Before distancing myself from the organization, I had the opportunity to meet the staff of our representatives in Washington. That was a good experience.
As a result of that day, several years ago, when we visited the office of one of the United States senators from New York, I received a recent call from a candidate who is running for Congress. That candidate had been working for the senator back then. I was in Boston at the time waiting for my daughter to return a pair of boots that were defective. I mention that detail because I find it interesting how sometimes out of the ordinary things happen at unexpected times in life.
The call was to explain why and to ask for my support. I shared my concerns as an under-employed architect. I was asked if I could help with a donation. I explained how times were tough and I was unable to help that way but offered my time instead.
Several weeks later, another person involved in the campaign called and we scheduled time for me to help. When I hung up the phone, I had no idea what that would entail.
I was given an address to report to and a phone number to call to gain access to the building where the campaign headquarters was located.
I thought I knew where the building was, but punched the address into the GPS just in case. It directed me to the vicinity of the place in a round about way I would never have chosen. After a few failed attempts at finding parking spaces in lots with signs that threatened to have my car towed, I was able to find a spot on the street just a block from the building. According to the street signs, there was an hour left that required payment to the parking meter machine. I paid the required fee, placed the ticket on my dash then walked to the building near a church parking lot. There was a security num pad that required a code to gain access.
My contact with the campaign had alerted me to this eventuality so I called the number and got the code. The traffic noise required me to ask him to repeat the code, but I tried the numbers I thought I heard was granted access by the electric strike.
The weather on that day in late March was much warmer than average. As I walked through the entrance door, I was glad I had decided to wear my fleece because the temperature inside the building was at least fifteen degrees cooler than the comfortable high sixties outside.
The entry was a space void of people with an empty reception desk a few feet from the entrance door and elevator doors at the far end. My instructions, in addition to the entry code, included following the signs though the building to the campaign headquarters.
My usual inclination is to find the stairs if i need to get to an upper floor of any building. In this case, since I had to rely on signage to learn where I had to end up, I opted for the elevator. Stepping through the stainless steel doors, I pressed the button for the third floor per the instructions on the first sign.
When the elevator doors opened on the third floor, the next sign directed me to the right and through a closed door. Opening the door revealed a open, u-shaped stairway to the right of the corridor floor. A sign directed me through another closed door at the other side of the stair.
Each space I entered was defined by brick walls painted the same off-white color. When I opened the second door on the other end of the stair landing, another sign was affixed to those walls with an arrow directing me to the right. The sameness of the walls and the turns made me think of a hay maze. That thought had materialized at the moment I saw the final sign directing me to the left through the last closed door.
That last door revealed a fifteen feet by twenty feet long space with a wood strip floor and the same painted brick walls. There were three desks spaced a somewhat equal distance from each other like islands near the center of the room. Another desk hugged the wall to my right. Each desk had a young person sitting at it. The windowless walls were bare. Papers were strewn about the room in no discernable order. The three people at the center had phones and were in the process of making those political calls we all receive as elections draw near. There were two doors at the opposite end of the room from the entry door that opened to small offices with windows.
I asked to be directed to the person whose name I had learned a few minutes earlier while gaining access to the building. She was in the office at the left. I introduced myself and she proceeded to explain how I would be helping the campaign.
Most Americans are barraged with national political discourse for years leading up to a presidential election ad nauseum. As I stood in that tiny office listening to the orientation speech from an enthusiastic young lady, it occurred to me that I was participating in the real political process at a grass roots level.
My role that day was to gather signatures of registered voters to enable the candidate to appear on the ballot in the primary to be held three months later.
My research revealed that the founders of this great country thought the House of Representatives should be the legislative body that is closest to the people. It should be the least restrictive on age and citizenship. According to James Madison, “Under these reasonable limitations, the door of this part of the federal government is open to merit of every description, whether native or adoptive, whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any particular profession of religious faith.”
According to New York state election law section 6, paragraph 136, “Designating petitions; number of signatures, 1. Petitions for . . . any office to be filled by all the voters of any congressional district, twelve hundred fifty signatures” are required. I am certain there are many more than me working to accomplish that goal.
I stood there listening to a description of what was expected of me. I was given the tools I would use to accomplish my task. Those tools included a clipboard and a stack of colored glossy flyers describing the candidate on both sides. The clipboard held the petition, a simple map of the assigned neighborhood, a list of registered voters affiliated with my political party, and a script with a suggested greeting and explanation of why the petition was required. Also attached to the clipboard were absentee ballot forms. I was encourage to use the script as a guide and to express myself in a way that I would be most comfortable with.
My task included five objectives:
- Obtain signatures.
- Ask if the candidate could count on their support for in the primary.
- Provide information about when the primary would take place. It was different date than the presidential primary by more than a couple months.
- Ask if they were interested in volunteering on the campaign.
- Provide the absentee ballot form, in case a voter might need them in order to vote in the primary.
The map had thickened lines representing streets with the street names that told me where I needed go. It was a section of the city near where I had lived years ago. I made my way back through the hay maze, taking the stairs, since this time, I knew where I was going.
I drove to the assigned neighborhood, found a place to park on the street and took a few minutes to orient myself from the map to reality. I found a space in front of a house a few lots in from the corner on one of the assigned streets. It took a few minutes to compare the list of voters to the spots on the map representing where they lived. I was told the list was alphabetical, but I discovered it was numerical and matched the numbers up and down the block. I marked the numbers on the map next to the dots that represented the houses. This proved helpful to me later.
Most of the residents were home so I was able to move along and get a dozen signatures. The people were friendly and concerned to make an informed decision. I figured out the best reason I could offer as I went along for those few who thought they could not sign because they did not know anything about the candidate. I asked them to at least give the candidate a chance by appearing on the ballot. A signature on the petition did not mean they would be prevented from voting however they chose to in the primary.
This experience afforded me a refreshing and different outlook about the political process. It is about more than a few loud mouth candidates monopolizing news time by saying off-color and insulting things. It is about real people participating in the process. It is about concerned citizens who want to do the right thing. It is about a system that can work.
If only the group of representatives at the other end of this process who get elected can remember the earnestness of the people like those I met that day who signed the petition.