“I think I’m going to throw up.”
That was the text I got from my dear friend Chris last Friday night. She is not one to normally share her digestive issues, so I sent her back a perplexed emoji.
“RBG is dead” was her response. Oh. My. God. The words most of us have prayed we would never hear – well, at least not until Joe Biden was safely sworn into office.
We were so foolish. How did we expect an 87-year-old/pound woman who had cancer 17 times to survive long enough to save us from ourselves? So, I did what a lot of people did last Friday night. I wept. The flat-out ugly cry. And then I cursed God and humanity and rent my garments in an Episcopalian sort of way. And then I felt fear. That kind of fear you feel deep in your gut – cold as steel.
I saw a montage of every civil rights march, vigil and meeting I’ve ever been to race before my eyes. Only the montage was running backwards – like Benjamin Button’s aging – all those things so many of us have fought so long and hard for – women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, healthcare, all disappearing. I turned on MSNBC – I know I’m a liberal cliché and I can live with that. It was the first time I was praying for FAKE NEWS, but it was real. And then, before RBG’s ferocious tiny body was cold, Mitch McConnell announced he would work to fill her seat as soon as possible. And that’s when I got angry. White hot rage. And that’s pretty much where I have remained and that’s okay – that’s a great place to be 39 days before this election. Rage gets shit done.
I’ve been working for Progressive Project Turnout for the past two months and we just moved into Phase 2 of our operations – ballot chasing. Think of it as storm chasing for political nerds. I don’t have a cool truck or Helen Hunt by my side, but I do have my trusty data that tells me who requested a mail-in ballot but has not yet returned it. Sexy, right? Damn straight.
The truth is that talking to voters is the thing that has saved me since RBG died. I was dreading getting on the phone that first Ruthless Saturday afternoon. I was teary and anxious and wondered if I could maintain my neutrality with a Trumper. My first call was to a woman in rural Pennsylvania. “What do you want?” she barked at me and I could feel tears brewing. I gave my spiel, took a deep breath, and popped the question, “Are you supporting Joe Biden on November 3rd?” She said – and I swear on RBG’s gavel that I am not making this up – “Hell, yes. He’s next to the Lord in my book. I love Joe Biden.” I checked to make sure that I had not called Jill Biden and I thanked the phone bank Gods and felt a smile on my face for the first time since Ruth died. But wait, that’s not all – she went on. “I confess that I kinda liked Trump when he was on that stupid reality show, but when he talked about grabbing women by the hoo-hoo, I knew I could never vote for him. You know, I loved Obama. I wish he could have served forever like the Queen of England.” It was an embarrassment of Democratic riches and it was just what my weary soul needed to hear.
My next call was to a deplorable who told me to go to hell. And that was perfect, too – it got my blood pumping – my deep blue blood. Call after call, one clear theme emerged – voters are mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore. And here’s the other thing – a TON of people have already voted. I love those calls! These voters are so cute – like the student that hands in their homework early for extra credit. They are proud to tell me that they have voted, and I give them a shiny virtual participation trophy and my endearing thanks.
These call shifts have gotten more difficult though – probably a combination of my grief from RBG’s death and the anxiety of the election drawing closer. Some days I feel like a sponge – soaking up the angst and fear and hopes and dreams of the voters I am speaking with. I am exhausted when my day is done, but the good news is that these folks are giving me hope with their testimonials to democracy. And their stories. Good God, the stories.
I spoke to a woman in her late 50s who was in the hospital recovering from her 24th surgery related to a horrible car accident that killed her husband many years ago. I apologized for bothering her, but she was all in for talking to me. She has raised five children on her own and told me that because of her pre-existing conditions, if Trump erases the Affordable Care Act, “I might as well shoot myself in the head.” I hope she was kidding. She has already mailed in her ballot.
I wondered how many folks would talk about the Supreme Court vacancy. A 21-year-old college student -a woman – told me the most important issue to her in this election was healthcare – until RBG died – now it was the Supreme Court and protecting the rights of women. As she said, rather eloquently, “Shit just got real.” That’s pretty much what a young trans woman in Philadelphia told me, too. She’s worried about losing her legal marriage status to her partner. That one hit close to home. Damn.
And the conversations around racial justice continue to gut me. I talked to a black man in his early 60s. When I asked him what issue was most important to him in this election, he said somberly, “Some justice. Not equal justice – I know that will never happen. Just some justice.” This was the same day that dry wall got more justice than Breonna Taylor. And there was the older woman in Rockingham, NC who told me she’s never missed a vote in any election. She explained, “Honey, you know folks don’t consider what black women think about anything too much. Other than raising my kids, the most important thing I’ve ever done is vote.” Conversations like this are not soon forgotten.
Everyone has a story. I spoke with an 86-year-old woman who graduated from nursing school in 1956. She’s still working – because she wants to – as a home health supervisor. She talked to me about income inequality and the CNAs that work for her company for $10.25 an hour – while working their other two jobs. She has two grandchildren in college who both contracted COVID-19 and were very sick. “I’m a nurse. This is not a hoax,” she said. She’s voting for Joe Biden – the 13th president she will have voted for. Her mother lived to be 106, so let’s hope she gets to vote to re-elect Kamala Harris in 2032.
Democracy is a word I hear a lot on my calls. Many of the people I speak with talk about our democracy being vandalized by Trump and they are not having it. They are sick and tired of a president who spews division and hate and continues to undermine our institutions. They speak with pride of how great our country is – this is especially moving to hear from folks who were not born here. Like the Latinix woman who told me that she had lived in several other countries. “We have a lot of rights here, but if we don’t fight to keep them, we will lose them. I’m going to be the first one in line when early voting starts.” I bet she will be, too.
And some days it is the simple kindness of strangers that makes me believe that good will prevail over evil on November 3rd. I had a long conversation last night with a 73-year-old man in Durham. He is retired after 55 years of masonry. He told me he has 10 kids – two served in the Marines – and all of them went to college. He preached me a little sermon. “I’m a black man. I’ve seen tyranny. We got too much hate and division in this country. What we got is precious and why do we want to hate and mess it up every day? I believe in love. That man in office is just too much – too much hate. We got to get him out.” Amen, brother. Amen.
And then I thanked him for taking the time to talk to me and share so much and he said in such a genuine way that it might as well have been my own father speaking to me, “I love you so much. And you’re doing a great job.” And in that moment, I thought that ballot chaser was the most noble profession in the world.
39 days, my friends. We can do this. We must. Democracy is counting on us. And so is Ruth.
Early voting in NC begins on October 15th. Click here to find early voting polling sites where you live.