Knock! Knock! Knock!
I stood there on the porch staring at my own knuckles in disbelief.
My 9-year-old daughter was looking up at me with a look like “What did you just do?”
But there was no time to say anything.
The door was opening.
An older gentleman stood in the entryway looking like he had just been stirred from sleep.
“Hello! Is this…” I began and Pam, who was standing next to me filled in the name.
“Yes,” he grumbled.
I introduced the three of us and told the man that we were canvassing his neighborhood for two local candidates running for state legislature.
And then I stopped because I wasn’t sure what to say next.
Luckily Pam jumped in and told him what our candidates stood for – education, healthcare and working families.
“Are these Democrats?” he groused. “I’m done with them. After what they did to that judge, I’m done.”
“You mean Kavanaugh?” I said.
My mouth opened to say something but what do you say?
Brett Kavanaugh was accused by multiple women of sexual assault but was saved from a thorough FBI investigation by his buddy, Donald Trump. He cried, whined and spouted partisan conspiracy theories yet still was confirmed to a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Really, what was this guy’s problem? Did he think we shouldn’t investigate Supreme Court Justices when credible accusers hurl accusation of abuse? Did he think Kavanaugh’s chief accuser – Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – made the whole thing up so that she could have her reputation forever tied to an attempted rape and her family displaced from their home and forced into hiding because of constant death threats? Did he think we should give privileged white guys lifetime judicial appointments based on what? Political affiliation? Skin tone?
Pam tried to bring up a few other topics – about how Republicans in our state of Pennsylvania are actively working to cut this man’s healthcare, calling this man’s generation “the greediest generation” and other topics.
But it did no good. Fox News had gotten there first.
So we handed him our campaign literature, thanked him and went on our way.
Sometimes that’s the best you can do.
And it’s not nothing.
If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you’re a lot like me.
A reality TV show clown is President of the United States of America. And all over this country, the conservative clown car is spitting out candidates for major office.
Even here in the keystone state, we have Scott Wagner running for Governor on the leftover promises of our previous GOP Governor – slashing education funding, firing teachers and lower taxes for the wealthy.
Meanwhile, the world is falling apart. The U.N. just released a major report finding that we have about a dozen years to make significant changes to our energy consumption or else global climate change will be irreversible. Yet our leaders complain there’s nothing they can do!
It’s enough to make one lose hope in the future.
As a father and a public school teacher, I can’t afford that despair.
There needs to be at least the slimmest glimmer of the possibility of a new day.
And I’m here to tell you, friends, it’s out there.
It starts with you.
If you want real progressive change, you have to go out there and make it – one day at a time.
But it will take more than one day.
It will take all of us, doing incremental good, every day we can.
So my suggestion is to make a commitment to voting this Nov. 6.
I know our electoral system is a mess. I know many people are being purged from the rolls and our districts are gerrymandered and the entire system is set up against us.
But if all of us try to vote, we can still win.
Find a candidate you can support and go out there and campaign for him or her.
I know there are a lot of phonies running for office. There are an awful lot of fake progressives who will talk nicely to your face and then sell you out to corporations and the wealthy at their first opportunity.
Just know that they’re not all like that.
Find yourself someone you can trust – probably someone new to the game coming on the scene to change things.
In the Pittsburgh area I found Lindsey Williams.
She’s an amazing lady with real conviction running for State Senate in the 38th District – that’s most of Northern Allegheny County from Franklin Park eastward, as well as Highland Park and sections of East Liberty in Pittsburgh.
Her number one priority is the same as mine – education.
That should come as no surprise from a candidate who’s also the communications director for the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.
But Williams actually lives her values.
Before coming to Pittsburgh, she was fired for union organizing at the National Whistleblowers Center. Ironically, she was working there to tell the story of people who were retaliated against for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse, and found herself a target for attempting to organize a staff union. She eventually won the resulting case with the National Labor Relations Board.
When her campaign literature says she “won’t back down” fighting for working families. That’s what it means.
And her priorities – education, healthcare and labor – aren’t pie in the sky promises. She has a fiscally responsible plan to support them by creating a severance tax on natural-gas drilling and closing a loophole that allows businesses headquartered in other states to avoid state taxes. She wants to keep taxes low for homeowners while making sure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share.
Perhaps that’s why a conservative dark money organization aligned with her Republican challenger, Jeremy Shaffer, has created knockoff campaign signs that look just like Williams with the word “Socialist” emblazoned on them.
It’s a desperation tactic.
Shaffer is down in the polls. The district – once a Republican stronghold – went to Hillary Clinton in the last election.
Even Shaffer, a Ross Township supervisor, is a throwback – he’s a far right extremist who primaried incumbent state Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler) in May.
And his platform is nothing but tax cuts for the rich and school privatization for the rest of us. In effect, he’s a mini-Trump come to bring the circus to town.
So not only is Williams a candidate I can believe in, her race really matters to the overall state picture. If the Democrats only pick up her seat in November and don’t lose any others, we’ll crush the GOP’s veto-proof majority!
But I didn’t come out this weekend just for Williams.
I also was there to canvass for Betsy Monroe, a Fox Chapel medical professional at Highmark running for State House in the same North Hills area.
She noticed that state Rep. Hal English (R-Hampton) had run unopposed in the last two elections, so she decided to run against him, herself.
Monroe was particularly angered by English’s vote to criminalize abortions after 20 weeks for all women in the Commonwealth. (The bill was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf back before the GOP had a veto proof majority.) She thought it was unfair for lawmakers to decide what adult women can do with their own bodies.
However, there was one other woman I was there to support – my own daughter.
For someone in elementary school, she is incredibly interested in politics. I caught her on Saturday literally writing political stump speeches for her stuffed animals. Let me tell you, Eeyore the donkey from the Hundred Acre Wood has some mighty progressive views on women’s rights!
I wanted my little one to see real women in politics, fighting to make a difference.
The news is always so grim. I wanted her to see that there are people out there fighting for the good.
And you know what? It helped me, too.
At this point I need to pause and give a huge “Thank You” to two people – Pamela Harbin and Jodi Hirsch.
Jodi is an amazing organizer who put together the event in the first place.
I wanted to get more involved in the election and Jodi knew exactly how I could do that and which candidates I’d be most interested in.
Pam is a local activist I’ve known for years. I fought with her side-by-side against the statewide education budget cuts, charter schools, standardized testing and a host of Corporations Gone Wild shenanigans.
I was new to this whole canvassing thing, so she agreed to go with my daughter and me to show us the ropes.
I couldn’t have done it without her.
Thankfully, not every door we knocked on went like the grumpy gentlemen described above.
Frankly, most people weren’t home or didn’t answer the door.
Some people – especially young folks – proudly responded that they don’t vote or have no idea what’s going on.
Others were energized by what was happening and were looking forward to going to the polls and being heard.
“You know I’ll be there!” said one gentleman. “I’m straight Dem. Right on down the line. I’ve had enough of this Trump crap.”
But more people than I’d expected took pride in their nonpartisanship.
They wouldn’t commit to anything – just took our literature, heard us out and said they’d decide at the polls.
I always wondered what an undecided voter looked like. I saw a lot of them this weekend.
But that’s why we were there – to help nudge the uncommitted.
Hopefully on Nov. 6 they’ll think of Pam, my daughter and me.
Maybe even the Fox News fan who thought Kavanaugh got a raw deal will have his resolved softened.
Maybe he’ll think of my daughter’s chubby cheeks and innocent eyes as he considers voting for people who’d gladly steal her future for the prospect of more tax cuts for the rich.
Then again, maybe not. But who knows?
If you live in Pennsylvania and want to get involved, click HERE.
Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!