Ways of Seeing: What does this election mean to me?

What Does This Election Mean to Me?
I found a place to sit on a windowsill in the packed chamber of the House of Representatives as I waited for the inauguration of the first woman to be the Governor of Vermont. A small orchestra played a Suite from Handel’s “Water Music” as she entered the chamber wearing a bright white business suit in 1984. I first met Madeleine Kunin ten years earlier when I attended a meeting of the Vermont Women’s Political Caucus. She ran for the House of Representatives, then Lt. Governor, and in 1982, she ran for Governor.
I hosted a house party for Madeleine and did some campaigning. My five-year-old daughter wore a little t-shirt that said “Madeleine.” The night that Madeleine lost the election, it broke my heart to tell my daughter. Two years later, I volunteered for her second run for the office. And when she won, it was as if the glass ceiling shattered for my daughter — for all girls.
I respect the people who run for local, state and national offices. I know how much time, energy and resources they give to earn the votes to govern for the rest of us. When I was a child, my father was on a school board. When I was an adolescent, he was on a city council. The first time I volunteered for a campaign was when my father ran for mayor. I did a “literature drop.” That means that I walked door-to-door and left campaign literature, and I learned this: don’t leave literature in people’s mailboxes. The postmaster called my father to inform him that I had broken the law.
In the summer of 2004, my daughter accompanied Howard Dean on the “sleepless summer tour” — a cross-country presidential campaign flight to 10 cities. In January, campaigning door-to-door with her in New Hampshire, I almost froze. I think I convinced one woman to vote for Dean. Is it worth it?
I dial the phone and wait for the person on the other end to answer. When someone answers, I tell them who I am, that I am volunteering for a political campaign, and we engage in a conversation. It is called “phone banking.” I am reaching out to people in hopes that I can encourage them to vote for a candidate whom I deem to be qualified.
I walk door-to-door with a map that sends me to homes where likely voters live. I ring the bell or knock. Some don’t come to the door, even though they are home. When a door opens, I introduce myself, offer some literature and ask for their vote.
I tell myself that, if we want to have a democratic form of government—of the people, by the people, for the people — this is our responsibility. Even if they don’t appreciate the call or the knock, most people are not rude to volunteers. During the primary campaign, I was invited into a home where an older couple was having lunch with friends. They wanted to know why I was supporting my candidate. This is the heart of campaigning — meeting people and engaging in conversation.
When I saw the film “Suffragette” depicting the movement for women’s right to vote in early 20th century England, when I saw how women often faced harassment and attacks, both from the police and members of the public, it brought home to me how grateful I am for the right to vote. My grandmother was born in 1900. She was the first generation of women in our family who could vote. She never missed a vote; she also volunteered at the polling place. My mother followed in her footsteps. They never ran for an office, nor have I.
It matters to me who governs on my behalf. Governing is tough work that calls for people with the heart, the passion and the stamina to give it a try. It is not easy to win an election. Candidates are people — people who run to represent us. They need our support. I campaign for candidates, but I also campaign to honor the women who sacrificed so that I can vote.
My daughter, living abroad, sent for her absentee ballot. Like the generations of women before her, she would never miss a vote. Perhaps, someday, I will campaign for her! So, I ask you to vote on Nov. 8. And, if you receive a call to remind you to vote, please be kind!
Johanna Nichols is a mother, grandmother and writer. As a former educator and retired minister, she always supported healthy families and communities for children. She currently serves on the Board of Hospice Volunteer Services.

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