by Kellen Squire
Ahhh, the first day of fall in Virginia. You would have been hard pressed to know that, according to the calendar, fall started two weeks ago- because temperatures hit a hundred degrees in some parts of Virginia just a couple days ago, shattering historical temperature records across the Commonwealth. Which is fine. It’s all just fine. No potentially society-ending problems that need to be addressed here, nosiree.
But that also means Knocktober has started in earnest- and with every seat in our state legislature up for grabs, it means grabbing a canvassing turf and knocking doors! We have to take control of the House and Senate away from the people who killed a legislative session on gun violence after only ninety minutes because the NRA was camping in their office. Who were content with letting hundreds of thousands of Virginians suffer just so they could “stick it to Obama”. Who are responsible for gerrymandering a map so racist in nature that even the current US Supreme Court couldn’t conscience it.
In Charlottesville, we have a number of amazing candidates on the ballot this year- like Sally Hudson, an economist who is literally the smartest person I’ve ever met, and Senator Creigh Deeds, who is an incomparable fighter both for rural Virginia and on fixing the mental health crisis in the Commonwealth. But there is one candidate in particular I’m happy to stand behind, and that’s Jim Hingely, who’s running for Commonwealth Attorney in Albemarle County.
Some of you may remember that I was on duty in the ER all day here in Charlottesville on August 12th, 2017. I don’t think I need to rehash what kind of event that was for our community. In the aftermath of that event, however, current Albemarle County Commonwealth Attorney- Republican Robert Tracci- refused to even consider prosecuting the white supremacists responsible for the Tiki Torch rally, offered a sweetheart deal to the “crying Nazi,” and watched calmly as a bunch of moms got arrested in front of their children at a school board meeting.
Even worse, Mr. Tracci- knowing he was coming into an election year- decided to take on the case of going after the ringleader of the events of August 12th himself… but, in doing so, forgot to establish venue. For those of you unfamiliar with legalese, this is the functional equivalent of forgetting to remove one’s own pants before going to the bathroom– with the end result of both being unsurprisingly similar.
He needs to go. And though I might be running for lieutenant governor of the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, this one is personal to me- and I wanted to dedicate some extra time into taking it on.
Early Saturday morning, I showed up to pick up my turf at the canvassing headquarters, and then went to work. Being used to knocking doors in rural Virginia, where “breakneck speed’’ often means 6-8 doors an hour, I was pleasantly surprised with a very dense and walkable turf. Flat, dense, walkable turf when it’s not 95 degrees outside? I couldn’t have wished for anything better.
I was so tickled I even parked a decent distance from where I was knocking doors, just so I could enjoy the walk and weather some more. And it was a great morning! There is a lot of appetite in the Charlottesville area for progressive change, and I was happy to see it. Only a couple of door slams or terse words- otherwise, smooth sailing all the way.
I walked back to my car intending to drive to Chesterfield, Virginia- about an hour and a half away from Charlottesville- to knock doors for two friends of mine running for office there. Sheila Bynum-Coleman is running against the Speaker of the House- responsible for kneeling to the NRA after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach– and Amanda Pohl is running against a candidate so off the wall that her hometown Republican party literally just kicked her out for being too extreme… a month before the election, with control of the State Senate on the line.
Both women are amazing candidates, with voices we desperately need in Richmond. So I hustled back to my truck, reaching for my keys… keys… uhh, where are my keys…
At at some point in the last hour and a half of knocking, my keys had fallen out of my pants pocket.
I uttered a few phrases that are not reprintable here, resigning myself to backtracking my entire turf. This involved a few awkward re-introductions; turns out there’s no smooth way to say “I know we just had a conversation on local candidates and politics, but can I check to see if was dumb enough to let my keys fly into your yard?” The one silver lining was letting me check a few places where nobody had been home; might as well try and hit a few more doors while I’m at it.
I approached one such house; the owner was in the front driveway, cleaning out her car. I smiled warmly and called a “Hello!” out to her, whereupon I was greeted by one of the joys of knocking doors: super cute doggos! I multitasked expertly, doing my spiel and handing her a door card of our candidates, all while giving the dog some well-deserved ear scratches.
I looked up to see a frown on this voter’s face, which was quickly morphing into anger. Uh oh, I thought to myself, this might be a problem.
“You know,” she said loudly, her voice carrying an irritated twinge to it, “I just can’t do it. I just can’t stand the friggin’ Democrats. That ‘AOC’ nutjob, saying the government should control everything! Or Trump! Talking about civil war, ranting like a child! What an asshole! All of them!”
My initial concern quickly morphed into awe. Was this person one of the near-mythical “independent voters” we always hear about in the news?
She seemed sincere in her assessment of both sides, with equal disdain. Lots of “independent” voters end up being like this “Biden supporter” in Michigan, who was super seriously supporting Biden… until he started talking about IMPEACHMENT, where he- and you won’t believe this, y’all- suddenly decided to support Donald Trump!
I needed to find out more, so I struck up a conversation with her. A former Republican, she had been voting solely for Democrats since 2016. Those votes had always been situational for her- trying to send a repudiating message to Republicans, with the intent of being able to vote for Republicans again once “sane” ones returned. But she said she’d been turned off by, quote, “how extreme” the Democratic party had become, and was ready to throw up her arms and never vote again.
This seems to be a purposeful GOP strategy: if they’re not going to vote for Trump, make sure they don’t vote for anyone else. Hence, vilifying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, suggesting the Democrats want to take their hamburgers, etc, etc. Republicans are experts at destroying and tearing down everything they can, and our pushback against those attacks are- to put it more politely than I’d like to- “anemic” at best.
I keyed in on a few of her concerns. “I understand completely,” I said. “I’ve often felt like my voice isn’t heard in Richmond or Washington. With as much corporate money that floats around, and with politicians who draw their own district lines, it’s like, no matter who we vote for, it’s not gonna matter.”
She nodded vigorously in agreement. “Exactly!”
“Luckily,” I said, “we’re dang lucky here, because this group of candidates-” and here I gestured to the palm card- “wants to fix all those problems.”
She seemed somewhat unconvinced, so I took another stab at connecting with her. “I’m also much more libertarian than a lot of folks,” I said, keying in on one of her complaints from earlier, “because the government should be there to support people- not make decisions for them.”
“Absolutely!” she exclaimed.
“That’s where we’re lucky again,” I told her, pointing at the palm card and pointing down the list of candidates. “These folks want to keep the government out of people’s bedrooms, out of the space between them and their doctor- they’re no ‘nanny state’ folks, they just want to give you support you need to live the life that you want to live.”
This argument really struck home. We chatted for another five minutes or so, chatting about everything from ranked-choice voting to ICE to Medicare For All. At the end, she thanked me sincerely and shook my hand, and I left her driveway feeling energized- until I quickly remembered I still had to find my truck keys somewhere, and that it was way too late to make the canvas launch I’d wanted to across the state. But even that only dimmed my spirits but so much.
Twenty minutes later, I spotted my keys in the road.
On my walk back to my truck, I considered the interaction I’d shared with that voter. It cemented in my head something I’ve known for some time now- the progressive values we’re fighting for are truly the new American center. It’s where most of the country lives in how they see government playing a role in their lives, and what we need to do as a society.
What matters for all voters, though, is how we frame it to their lives, and their experiences. One of the things I chatted about with this voter was Medicare For All, and I did it with libertarian language. “How many people,” I asked her, “have you ever known who have said, oh, I would quit my dead-end job, or stay home with my kids, or go back to school, or open my own business- but I don’t dare lose my health insurance, because one catastrophe will ruin my family forever?” She shared a story with me of someone close to her who had exactly that happen to them. “That’s why I support Medicare For All,” I told her. “It empowers people to pursue their own success without worrying that, if you get sick, you’ll go bankrupt!”
Still, the Republican noise machine is unparalleled. As much as we connected on those issues, I’m not sure what this voter will do on election day. We have to have a more coherent strategy and message on pushing back against the ending stream of garbage the Trump administration spews on a daily basis. It lets them vilify people like Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, who, in actuality, is probably not too far off from this voter- and who, unlike Donald Trump, actually gives a damn about that voter and everyone like her, regardless of whether they agree or disagree.
Here in Virginia, we’re less than a month out from the most consequential election in the Commonwealth’s history. As dire as the need is, there just isn’t enough time left to answer that question comprehensively before November 5th. All we can do is push as hard as we can. Hit as many voters like the one I met yesterday, and address their concerns in a way the Republicans will never be able to.
One at a time.
Door by door.
Because that’s how we’re going to win our Commonwealth- and our country- back.
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse from Charlottesville, Virginia and is running to for Lieutenant Governor, to bring a blue-collar, unapologetically progressive voice to statewide office.