I may have told this story before, but after Trump got elected in 2016, Virginia had, as it always does, an election the next year. And people, especially women, were fired up. Maybe they’d never volunteered for a campaign before, but they were willing to volunteer now. I mean, a LOT of people were volunteering.
The Democratic Party in my county ran a couple of “hubs” in the weeks before the election. Generally, they were in someone’s large home and we were coordinating people who’d volunteered to do phone banking and people who’d volunteered to go door-to-door canvassing. I was sitting at the front table, checking people in, sending them to the right room, and then calling people who’d volunteered but hadn’t shown up.
One afternoon, a young woman came in. She was shaking, nearly in tears. She said she’d signed up to phone bank, and, yep, there she was on my list. But, she said, she’d been sitting in her car trying to talk herself into it and she just couldn’t. She couldn’t call strangers. She wanted to. She’d thought that maybe calling would be easier than canvassing. She believed the outcome of this election was crucial. But she couldn’t make herself do it. But, she told me, she’d decided that if she didn’t have the courage to phone bank, she was at least going to make herself come in and tell us that she couldn’t do it. By now, I think both of us were a bit teary-eyed.
My first reaction was to comfort her and I did begin saying that it was OK, we had others phone banking and I’d found that task scary myself the first few times I’d done it. (I’ve done it thousands of times since then, but I always have to talk myself into the first few calls. But you know, what are they going to do? Hang up on me? Start to argue or berate me before I hang up on them? Nah, I’ve dealt with lots worse than that from obnoxious judges, salesclerks, oncology docs.)
But suddenly, inspiration hit and I said to her, “Look, if you don’t want to, it’s OK, but in the kitchen, we have three women who are doing data entry. When canvassers come back with their address sheets, they’re updating the information to show who’s moved, etc. Which helps us out for the next election. You hardly have to interact with anyone at all. They’re really nice and pretty quiet. Can I just take you back and introduce you? If you want to leave, you can, no worries.”
She visibly relaxed. She took a breath. I saw her struggle for a minute, thinking about how much calmer she’s feel back in her car, but, then again, how much she wanted to turn her country around. “OK, I can do that,” she said. I took her back, introduced her to Dee, our “mother hen,” and said she’d like to help with data entry. They got her seated and started. About an hour later, I went back to get more coffee and she was typing away.
A few hours later, as we were winding up, she came out, smiling. She waved, I said, “thanks,” and she was on her way.
I don’t know if she ever volunteered for any campaign work again. But I know that, that afternoon, she screwed her courage to the sticking point and made a difference. I’d like to think it made it easier for her the next time.
And it taught me a lesson about meeting people where they are. I could have tried telling her how phone baking gets easier, how much we needed to reach voters for this election. But she’d already “used up her spoons” just coming in to let us know she wouldn’t be doing the shift she’d signed up for. She could have just turned her car around and been a no-show. She wouldn’t have been the only one. To this day, I remember the strength and courage she showed coming in to admit she couldn’t do what she’d wanted to do.
And today, I want to encourage you to do at least one thing that feels scary to you. Democracy is worth saving. Our environment is worth saving. Women’s rights are worth saving. Black lives are worth saving. Public education is worth saving. LGBTQ rights are worth saving. Libraries and books are worth saving. Pick your cause. Do one thing to save the world. It’s never been anything BUT us scared people walking each other home.
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