Blank Canvas

With my freelance career and the federal election now underway here in Canada, my husband suggested I volunteer my writing services to one of the party leader’s campaigns. Not only is his campaign headquarters around the corner from our house, but I also support his politics (or at the very least, I don’t disagree with them as much as the others). My patient and generous husband is so incredibly supportive of my writing pursuits that I feel guilty turning down one of his suggestions. I feel compelled right now to pursue every opportunity until one sticks.

I volunteered with a campaign once before when I was a politically minded, idealistic teenager. I spent weeks running around the neighbourhood with a local candidate, knocking on doors, delivering pamphlets and a rehearsed blurb about why this office runner was going to be the best Member of Parliament ever! Back then, I fancied myself a young Hillary Clinton as a 1964 Goldwater Girl-except my politics were liberal and I had no catchy, alliterative title. All my candidate had was an oversized mustache that made him look like a character out of the Guess Who? game.

Political canvassing was utterly exhausting even when I was younger, thinner and had much more pep, so my assent to volunteer this time was qualified by an adamant refusal to canvas. I was not nearly enthusiastic enough or fit enough to run from house to house.  Now armed with a business degree and law degree, I was happy to contribute my mental skills alone. I was literally and figuratively putting my foot down.

Heading over to the campaign office to ask about their communication needs, I vowed to myself that I would not, under any circumstances, canvas for this candidate. I would write for him, or do nothing at all. I didn’t want to be too involved. Within five minutes of shaking the campaign manager’s hand, I had a lawn sign under one arm, canvasing instructions and pamphlets under the other and was smiling for my picture on the volunteer wall. “You need someone to canvass riding 96? Tonight? It would be my pleasure! No, no, thank you!” I hated myself.

All was not lost though-I was to run around the neighbourhood and then blog about it on their website, assuming I still could after my few hits of Ventolin. Unlike Bill, I do inhale.

Riding 96 was a set of low rises in a very low-income neighbourhood, circling a faded courtyard with a run-down swing set. After an unintentional detour, me, my clipboard, and another involved voter, made our way to the first address on a very long list. We were already freezing. After five minutes on the doorstep, a frazzled woman answered the door with a frying pan and five kids, all of whom looked under the age of four, hanging off her. A cat ran between her legs and out the door.

“What difference does it make who I vote for?” she asked, “It’s all bull-shit anyway. They’re all full of shit. Every single one of them. I voted two years ago and what’s changed for me? Nothing!”

Her youngest started to cry and I wanted to join him. Thankfully my partner took over. “Soooo, can we count on your support on election day?”

I felt more disillusioned and even more confused. Most of all, I felt terrible for interrupting this over-worked woman during dinner. Continuing door-to-door though, I had forgotten what a privilege it is to get to shake hands with so many different people and hear all their differing views and opinions. Some were supportive, some were angry, and some couldn’t figure out who we were. Some had kids, some had cats, some had both and some had neither. All of them got a pamphlet. The whole time I found myself wondering that same, over asked question: do politics really matter, or is it all bull-shit?

Four hours later I delivered my completed sheets and leftover materials to the excited campaign manager. “What kind of sense did you get from people?” he asked, as I blew on my hypothermic fingers. “People were really enthusiastic,” I said, “totally into the candidate.” I just felt so bad to tell him otherwise. He was working really hard. I didn’t want to upset him.

Walking home, I didn’t think I could canvass again. I didn’t know how I could help or make a difference. I didn’t know if I should be writing or doing something more concrete and corny, like fixing the swing set in that complex and planting flowers in that overgrown yard. One thing, however, I did know for certain. In the face of my convictions, I am definitely full of shit. I did keep my word though. I did blog about my experience.

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