(Bravo Kelli, for a job well done!)
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards and feminist activist Gloria Steinem were scheduled to make celebrity appearances. I assumed they would take the podium, offer speeches, and cap it off with the standard photo-op meet-n-greet to rally the volunteers, but it did not quite work out that way.
Kelli greeted me with a warm welcome when I arrived, and handed me a packet of information about the evening's events.
"Instead of working the phones, I want you to go door to door as the leader of my VIP group. Do you have a car?"
"Sure thing, It seats six. Where's my group?"
"I want you to take Cecile Richards and Gloria Steinem."
At that moment, my heart went into a state of tachycardia, but I did my best to nod in an offhand, businesslike fashion, while thumbing through the paperwork.
"Um-Hm. I see. Could you excuse me for just a moment? I'll be right back."
I made a dash for the bathroom, hyperventilating into one of those little white bags used for sanitary napkin disposal. Then I went out to my car and panicked. You see, we just celebrated my daughter's twelfth birthday, and the car was still covered in grime and mess from five muddy munchkins on a sugar high.
I had three minutes, one used towellete, and an image of Gloria Steinem picking gummy bears off her shoes. I felt like Martha Stewart on a bad batch of crystal meth. But fear not my darlings, for I am Super Mom, and I managed to clean that car in less than a New York minute! (well, the front two rows anyway.) I pushed all the kid crap under the seats and on to the floor of the third row seat. While far from perfect, it would just have to do.
When I went back in, we decided to split Gloria and Cecile into two separate groups for maximum voter impact. I was all for it, as this meant Cecile would sit in the front, and my dirty little secret would be safe.
Cecile and three of her aids from Washington walked with me to the car. Cecile was so fun. Her excitement and enthusiasm for democracy are contagious. I opened the back door of my Pacifica, to demonstrate how to fold the seat for a third row passenger, guiding one of the girls to the back, but Cecile trumped me. She came from the other side and dove over the second row, into the third, spreading her six foot tall frame across the back of the car like an Olympic gymnast doing a full layout.
She was just like my kids! They never bother to fold the seat forward. They just dive in. I did not know if I should apologize for the ooey-gooies, or just offer her a pack of leftover gummy bears.
In retrospect, it must not have been all that bad. She did not seem to mind at all. Besides, she's a mom too. Maybe her car is about the same. (Either that or she is just one heck of a nice person.)
Anyway, we spent the evening going door to door, enthusiastically reminding people to vote.
I have never felt a more powerful connection to the political process than I did that night. This is what American Democracy is all about. If you have ever lost faith in our government, if you have ever felt depressed by the negative attack ads, or corruption reported on the news, folks, I can tell you; this is how you get your faith back. This is how you renew your sense of hope. You find good, like-minded people, then join up, and pitch in.
During our canvassing effort, we met a voter with a cute little dog. He said the pup was a Katrina survivor, rescued three weeks after the hurricane. I watched quietly as Cecile petted the dog and chatted with his owner. This man was a staunch lifelong, card carrying republican. Cecile did not grandstand or debate issues with him. She did not even reveal to him who she was. She was kind and respectful, and just petted the pup and listened to the story of the dog's horrific ordeal. She evoked this man's emotions, and got him thinking about the issues on a personal level. She handed him a flyer saying "Remember to vote!" but he just shook his head and said "I can't. I just can't. Not this time." It was clear; he could not bring himself to vote against his party, even though he too felt the need for change. The best he could do was abstain. Cecile offered a sympathetic smile as we prepared to move on.
I so admired her at that moment. It is clear, this woman understands, democracy is built on the foundation of listening to the people. It's not about screaming, or shouting at the opposition, it's about grass roots efforts, connecting to people, and working to make the world a better place.
When we got back, Kelli had box dinners waiting for us in the office. I sat down on a rickety fold out chair at a six foot table, littered with campaign material, and ate, with none other than feminist extrodinare, Gloria Steinem!
It's funny, when you imagine having a chance to share ideas with someone so famous and influential, the idea of eating sub sandwiches on paper napkins never enters the dream.
We had a wonderful conversation about politics, feminism, matriarchal cultures, and ancient history. (My favorite subjects, as those of you who read this blog already know.)
I liked Gloria. Her energy was so soft, like the calm of Walden Pond; still and deep, and infinitely contemplative. As a person who used to work security at rock concerts, I am accustomed to the drill when celebrities are afoot. But it was not like that at all with Ms. Steinem. She wanted to talk to everyone. Not just the superficial handshake and smile stuff. She wanted to know what we were thinking, and where we stood on the issues.
When I complimented her on her down to earth persona, she replied "You know, you can't write effectively in isolation. As writers, we need all five of our senses. We need to get out in the world and explore. The writing is meaningless if it is not connected to a sense of community."
I hope she really meant that. I think she did, and I was honored she spoke to me as a fellow writer. I gave her an envelope with a note of thanks and a CD with some of my feminist essays. I hope she reads them. I hope she likes them, and I hope my little contribution will aid these two amazing women in their efforts to make our world a better place.
Gloria told me "It's all about hope."
And hope is exactly what I feel tonight.