him, along with his brother, to see Les Miz. At the end, he dissolved in my lap in tears, a wise child who understood, as so many do, especiallu today, what we may have lost and must struggle to recover? Listen and then, you decide.

*When Les Miz opened in New York, both Teddy Kennedy and Jack Kemp saw it multiple times. It might have been about a revolution, but it was everyone’s revolution:

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?

Then join in the fight that will give you
The right to be free!

Mo(u)rning in America: 2014

sad capitol   I  spent W’s eight years in political despair. It was hard to watch the news or read the paper, harder still to think of all our fellow Americans without resources who would, and did, suffer on  a very concrete level.  Our kids were educated, our mortgage getting paid; we had work and health insurance and political and religious freedom but for many the pain of those years was personal.

Barack Obama’s election felt like the turning of a corner. This morning, as we face the unremitting and successful (and un-American and cruel and racist) assault on voting rights, the prospect of Joe McCarthy-like hearings in both bodies about almost everything that this president has been able to accomplish despite unprecedented, treasonous opposition, certain continued and brutal safety net cuts, violation of workers rights, a terrifying, determined erosion of the rights of women, a near-caliphate level of fundamentalism among even some of our newly elected members of Congress, the now-certain, veto-proof approval of the Keystone Pipeline, obscene power grabs by wealthy oligarchs and their ALEC, Americans for Prosperity operations not only nationally but state-by-state and unimaginable foreign policy attitudes, it’s a grim day.

Friends of mine have posted look-ahead messages and I admire them for it.  For me, it’s going to take a little longer.


Damn! Scary Days Ahead!

imageMy son called tonight to ask me if I was finished packing and ready to leave the country.  He was kidding… Sort of. And I joked back at him… Sort of.

This is a tough night.  So much was at stake and so much has been lost.  I’m not certain how grotesque the new government of our country will be, but it will be hard to watch. Right now Joni Ernst is making her victory  speech and it’s all I can do not to throw something at the TV.  She, Cory Gardner in Colorado and several others hold views so extreme and benighted that it is painful to imagine what our lives will be like for the next two years

Of course they didn’t win in a vacuum. Democrats made mistakes, ISIS and Ebola didn’t help and the deep damage done to President Obama by the Republicans from the day he took office didn’t help either, nor did the long years of gridlock or the disproportionate number of Democratic seats up this year.  But they won, and excuses won’t change that.  I think I’m giving up MSNBC for Netflix for a while.

RePost – Don’t Gel’s Best of 2009 & Happy New Year: 2008, 1968, Our Country’s Journey, and Mine. Oh, and Thanks to Barack Obama for Turning on the Lights

New Hampshire Primary Election night
I came of age in 1968 (that's me on the right – New Hampshire election night.)  A civil rights idealist and anti-war activist, I was formed by the horrible events, remarkable activism and leadership of that critical year.  Forty years later, mostly because of Barack Obama, lost threads of memory emerged – all year long.  I'm very grateful for the opportunity to reconsider those times through the lens of this remarkable election.  Together they tell a story, or at least part of one, and I thought you might like to take this journey with me one more time as we move toward inaugurating the first black President of the United States, elected in the first real "Internet election"; abetted in great measure by a generation that seems, in many ways, a better, "new and improved" version of my own.

I'm going to start at the end though – the coming Inauguration, because I attended that of another "rock star" – John Kennedy, nearly fifty years ago – and all that came after was born that day.  The rest is in order and I think I'm going to ** my favorites. 

**The charismatic Robert Kennedy and first-comer Eugene McCarthy fought for the nomination in 1968.  When McCarthy shocked everyone with his March near-win in New Hampshire (that's the photo at the top), Lyndon Johnson pulled out,  guaranteeing that his Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey, would win the nomination and lose the election.  In 2008 the battle was between two equally disparate Democrats: Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. Having lived through the first disaster, I was horrified by the possibility of a second.  It would be too much to suffer that kind of heartbreak again.

**The spring and summer brought the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy.  I was with Senator McCarthy, in San Francisco the night Dr. King died; in LA that night Robert Kennedy was killed.  I was young, traumatized and in the middle of history.

That same summer, Senator Obama accepted the Democratic nomination on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's great "I have a dream" speech at the March on Washington in 1963.  Again, the person I was reached out to the woman I have become.  Again, two points in history merged.

Meanwhile, throughout the year, the McCain campaign tried, often through Sarah Palin, to re-ignite the smoldering culture wars.

For the first time since 1968, since I had been a journalist for much of the time in between and done no campaigning or petition signing or much else that would be partisan activity, I went canvassing in Virginia
with friends, including a four-year-old who added enormous to each trip
and enchanted quite a few fence-sitters.  Each trip was an adventure, always interesting, often moving.

**Of course, Election Night meant a great deal to all of us, but for me, Obama's speech in Grant Park, where my friends had been beaten and bloodied in 1968, was a perfect "exorcism" of those indelible memories.

Toward the end of the year, Judith Warner wrote about her efforts to explain the election to her kids – and so did I.

One more thing.  A year-ender trip to London and Vienna once again reminded me, as the Obama Berlin trip had done, how much Europe has longed for the America that stood for decency and hope.  Barack Obama was named the first-ever Times of London Man of the Year.

So here we are.  I'm not sure if I'll ever have the gift of so many
reasons to remember gigantic events of the past, but this year
certainly provided plenty.  It was a wonder and a privilege.  My hope
now is that, as we move forward, the hope we've all sensed over these
past months will morph into a real sense of mission and purpose.  That
is what will take all this promise and, as we Americans have done so
many times, use it to move us forward to the place we long to, and need
to be.

Ditching the N Word: Happy Weekend

Even if this is only half true, it's pretty amazing.  Next time we wonder about the impact of this election this is something to add to the equation.  Just ask an anthropologist or a semanticist or semioticist — or for that matter a historian: language forms perspective on ideas and this is, well, riveting.(H/T to Ben Smith's Politico blog for this clip.)


A dear friend sent me this New York Time column by the sometimes controversial Judith Warner.  In it, Warner muses about the cosmic change we all know came last Tuesday, and her young daughters’ seeming inability to understand the magnitude of what has happened.

“Look,” we said, pointing to the headline “Racial Barrier Falls.” “This is huge.”

We labored to make them understand that their world — art that day,
and orchestra, and Baked Potato Bar at lunch — had irrevocably changed.

But how can you understand change when you’ve only known one way of being?

They were happy because we were happy. They rose to the occasion in
that bemused way children do when adults tell them what they should
feel. They were glad to be rid of George W. Bush and to be saved – for
now – from the specter of Sarah Palin.

Of course one of the reasons for this is that, for younger people, unless they’re well-briefed, it is less of an earthquake.  They know we believe that they are part of something wonderful, but they don’t know as viscerally as we do the terribleness that came before.  It was easier, 30 years ago, with my own children.  They went to a pretty progressive elementary school where Martin Luther King Day was a cornerstone of the winter curriculum.  In the first grade they learned about the kid across the street who wouldn’t play with him, and of the pain that caused.  They watched Eyes on the Prize more than once in class.  When we settled on annual giving, their vote was for the United Negro College Fund.  Their babysitter told them stories about not being able to go into Virginia smoke shops to buy a candy bar, about the scary cruelty that was her childhood.  It came from someone they knew.  It wasn’t history, it was their friend’s life.

But they’re a generation or more older than Warner’s girls and, growing up in Manhattan they knew more, and heard more, from people for whom it was more immediate.  There are fewer of those people now, as Selma and Montgomery fade farther into history.   It will take more work, more commitment by schools as well as parents, to help these small people understand what has happened.  Work worth doing though, I think.

As I’ve thought about this, I’ve recalled that my parents never completely described to me the impact of the Depression on their lives.  They were, I later learned, enormously affected but there really wasn’t a way to explain it – at least for them.  They had suffered too much.  It drove me to study Depression history in college, when much of what I’d wondered about became clear.   That was a sad landmark instead of a proud one, but it’s also about troubled experiences difficult to communicate.  A challenge either met or avoided.

I agree that one way to help younger people understand the wonder of what has happened is just as Warner described it.  Let them be “happy because we’re happy.” Explain as best we can.  Personally though, I’m not against a little indoctrination: the story of Dr. King’s lost playmate, or Jackie Robinson or Fannie Lou Hamer or Rosa Parks (there’s a kids’ song “When Rosa Parks Sat Down, the Whole World Stood Up”) or Charlayne Hunter-Gault.  And the question I used so often:  “How do you think you would feel if that happened to you?”  From the known to the unknown, the familiar to the unfamiliar, just like any other lesson.  Allow the natural compassion of a loving child to emerge, and their sense of justice and wonder will not be far behind.


It was a long long Sunday canvassing for Obama, this time in Ashburn, Virginia, and it was also a very exciting one.  It began far from our destination, in a parking lot in Maryland, where we were "briefed" and handed maps of our Virginia destinations.   

Next stop: Virginia field offices.  Once we arrived at ours, in a manufactured "village" of mostly low-rise, not-so-expensive apartment buildings, we were briefed again, presented with the usual impressive packets with maps and voter rolls, and sent on our way.

As on our other sojourns, my friend and I brought along his four-year-old son, who is a rabid Obama fan.  We had 36 apartments on our list – in at least eight different buildings.  The complex, nice but clearly not fancy, had no elevators.  Instead, like an apartment you might rent at the beach, each building offered concrete stairs in an open stairwell, ascending four flights to the top.  No doorbells, just brass knockers or — as we did — you knocked the old fashioned way.   

It was a lot of steps; I clocked at least two miles on my pedometer.  Leading our way was our four-year-old ambassador, who never flinched at the up-down-up-down-nobody home – maybe an answer – up – down of the day.  It clearly wore him out but boy was it worth it.

I’ve always been sentimental about our country; since I grew up just outside a mill town south of Pittsburgh I’m very aware of multicultural living.  In my class there were Kalcevics and Janczewskis and Brneloviches and Courys and McCurdys and Mortons and Stepanoviches — and more.  But days like today – well – they’re different, mostly because many of the committed voters we met today just got here.  One charming African man, with a wife in African dress, himself in shorts and a tee shirt, just became a citizen and received his voter card on October 12th.  Another, Middle Eastern, immediately declared his preference for Senator Obama and asked where he could get a button (of course we gave him ours.)  A third, whose son was also four, spoke to us as smells of curry and some unfamiliar seasonings drifted out the door; the scent of strange spices was all around. Some residents spoke Spanish, some perfect British English, some less perfect – and less British.  But here they were, in these simple apartments in a massive series of cul-de-sacs, so ready to vote.

When I was a kid, my grandfather talked endlessly to us about how he felt coming here – what it meant to him and why he never wanted to go back to the Old Country – even to visit.  He was a tough old guy – kind of scary actually – but fiercely grateful for what he had found here.  That gratitude, and our own comprehension of our lives as the daughters of a Harvard-trained lawyer, educated on scholarships while his entire family worked to keep him in school; lives that were possible only because our grandparents had had the guts to pick up and leave and our country had offered them, and our father, the privilege of a chance – built an awareness that has never faded.   Today though, it jumped from its quiet residence in the back of my mind to full-on awe.  We are part of something wonderful here.  As Jonathan Curley wrote in a Christian Science Monitor piece with similar sentiments

"I’ve learned that this election is about the heart of America. It’s about the young people who are losing hope and the old people who have been forgotten. It’s about those who have worked all their lives and never fully realized the promise of America, but see that promise for their grandchildren in Barack Obama. The poor see a chance, when they often have few. I saw hope in the eyes and faces in those doorways.

That’s what it is – hope.  And the remarkable privilege of acting on that hope – using the power of American democracy to turn hope into action.  Obama’s slogan "Yes we can!" isn’t just political.  It’s a battle cry, a pledge passed on through generations – this time from my grandfather to the "new folks" living in Ashburn Village.  The day we decide we are no longer obligated to help pass the legacy on will be a very sad day indeed.  That’s why what happens on Tuesday is so important.  Morals, ethics, values, opportunity, education, work, freedom, the pursuit of happiness…  this has always been us.  May it be again this week.


I am so nervous I can barely breathe.  We’re going canvassing again Sunday and I will try to do more phone calls before then and after but seeing these polls closing – listening to Chuck Todd on MSNBC talk about states that are "tightening" – it’s really scary.  I’ve felt all along that everyone is putting this election away way too soon.  As I sat with friends and listened to Joe Trippi this week, all three of us were troubled by the seeming assumption that the race is "in the bag."  It’s so easy to get complacent and stay home, make fewer calls, do a bit less, if you think things are going your way anyway.

In addition, we don’t know what the "young people" and first-time voters will do.   Will they show up? Can they translate quotes like this one from college student Lauren Masterson, on the NewsHour:

"We see ourselves in him, I think. Even though he is of another generation, people are excited about him because he
seems to understand young people.

into turning out and waiting in line and casting that vote?  Here’s a nice consideration of younger voters and their commitment.

I suppose if I just watched TNT and the endless, comforting Law and Order broadcasts instead of MSNBC, Your Place for Politics,  I’d feel better but after all the years I spent covering campaigns, I can’t imagine avoiding information when it’s available.  And it’s really the first presidential election where I’ve had no editorial responsibility (except my blog) so I have all these habits and nowhere to put them.  I have to sit and listen and worry and watch and bounce from website to website, and to the links provided by friends on Twitter.  Can’t stop.  It’s not that I think I’ll miss the Important Moment, it’s that I keep hoping to hear some good news.  We all know that races tighten at the end but many states are moving into the margin of error and that’s really scary. 

At least I have to go offline for Shabbat, which is going to make me nuts but may be healthy.  Keep an eye on things for me, will you?