What Happens When You Approach People in a Costco Parking Lot
I needed signatures on a petition. I got a whole lot more.
People are peculiar beasts. This is especially true if you catch them off guard while loading an enormous jar of olives into their trunk. I spent a good part of my Saturday doing just this.
I’m volunteering for several political campaigns. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I feel compelled to get off my couch and try to make something happen in the world. I’m silly that way.
I live in a battleground state. This sounds a lot like we should be wearing large coats made out of IKEA rugs and swinging axes while defending a wall. This isn’t that far from reality except it’s too hot for the coats and our wall is contentious. One side has really good tacos. The other side has less desireable tacos.
Saturday, I joined two other canvassers to collect signatures to get a candidate on a ballot. I had never done this before.
I wore the most unassuming things I could: jeans, a blue blouse, and matching Converse. This was a far better choice than a fellow canvasser that chose a black hoodie and looked a little like The Unabomber.
All I had to do was kindly approach people, ask if they were a registered Democrat or Independent in my county and see if I can get them to sign the petition to get the candidate on the ballot.
I had no idea what a learning experience this was going to be. It was a lesson in human behavior and experience.
People are totally exhausted by politics
I no longer question why voter turnout is so low. So many people I talked to are just tired. They have no idea what to do. They have run out of energy. Three people were not registered to vote at all and could not have cared less.
Some people didn’t want to hear about my candidate, even though they were Democrats. They just don’t want the incumbent so anyone else will do. These are the folks who anxiously await the second Wednesday in November. After talking to these folks, I understand this more than I ever did.
I totally profiled people
I have a hard time reconciling this one and it made me feel like an asshole. I approached everyone but, if there were two couples walking toward me, I chose the young over the old. The guy with the long hair over the guy with the baseball cap. The girl with the tattoos over the one with the jewelry. I made a very quick mental judgment of what a Democrat and Republican looked like or drove.
In some cases, I was surprised. If I had been placing bets, I would not have done well. I rationalized that this was based on a fear of rejection. It still seems like a crap excuse.
There is solidarity in the same party
People who were Democrats were so happy to see me. One older lady even asked how she could join me next time. One person high fived me. People thanked me for doing my part. It made me feel connected to strangers in a way I hadn’t imagined.
We had something in common. It was like randomly finding your people in a place you didn’t expect to. There was a weird, simple beauty to it.
People don’t know much about politics. At all.
The number of adults over the age of 30 who had no idea that a candidate needed to petition in order to get on a ballot and couldn't just throw their name in the hat blew my mind.
A number of people had no idea that there were primaries for anything other than the presidential race. People didn’t know which of our US Congresspeople were members of the House vs. Senate or what their terms are. One person told me she was supporting a candidate that had 4 more years left in her term. I’m at a loss as to what to do about this.
How people reacted to me had more of an effect than I imagined
Asking a Republican if they’re a Democrat, to some people, was like asking a Packers fan if they’re a Vikings fan. They didn’t like it.
There was one lady that I thought was going to hit me with her purse. She yelled at me that I had a lot of nerve talking to people. She even told the cart guys about me which created a weird Frogger-like game of dodging them between the aisles for a while.
The more rejection I felt, the less I wanted to do it. Likewise, one kind person energized me.
People were more comfortable telling me they were a felon than a non-citizen
I never realized how diverse my part of down is. I ran into a number of people from other countries. European, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Asian. I might profile an older person put assuming a foreigner wasn’t a citizen tastes really horrible.
When I asked people if they were registered to vote, the non-citizens took a long pause. I felt like they were trying to assess if they could trust me. The felons had no problem saying they were not able to vote. One guy was sweet and let me know that if he could vote, he’d be with me and my candidate.
Regardless, I was most surprised that people felt the need to say anything beyond, “No.”
I got what I came out for yesterday: signatures and a chance to feel like I was part of something bigger than me. In some cases, there was a quick moment of hope. “You think he’ll win?” one man asked me. “Yes, sir, I do. That’s why I’m here,” I told him. I felt good when this happened. If my candidate gets on the ballot and gets into Congress, I know I helped do that.
I would also like to go on the record as saying that Costco pizza is the single greatest smell in the world when you’re walking for a few hours in the middle of the day. If you have some and get asked to sign a petition, we sure could use a slice.