Thursday, November 08, 2018

Where I Walked

(Photo taken by me at oh-dark-thirty on election day, waiting for the campaign office to open.)

Tuesday morning, before dawn's early light, I was out on the streets of Springfield hanging reminders to get out and vote on the ornate knockers and door knobs of some of the wealthiest homes in town. 

These are estates with long stairways to the public entrance, and grounds that sweep gracefully down and down towards the park.  Porches the size of small apartments.  In-ground pools, now drained and tarped against the coming of winter.  Estates owned by humans who hold their legal, postal address inferior to the titles they have give to their properties.  Titles that would be considered ludicrous in the poor neighborhoods just a few miles away, and that all begin with a definite article.

 "The Stands""The Ryverlands""The Groundskeeper Is Probably Fucking My Wife".  And so forth.

At one such noble demesne I saw, framed in her massive bay window, a woman seated on her sofa, watching MSNBC on a flat-screen teevee the size of the mattress my wife and I sleep on.  More often the home owners where I went door-tagging that morning were away -- probably wintering in Florida, as is the habit here.  I get the feeling that this particular, pre-dawn last-minute pass through the toniest neighborhoods in town might have had a little less to do with getting the landed gentry to the polls and a little more to do with reassuring large donors that the campaign was out in-force and firing on all cylinders.

Next stop was a tidy, working class neighborhood.  Mostly African-American.  Very politically aware and active.  Places like this keep my faith alive.  Seemed like everybody who hadn't voted early or absentee had a plan.  Most had a "voting buddy" or crew all lined up.  Some were waiting for their mother or sister to pick them up to ride to the polls together.  Some were dropping off kids first.  A couple of brand-new residents asked if it was too late to register (No!  And here's where you need to go and what you need to bring!  And do you need a ride?)

At one stop I met a woman named Annie.  At first, through the rising-sun glare reflecting off her storm door, I couldn't  make out that she was oxygen-tank and wheelchair bound.  When I saw her clearly I felt like shit for disturbing her, but boy did she like talking politics.  I asked if she needed a ride to the polls, and she told me that since she started having trouble getting around, she had always voted absentee or by mail.

When I lived in Chicago back in my Castle Driftglass days, I lived in Jan Schakowsky's district, three blocks away from my alderman's house.  A mighty stronghold of North Side liberal politics were we.  And in Chicago, the Democratic Party GOTV is very well organized and efficient.  In fact, it was once such a fearfully well-organized and efficient adjunct to the massive political patronage army that powered the Daley Machine that it took a series federal court orders -- the Shakman decrees -- to make it stop.  Those days are over, and the patronage army is a shadow of its former self (fun fact -- there are still hundreds of "Shakman exempt" employees who work for the City and take days or week off before elections to do their thing)  but elections are still usually orderly, businesslike affairs. And getting involved in electoral politics in Chicago has traditionally been a sign that you were angling for some kinda place at the table, or already had a place in the ecosystem and turning out votes, buying tickets to fundraisers and phone-banking kept you on good paper with the boys downtown.

However since I was never much interested in running for anything, and since congresswoman Janice D. Schakowsky can go right on winning the Illinois 9th with between 65% and 75% of the vote until the Rapture or until she decides to retire, outside of doing some volunteering as an election judge, helping out friends who were heavy into career politics, sitting on the board of a Liberal/Independent good-government watchdog group, and materially supporting good candidates who needed dough back when I had the scratch to do so --

-- I have never put more hours into street level, retail politics as I did this year.

And my candidate, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, lost.  By just a few thousand votes. 
Londrigan congratulates Davis on U.S. House win

Betsy Dirksen Londrigan of Springfield conceded her 13th Congressional District race to incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, on Wednesday afternoon.

Davis, who won a fourth term to the U.S. House, declared victory in the race late Tuesday as several news organizations also called the race in favor of the Republican. Democrat Londrigan, however, held off making any sort of a concession speech on Tuesday night, saying she wanted to wait until all votes were counted.

The latest Associated Press totals on Wednesday had Davis grabbing 50.7 percent of the vote in the 14-county district, to Londrigan’s 49.3 percent. Davis’ advantage amounted to more than 3,700 votes...
It was so close for so long.  Hell, CNN called it for us.  Fuckers.  Called it early, too, and quite naturally everyone went wild.  Then, slowly, CNN backed off of their prediction, and things went downhill from there.  And then, finally, various media outlets (using carefully conditional language) told us that it was all over.

It had been a very well-run campaign.   Staff were unfailingly cheerful, thorough and conscientious.  Our candidate did really well in every debate.  Won the endorsements of two major papers, including the right-leaning State Journal-Register, which came as a surprise.  And she was running against Rodney Davis -- one of Trump's foot soldiers who not only voted to take health care away from my family over and over again, and not only was a floor leader whipping votes to take health care away from my family, but went to a beer party at the White House to celebrate taking health care away from my family.

And then he lied about it.  Over and over and over again.  Refused to hold any town hall meetings just so he wouldn't be asked about it by his constituents in a public setting.  Lied in the debates, so poorly that, rather that getting booed, he was laughed at.  He made himself ridiculous.

The signs all looked good, and got better every day.  Partly because they really were getting better, locally , within line-of-sight of where we were fanning out month after month. And partly because of course people committed to the same worthy cause are hungry for validation and sometimes see it even when it isn't really there.

At the Betsy viewing party long after sundown on election night --

-- there was natural anxiousness but no sense of doom.  It had been a disciplined, well-funded, campaign that had played the hand it had been dealt very well.  No major gaffes.  An endorsement from Barack Obama.   Both Illinois Senators had campaigned for us.   Senator Durbin's wife practically slept at the campaign office.  Even the amazing John Lewis stopped to bless our endeavor and wish us good fortune.  And after all, just a couple of blocks away from our party, Team Pritzker -- with whom we had shared office space, volunteers, paper clips, blood, sweat, and tears -- was whooping it up at The Gin Mill because Governor Hedgefund had practically called it quits and begun packing for Italy a week before the election.

Around the tables at the Betsy party -- at the amply and deliciously provisioned Cafe Moxo and across the street at Buzz Bomb -- those in-the-know passed around precinct voting total tapes like dirty postcards, cheered by how strong a showing the candidate was making in all kinds of places.  Locally.  Even in a few Republican neighborhoods she had done well.  Even in the poor neighborhoods she had done well.   Neighborhoods that I had walked, by myself and to little effect.  Places where I knocked on the doors of obviously abandoned homes, with blown out windows and yards and porches piled with busted up furniture, old toys and trash.  Then there were the houses that looked abandoned but had music and voices coming from within.  Music and voices that stopped when I knocked and stayed silent until I went away.  Houses where very little kids told me no one was home.  Houses where people peeked out between the drapes at me -- a middle aged white guy with a clipboard who looked like a narc -- and decided against answering the door.  I don't blame them: they didn't know me and had no reason in the world to give me the time of day.

But some of them did.

One delightful woman was presiding over a yard full of kids from her stoop when I came by.  The house had no door.  There were a couple of young men fiddling with a car in the manner of young men everywhere since the invention of the internal combustion engine (the car was never going anywhere again, having apparently crawled up the potholed driveway to die some years before.)  She and I talked politics and Jesus amiably for about half an hour or so.  She despaired of these kids today with their phones who didn't know what's what.  She wanted every last damn Republican gone before she was called home to glory.   She wasn't from here but planned to vote.  Not one person at that house matched any of  the names of anyone my list said were supposed to be there, and the delightful woman had no idea who those people were or where they had gone. 

This was not uncommon.  One "apartment building" I visited was a brown plywood door identified by a very small, slightly darker brown, hand-painted number.  The door was set into the wall between a bar and the flyspecked window of some business that had failed a long time ago.  The guy who answered the door asked if I was "parole officer".  I told him I was not.  He wasn't on my list either, and the people who were, were no longer in residence.  He told me they were "bouncing all over town somewhere".  It was a halfway house for newly paroled ex-offenders and no one stayed there very long.  He asked if he could still vote and I said, probably, depending on what he had done time for, and was able to point him in the right direction.  While we chatted a police car had stopped at the corner, waiting for the light.  He laughed and asked "Who do you suppose they gonna vote for?"

A week later in a different but equally run-down neighborhood, a standing-on-the-corner guy invited me to "get the fuck outta" his neighborhood.  I gave him my pitch about the issues and why it was important that people get out and vote this year.  He spat expressively on the ground and swore some more.  I wished him a good day and walked away.  "Yeah, you better walk away".  Poor guy.  His domain is not called "The Stands" or "The Ryverlands" or "The Groundskeeper Is Probably Fucking My Wife".  He has that little corner, and his only power in the world is telling a stranger like me to get the fuck away from it. 

Being a Democrat, I know what it's like to be on the losing side of an election that you know, in a sane world, you would have won.  Tastes like a shit taco and it's an important part of growing up.  So regardless of the ultimate outcome. I consider every bit of the time I spent knocking on doors and talking to strangers this year to have been time very well spent.  Betsy carried my county -- Sangamon County -- as well as Champaign (by a huge margin) and McLean counties, but lost everywhere else.  Despite running a fine race against a dopey liars, she lost rural white Trump Country/Fox News/Hate Radio meatheads by just enough to lose the race.

Feels like what Beto supporters must feel like today, on a smaller scale.

So while working our asses off for months and then losing to an asshole sucks, what really breaks my heart is this.

People who own estates like "The Stands" or "The Ryverlands" or "The Groundskeeper Is Probably Fucking My Wife" don't really need government in their corner, working to make their lives better.  It's nice if that happens, but come what may, those people are going to be fine.

But people like Annie?  And the delightful lady on the porch?  And the parolee?  And the Guardian of the Corner who invited me to get the fuck outta his area?  And all the people who once lived in the abandoned houses, and all the ones who bed down there now?  All those in tidy homes in the working-class neighborhoods?  All of them -- and all of us -- actually need a government that is operated by compassionate professionals and serves us wisely and well.

But, by a margin of 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, the rural white Trump Country/Fox News/Hate Radio meatheads of Illinois' 13th congressional district rejected that vision for American, preferring instead to have a government that their party can use as a weapon pointed at our heads and is wielded by a racist lunatic.

Fortunately, enough decent American in enough other congressional districts across the country came out Tuesday so that our failure here was not fatal, just deeply disappointing.  But make no mistake: two years into the catastrophic reign of President Stupid, this is still a country where tens of millions of reprogrammable Republican meatbags would rather watch the country burn than let a Democrat save it.

Behold, a Tip Jar!


Jim Butts said...

I read your stuff every day. Have been for several years. This one truly shows just how great a writer you are. Thank you.

bowtiejack said...

Some of your best. Thanks.

bill said...

Polytics ain't beanbag son. I trust you to leaven the loaf that's been served up to Junior Dude and the fledgling swarm of bright-eyed youth who stepped up for progressive candidates amid these regressive times. So close, so deflating, so wearisome for ones so young. May they know better days. For more grisled veterans like us, the wounds are dressed by knowledge that the road is long and ever rising. Kvetching is healing. is affirming. is necessary. The goal remains. Same as it ever was.

Mr.Shemp said...

Beautifully written, Driftglass. Gilly would be proud.

Dr.BDH said...

Heartfelt and affecting, as always (when not obscenely sarcastic). But I beg to differ. Those faux estate owners - and those rural white nationalists - do believe government should work for them, and they vote appropriately for the liars and brigands and fascists who make damn sure that man on the corner either stays right there or heads up to Marion for 20-to-life. When Reagan said government is the problem, he clearly meant it's the problem when it's not keeping' the n*ggas down. said...

I agree. I will refresh your tip jar.

Sam said...

Thanks, Driftglass. This is for the top shelf and will age beautifully. Goes down smooth with a chaser of ambiguous national political news.

Retired Patriot said...

Living in NY-27 and working my a$$ off for a really great candidate (thank Jeebus the "professional" party hacks stayed away until too late), I 100% feel for you. They're still counting but it does not look good. And yes, the re-programmable meat bags (farmers all, and unhappy with the trade war!) still turned out in enough numbers to likely send back to DC a Federally-indicted white collar criminal who sold his own family down the river (they pled out in the insider trading conspiracy). A shit-taco indeed.

But your paean to Betsy, her campaign and the people she would truly serve (even the beat down white man on his lonely corner) was one of your best. And it gives me the hope to go forward to 2019 (in NY!) and 2020 and see that better days can come to our damaged, and cold-civil-war-torn republic. It reminds me of Steve G's famous tag line - We Fight Back. And it inspires me to do even more in the day, weeks and months to come.

Thanks for being there and keeping on the fight!

Marc McKenzie said...

"But make no mistake: two years into the catastrophic reign of President Stupid, this is still a country where tens of millions of reprogrammable Republican meatbags would rather watch the country burn than let a Democrat save it."

Sad, but very fucking true DG. The good news is that hopefully 2018 is the start of the long road ahead, where more of us will get involved, more of us realize that yes, voting does matter and that there really are more of us than there are of them and the only way the reprogrammable Republican meatbags keep getting there way is when we don't show up because we've listened to too many idiot purists whine that there's no difference betwen the two parties so why bother vote?

The reprogrammable meatbags vote--all the time, every time. Glad to see that we are starting to do the same.

Again, sorry to see that Betsy lost. At least in my neck of the woods in NJ the Democrat won--Malinowski defeated Lance, the long-time GOP rep out here--and Menendez won the Senate seat again. Of course, the moans and groans have started about how "we should be ashamed!!" for voting for Menendez because of his corruption trial which ended in a hung jury, but as far as I'm concerned:

--Menendez is going to protect my healthcare.

--Menendez will hold Trump accountable.

--Menendez isn't a racist fuckwad and votes to protect the environment and is much, much less corrupt than anyone in the GOP right now. Bob Hugin would have been a Trump boot-licker and would have gone after the ACA.

Sometimes, you have to hold your nose and vote for the only sane choice. It's just too bad that way too many on the right (and sadly, some on the left) just cannot fucking do that anymore.

Rant off.

cvmbner said...

I was waiting for you to write about this, DG, and you outdid yourself. Hell— all I did was *donate* to Betsy’s campaign; I don’t even live in her district; and this loss still hit me hard because I knew the backstory through your podcast.

I sent Betsy a message after the election, thanking her for putting 60,000 miles on her car and upending her life fighting for justice and access to resources. I am also making this a message to you and BG, thanking you for all the sleep you lost, the pavement you pounded, and the folks with whom you engaged.