Saturday, April 23, 2016

Canvassing for Happiness

So it turns out that the world is a lot like it looks to my panic attacks. Everyone is jangled as the reality of Trump voters settles in. A small faction of Sanders supporters have decided it’s okay to throw dollar bills at the former Secretary of State and call her a whore. Campaign emails designed to fire us up to fight for good can bring out the worst in everyone, including me. Even my incredibly well-curated facebook feed can trick me into thinking I’m on a battleground. My heart has started doing this new beating-really-fast thing to signal when I’ve had enough.

But the part that seemed like it would be the hardest, the actual calling of strangers and knocking on doors, turns out to be the part that makes my heart feel most at ease. As soon as I get a phone list or a canvassing map in my hand, I feel like a new person, confident and purposeful. I’m still shy, and I still have to keep back tears on some topics, but I feel a sense of safety, a flow like I’m on the right track.

Before President Obama’s first campaign, it never would have occurred to me that I could do more for the process than vote. I don’t know how he convinced me that I was entitled to participate in his campaign, but he did, and I’ll never stop being grateful. Phone banking that fall was an easy job. Almost every call was a lovefest, and those phonebanks are some of my warmest memories, despite the raging toothache I had the whole time.

This time around, I thought the calling might be tougher. Before I managed to reweight its algorithm, my facebook feed could sometimes convince me that I and a handful of my pals were alone in a sea of Sanders-love. But the thing about real life is, it’s a safer place. Many people were happy and relieved to hear from us and almost all of those who were opposed were still kind and respectful.

Last weekend was my first time knocking on doors for a candidate, and it was the most perfect paradigm of a spring evening, complete with exuberant tulips and smell-of-happiness lilacs. A woman stopped us in the street and said “Oh! God bless you!” and signed up to volunteer on the spot. A couple of ladies wearing rainbow H buttons gave us an enthusiastic “Go Hillary!” (This happens to me daily even when I’m not canvassing, and it rules.) Neighbors of all categories said “yes” or “no” or “uncommitted” and I couldn’t help but geek out to myself (and also geek out to Amy) that! Democracy is amazing! And! These are our neighbors! And we’re not helpless! We can do something! I get extremely corny around election time and I’m totally not sorry.

The next day, when I went back to photograph all the flowers I’d longed after while canvassing, I felt even more at home here than I usually do. No matter the election’s outcome, having heard so many voices and looked into so many faces will make me a healthier and happier human being.

Since I left my church last year, I’ve had (with a few wonderful exceptions) trouble sustaining close friendships. The heart-space that had formerly been occupied with close chats and post-church brunches has often been filled by the little daily moments with strangers that give me a sense of hope and belonging. This election has made me rich with those moments. This year and beyond, I hope I have the strength to stop scrolling myself into Internet Brain Poisoning and keep finding joy in real life.

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