“I’m sorry, I really don’t know anything about politics. But after last November, I’m really scared. And I think I need to learn.”
She was clearly nervous, and embarrassed to admit this to me and Francis Edwards, the candidate for House of Delegates whose district we were canvassing. And she wasn’t being modest–we had to start at the beginning, explaining to her what a delegate is, how the state legislature is made up. I’ve had this conversation with tons of people this year, though, so I didn’t think any less of her for not knowing.
Then she asked Francis how he was different from the person he’s running against. And Francis said what I’m sure he’s said many times at many doors: that his opponent works for big corporate interests, not the interests of the people in this community. This distinction, so critical to me personally in choosing who I support, meant nothing to her. She didn’t have any idea what he meant by this.
So he tried to give her an example. He asked her if she knew what fracking was. Nope. So he explained about drilling (“There’s drilling, here, in Northern Neck?!” she asked, aghast.) and the chemicals they use to expel the gas. And how, if one little thing goes wrong, our waters are poisoned and people get sick. This she understood. Because she’s seen the Rappahannock River go from so polluted that you couldn’t see your feet if you were standing knee deep, to how clean it is now. Francis explained to her that in the face of federal cutbacks to river cleanup projects, it’s more important than ever to elect legislators who will fight for our environment.
Then he told her about Dominion’s fight to run power lines above ground, rather than below. She wasn’t quite understanding the difference, or which one was better, but then she asked “if they put them below ground, wouldn’t we be less likely to lose power in a big storm?” BOOM! Don’t tell me this woman didn’t understand politics! Francis told her that because it’s cheaper to put them above ground, Dominion fights for that. And so it’s important that we elect legislators who will fight for the consumers who live near these power lines.
Then Francis talked to her about Medicaid. I braced myself for having to explain what the fight over Medicaid meant, but this one she knew right off the bat. She’s on disability, for mental health reasons, so health care is critical to her. And she would be benefiting from the Medicaid expansion if we had it. By now she was pretty sold on Francis! And she’d learned the importance of electing local representatives who would make decisions and write legislature to benefit her, not big corporations.
She apologized to us as we were leaving, for having asked so many questions. “I’m not the sharpest crayon in the box,” she said. I told her she had nothing to apologize for, that she was asking exactly the right questions. These are the kinds of conversations we need to be having every day, explaining to voters like her how politics matters to their lives, how important these elections are to the quality of their lives.
These are hard conversations sometimes. Especially in a county like Richmond, where the Democratic party isn’t exactly thriving. In fact, the county Democratic Committee is literally defunct, shut down due to lack of participation. But there ARE Democrats here, and, perhaps even more important, there are people here who COULD be Democrats, if they understood why they SHOULD be. This can only happen if we make our case, loudly and often. If we run candidates here, and support the candidates who do step up to run here. This can only happen if we show up here!