We approached the man as he sat on his front porch, flyswatter in hand. Joshua Cole introduced himself, said that he was running for the House of Delegates, and asked the man if he knew that there was an election coming up in November. The man looked us over, and then informed us that he “doesn’t vote.”
I have to admit, it never fails to horrify me when someone tells me this. When we asked him why, he said “all you’re doing is voting for the one who puts the most butter in your butt before he screws you.”
Um, well…it’s a little hard to know how to respond to that. Joshua said he understood that feeling that nobody is working for you, and that he was running to try to change that. Joshua let the man know he would be back to keep trying to encourage him to vote. The man sneered, and let us know he wouldn’t change his mind.
We moved on to the next address on our list, a couple doors down. These were small, somewhat rundown attached housing units in Stafford County. We stepped over litter and empty beer cans along the walkway.
A woman answered the next door. She had two young children at her legs, and was clearly pregnant with a third. Again, Joshua introduced himself and said that he was running for House of Delegates. She sighed, put her hand to her head, and said that she “doesn’t vote anymore.” She then explained that she and her husband made a conscious decision not to vote, that they’re “in a different mind space” now. It didn’t even have anything to do with Trump.
We pressed her, trying to figure out what that meant. She informed us that they are a low-income family, and that there’s no point to voting, because the people in government don’t care about her life. I told her, desperation in my voice, that only about 30% of Virginians vote, and that the ones who are going to take the time to vote are probably not going to take her needs into account, are not going to vote in her interests. We told her about this year being a unique opportunity to really change things up in the Virginia government, because there is so much activism and interest from outside the state due to Trump. She seemed interested, but still too fed up to care.
And then, Joshua told her about himself. That he had grown up right here in this district, gone to a high school right here. He told her about his parents and his grandparents, how they had all faced the same kinds of hardships as she had. For every struggle she had (her husband commuted to Tyson’s from Stafford for an $11/hour job; she had tried to get a job multiple times at nearby GEICO, but didn’t have the necessary skills; she hated Medicaid, hated that she had to be on Medicaid), Joshua could tell her about his own struggles.
Right before my eyes, she warmed up. She told Joshua that she could see he was very passionate about this, and that she would vote for him just for that. We talked a little about absentee voting, and she said “anyone who really wants to get to the polls will find a way.” She asked him for a handful of his literature, so she could give one to her husband and other relatives. As we walked away, she thanked us, wished Joshua luck, reiterated that she would be voting.
This is why it’s so important that we have real people running for office, people who are truly representative of their district, who’ve had real experiences similar to the constituents of the district. If a white, middle-aged lawyer or CEO had been standing at this woman’s door, talking about the middle class, he would never have inspired her to come back in the “mind space” of a voter. But Joshua did.