In the fall of 1980, I was studying in England when the Reagan vs. Carter election was unfolding. I was so frightened of a Reagan victory, I thought about what it would mean to remain in England and become an ex-pat. Still in college, I was not financially independent, so I returned to the U.S. at that time.
After college, some of these political passions got channelled into spiritual passions. That’s when I lived in Santa Cruz, CA, and somehow I managed to survive the Reagan years fairly unscathed, writing poetry and free-lance articles, volunteering at a women’s health collective, working at an abortion clinic, then working at a community credit union, teaching Hebrew school, and helping to create alternative Shabbat, Passover, and High Holy Day services with my Kolaynu community.
Fast forward to 2004. I am a rabbi now, living in NYC, working at my current job in Westchester, and serving as co-chair of the Women’s Rights Hevra at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. We are all passionate about good sex education and women’s reproductive rights. John Kerry is running for President against George Bush. We decide to mobilize busses to Pennsylvania to go door- to-door talking about Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court, and reproductive choice at risk. We mobilize hundreds of volunteers to join us on these trips, mostly to Montgomery County. Then I work the polls in Philadelphia on Election Day doing election protection work. Kerry loses. I am terrified of what Bush and the right-to-lifers will do if they end up with a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court.
2008, I canvas again in Pennsylvania for Obama, but also go to Wisconsin and New Hampshire. I was a secret Hillary supporter even then, but, of course, got behind Obama. Yet again I was motivated most strongly by a fear of what would happen to the Supreme Court if a Republican were to win the White House. We learned then that the grass-roots effort and ground game of phone calls and knocking on doors was the key to the Obama victory. Personal contact in order to both converse with undecided voters and then to get the vote out is Campaigning 101 essentials.
So here we are in 2016, and again, the ground game is what is going to win the election for Hillary Clinton. I have come to Easton, PA three previous times this fall and also worked out of Keene, NH twice. Both are not only battleground states for the presidency but have close Senate races. Hillary’s victory on Tuesday will be a pyrrhic one if she doesn’t also win the Senate. A Republican-led Senate will not only stymie any legislation (or Supreme Court nominees) she advances, but is also threatening to impeach her if she wins!
Now I’m back to Easton through Election Day. Here in the battle-ground state of Pennsylvania, there are one million volunteers! In Northampton County alone (where I am in Easton, PA) there are eight different field offices sending volunteers to different parts of the county. Some of these offices are set up in people’s homes. Last night I made phone calls out of a home of a woman who was a staunch Republican (and elected Republican official!) until this election. She has turned her home into Hillary-Central, making food for the volunteers (great baked ziti and salad!) and turning her dining room into an office where we come to get our assignments.
As you may know, the pundits are saying that Hillary can lose the battleground states of Florida and Ohio but must win Pennsylvania in order to win this election. You may also know that Obama won Pennsylvania because the strong African-American vote in Philadelphia counter- balanced all of the Republicans elsewhere in the state. Therefore, the current transit strike in Philadelphia is terrifying if inner-city folks can’t both get to work and to the polls between the hours of 7 AM and 8 PM due to transit and therefore traffic problems. I was sure Pennsylvania was now a lost cause.
HOWEVER, the good news is this: 1. A friend called the campaign in Philadelphia and found out that the ground game for getting voters to the polls has been set up with churches and synagogues as sites for pick-ups, so that voters can get to the polls (provided there are enough drivers), and 2. one campaign organizer told me that the Latino vote and the women’s vote is so strong in Pennsylvania that the Clinton campaign may not need the African-American vote as much as Obama had needed it to pull off a win in Pennsylvania. I was so relieved that I actually slept for nine hours last night without a single anxiety attack waking me up in the middle of the night! (Thanks to Merri C. and her sons for hosting me while I am in Easton — that’s a way that local folks are contributing to the campaign — by hosting those of us coming from out-of-town.)
Friends, if you can make it to a swing-state to help get out the vote between now and Tuesday, do so. To my friends in Massachusetts, there is an office in Keene, NH that I have worked out of. For friends in the New York metropolitan area, there are any number of free buses transporting folks to Pennsylvania. Go to www.hillaryclinton.com to sign up WHEREVER you are in the country. If you are not close to a swing state, the website can set you up to make calls to voters in swing states. moveon.org is another organization that is calling voters in swing states. I made a call last night to an elderly woman who just moved and had not yet voted in this new location. She was so grateful for me to call with her polling site and a phone number to get her a ride to the polls. Even one call like that is worth all of the “not-homes” or those who don’t want to talk to you at all.
Or DONATE money! People for the American Way (www.pfaw.org) is an organization you should know about which is doing election protection work, Supreme Court protection work, and also has a right-wing watch — they keep me abreast of the voter repression/suppression efforts that are going on all over the country and fight on behalf of those plaintiffs. Emily’s List (www.emilyslist.org) is a one-stop funding site for female pro-choice candidates. Many of the close Senate races are those of progressive Democratic women: Maggie Hassan in NH, Deborah Ross in NC, Kate McGinty in PA, Catherine Cortez Masto in NV, and Ann Kirkpatrick in AZ. You can either go to each of their own websites to donate or do it through Emily’s List.
The stakes are high and as citizens of this great country, we are all invited to participate in keeping it a democracy. I am here in PA praying with my feet and my pocketbook. I hope you can join me in my prayers. And if not, here is a real prayer:
In Thanks for U.S. Democracy by Alden Solovy
G-d of history,
We give thanks for the blessings
Of democracy in the United States,
Blessings unparalleled throughout the world.
No nation can match these gifts.
We give thanks:
For free and fair elections,
For the 15th Amendment,
For the 19th Amendment,
For the Voting Rights Act,
For decentralized control of balloting,
For decentralized control of vote tallying,
For the peaceful transition of power,
For the two-party system,
For third party and independent candidates,
For robust debate and political compromise,
For patriotism above partisanship,
For the separation of power,
For leaders taking an oath of office,
For leaders taking an oath to serve the people,
For leaders taking an oath to defend the Constitution,
For a military sworn to defend the Constitution,
For judges sworn to uphold the Constitution,
For two chambers of Congress,
For accountability to constituents,
For the Supreme Court,
For our Chief Executive, the Commander-in-Chief,
And for one another, citizens of a great nation.
Let us cherish the right to select our government.
Let us cherish the right to select our representatives,
The national, state and local leaders
Who will steer our nation and guide our communities.
Our system is strong.
On election day, our voices are heard.
We, the People, are blessed.
© 2016 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.