by Kellen Squire
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: one of my favorite things to do is to knock on doors and meet voters where they live. You might think this is because I’m an ER nurse, and I have extensive experience communicating and building rapport with people even in the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
But my love for knocking doors came all the way back in January of 2003, when I ran for School Board at the age of 17, on a platform that kids deserved school lunch. At the time, I never considered that we might be fighting the same fight twenty years later. All I knew is that I wanted to let my neighbors know who I was, and what I was running for- and wouldn’t let a bitter Wisconsin winter keep me from doing that.
And that’s what I’m doing now – but, again, in a way that was inconceivable just a short time ago.
For the first time in over thirty years, our community has the ability to have our voices heard. The Charlottesville metropolitan area was the most gerrymandered in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, bar none. For over thirty years, since the 2000 redistricting cycle – and then somehow even more viciously in the 2010 cycle, thanks to Operation Red Map- our community was “packed and cracked,” with an almost midnight-blue D+90 district crammed into as tight a space as possible, and the rest of our central Virginia community spread out over a half a dozen districts and hundreds of miles.
None of the Republicans who “represented” those gerrymandered districts lived here. None of them cared about the people here. They seemed to take a perverse delight in the fact that those parts of their district were specifically drawn to be ignored. One of them even took to taunting his own constituents about that fact. “I wish I could help you,” he is reported to have laughed in the face of more than one constituent who brought him a concern. Not surprising if true, given the caliber of the folks “representing” us.
And this has been one of the best parts about being on doors for me: I get to break the news to people about how things have changed.
As good as I am at writing here, I cannot truly express what it’s like to tell people that they finally get an election that matters to them. That they’re in a brand new, fairly drawn district. That the legislator they’d previously been represented by now represents a district that’s an hour and a half away from here. And then I get to break the “%*#% around and find out” part of the Republican gerrymandering of our area: they cared so little about the Charlottesville area, there is no bench here.
There are no Republicans in waiting to run for the House of Delegates. Not a single one willing to mount a serious campaign for office here, knowing the state GOP refuses to invest a single dime on an “unwinnable” seat for them. Why run if you can’t grift?
Our people finally get the chance to send someone to Richmond who will represent them and their interests. Someone from their own community, someone who will listen to them. That allows them to pour over policy and nuance, to ask questions at length and get serious answers back.
Breaking this news to them is like handing someone a birthday present you know they’re going to love- and watching their eyes light up as they open it.
The best example of this is something I had happen recently. It was early on a Saturday morning – as early as I dare to bother people. I was in one of the many semi-rural areas of our district; I generally send our volunteers and staff to hit “easier” areas where houses are close together and easy to walk to, and I’ll crack through the “tougher” areas. It means I might walk eight miles over six hours to knock on fifty doors- but these folks have been ignored for a generation or more. So however hard these doors are to hit, I’m going to hit them.
I was on the third door of the day, a bright yellow house with an open front porch. I rang the doorbell, and a woman came to the door in gardening apparel, dirt already besmirching it – getting an early start to gardening season. She eyed me with the cautious intrigue people who aren’t used to having their doors knocked on usually regard me with.
“Hi,” I said, “my name is Kellen Squire. I’m an ER Nurse, and I’m running to represent our community in the Virginia House of Delegates.”
“Oh!” she said brightly, and then paused- “Ahh… you’re a Democrat, right?”
“Yep!” I said, and she visibly relaxed. I handed her one of our palm cards, and we had a brief chat about the issues. She knew vaguely about the election coming up, the primary we had for both the House of Delegates and State Senate, but hadn’t been paying much attention. When I told her about the abortion care we do in the ER, she nodded seriously – she’d had an ectopic pregnancy fifteen years ago. Thankfully, everything went routinely and without a hitch, but she understood exactly how dangerous the Republicans’ position on
“Well, you have my vote,” she told me, and then – almost somberly – said “I don’t know it’ll do you much good, with how our district is.”
“Well, actually,” I told her, “I have some good news for you. Redistricting means the old incumbent now represents a district an hour and a half away from here. This is a brand new, open seat. And from what I hear, the Republicans aren’t even going to bother to field a candidate.”
“What?!” she said, loudly and incredulously.
“Mmhmm,” I said, and pulled up my map of how our district had performed in the recent Congressional elections. “The state GOP won’t fund anyone here. They know it’s hopeless, too, and aren’t going to waste their money.”
The ramifications of this sat on her for a moment – and then unexpectedly threw her arms around me in a bear hug. “Oh, thank GOD!” she exclaimed.
I’ve been at this for six years now, and I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t times I doubted all the hard work we were putting in, fighting uphill against impossible odds. Dealing with the systemic underfunding of rural America by abandoning a “50-state strategy”; watching the Republicans use that cover to metastasize and weaponize hatred and vitriol. Watching the real impacts that has on the people I take care of every single day in the ER.
But moments like this make it clear that all of it, all of it from the very beginning, has been worth it. And that you can never go wrong if you invest in the people of our Commonwealth, and our country.
And I couldn’t write that without also calling out the folks in Fairfax, in Arlington, in Henrico and Richmond, and in all of the “bright blue” parts of our Commonwealth, who refuse to just sit on their blue islands, and travel across the Commonwealth to make a difference everywhere. You hard work matters. It makes a sincere difference.
We’re going to keep putting in the work. We’re going to keep showing up for people. And we’re going to prove an unapologetic rural progressive can run, and win, in every corner of our country. In Alaska. In rural Washington. In Michigan. And right here in Virginia.
We’re never going to back down, not to Donald Trump, not to Ron DeSantis, not to Glenn Youngkin – not to anyone. We’re going to fight.
And we’re going to win.