by Kate M. Carey || Winston-Salem Writers
An Object in Motion
The Republican and Democrat conventions spurred me on to action this election season. I joined up just after Labor Day and showed up weekly to call voters. I made calls for Senator Sherrod Brown when I lived in Ohio, so I knew the drill. Show up at Party Headquarters, sit in front of a computer, put on the headset, and let the robo-data provide you with names/numbers and a script. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Except, this was a small county in North Carolina with limited resources and a just-opened headquarters run by some guy from Rhode Island who came down to tell us how to get out the vote. I was shocked when he asked, “Did you bring your phone?”
“We use our own phones?” my voice dripped disbelief.
He offered a shrug, a smile and “We’re supposed to get some phones next week.”
Welcome to Get Out the Vote.
I called folks – 100 plus – each week at my appointed shift. By week four I had a crappy “burner’ flip phone that I barely remembered how to use. Marshall McLuhan said, ‘A typewriter is only a means of transcribing a thought, not expressing it,’ and using the Party’s technology was better than having my person cell phone number show up in someone’s caller ID.
Still, I called and folks answered. Some told me belligerently ‘it ain’t no one’s business’ who they were voting for and others talked about how proud they were to vote for a woman. I zipped through my call list and signed up volunteers for the booth at the county fair or to canvass the neighborhoods. Then I switched from phone calling to calling on, as in showing up unannounced at voters’ homes.
I had always planned to canvass at election time, but life and laziness usually got in the way. I’m a fair-weather outdoor person and fall in Ohio can be endless days of bone-chilling rain. By luck of the draw, I was rewarded with two warm fall afternoons to walk about Lexington. I gathered up the ubiquitous clipboard and reams of paper – neighborhood maps, names and addresses, voter registration information, a slate of candidates – and headed out.
I canvassed in neighborhoods not far from my house. I knew some of the neighborhoods because I drove past them on my way to the Interstate. I found other neighborhoods tucked between falling down factories and forgotten storefronts. I talked to voters in a former hospital repurposed to provide companionship, shelter, and warm, affordable housing. I stopped at homes in the upper $300,000 and some in the lower $30,000. I knocked on the doors of people I knew from my church who invited me to sit and chat about the election.
But in most neighborhoods, I knocked on the doors of strangers. I was invited in before I said my name or gave my spiel. Folks welcomed me, called me “honey,” and offered a seat on their couches. Not every house was inviting. I avoided the house with two pit bulls barking loudly behind a fence that held a sign proclaiming, “Protected by the Second Amendment.” I walked past houses missing paint and shutters, where doors were akimbo, and posted letters declared their lives as dwellings were over. I knocked on doors and watched neighbors across the street sneak into their garages hoping not to be seen. Some folks boldly kept their doors closed to me as I knocked, even though cars were in the driveways and music emanated from inside.
On some streets, large landscaped lots of azaleas, holly, and magnolia trees separated neighbors, while on others, chain link fences kept them apart. Some houses on those landscaped lots proudly proclaimed their occupants’ political learnings with signs for McCrory or Cooper, Trump, or Clinton. Houses in sore need of paint on small postage stamp tracts declared something else. Empty houses stood side by side with houses holding new Americans proud to vote each year, and other houses holding people who said they had not voted…ever. A convicted felon bemoaned his inability to vote and told me that he watched all the debates. He said he chose a candidate because “this year it matters.” Many voters who opened their doors to me said with pride that they voted early at the Board of Elections office. They thanked me for coming by and bid me a blessed day.
Kids and cats were the great equalizers in the neighborhoods. Kids played with balls and rode bikes and skateboards. They would wave, or say ‘hey’ smiling shyly. Cats, being cats, ignored me and kept snoozing in sunbeams warming front porches. Panthers games blared from TVs in small houses and even larger screen TVs in big houses. I saw cars and trucks of all makes, models, and colors. Red and yellow flowers bloomed in tidy gardens next to weedy yards planted with broken furniture. I walked wide, smooth streets reminiscent of ‘ribbons of highway’ and narrow, bumpy, pot-hole afflicted roads tucked between tiny, company store houses.
That great North Carolina author, Thomas Wolfe, is credited with saying you can’t go home again, but I beg to differ. Home for me is rural Ohio where I grew up. It’s mid-city Columbus where I became an adult, a wife, and a mother. It’s Topsail Island where I breathe deeply watching waves take my anxieties and worries out to sea. And now, it’s Lexington — Davidson county, the Piedmont. My exercise tracker counted the steps I walked, but my heart counted the people I met those afternoons with my neighbors in this place I now call home.
A previous version of this essay was printed in The Dispatch, Lexington, NC.
Kate M Carey writes about the wonderful, crazy and chaotic, and sometimes painful things people do for love. She is married to an Episcopal priest and has children living in Ohio and Florida. Her work has been published in Panoply, The Tishman Review, Savannah Anthology, and Camel City Dispatch.
Founded in 2005, Winston-Salem Writers is a group of writers who write fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry, and who care about the art and craft of writing. They offer programs, workshops, critique groups, open mic nights, contests and writers’ nights out for both beginning writers and published authors. For more information, click HERE.