When I got the umpteenth phone call from Pasadena’s Democratic Headquarters to volunteer to canvas neighborhoods, feeling morose and guilty at our lack of positive action in this election, I signed up both of us to spend Saturday covering a neighborhood with the party’s door hangers. We went down to headquarters on Lake Street, which was filled with the party faithful, as well as Democratic candidates (Anthony Portantino) and boosters (State Comptroller Betty Yee). I’d say the average age among the volunteers was upwards of 50, although there were a few younger folk there as well. (My photo above shows headquarters before the masses arrived–there really were lots of people there.) This time the Democrats were tremendously well-organized, with young computer whizzes dividing up the city into neighborhoods and giving us packets with all the registered Democrats listed in each neighborhood and arranged into lists of even and odd numbers on each street. When we last did this–for John Kerry in 2004–it was a bit of a free-for-all on how and who to target, so this was at least at first glance a better solution. After a rousing pep talk at the headquarters, we took out packets and set out for our tramp through parts of town that we really didn’t know too well.
The neighborhood we were given to canvas was in the upper reaches of Altadena. It was a gorgeous sunny day–“unseasonably warm” as they always say about the weather in Southern California at this time of year–and the view to the San Gabriel Mountains was crystalline from most of the streets we walked. This neighborhood is a modest one in an exquisite location–largely black and Latino, with a tiny bit of gentrification going on, and a quintessentially Southern California mix of housing styles and sizes. It also does not lend itself well to easy walking down perfectly gridded streets, but is instead full of twists and turns, small cul de sacs, and streets that are broken up by big blocks, then continued on the other side of said block. Our tidy street lists were a bit misleading, as the place required a bit of hiking to cover. Not being that familiar with these streets, we approached our activity almost anthropologically. Here are some of our observations:
–On a beautiful Saturday morning, we saw very few people outside, and NO CHILDREN at all, even by the houses that have signs of kids living there. Where are they? In the house? At other events? The streets were eerily deserted.
–the few people we did meet were all very cordial, as if they expected to see us there, and not at all averse to taking our fliers. No one balked at two older white folk walking down their street. One young black man was walking his BIG pit bull, and was perfectly comfortable to answer my questions about his dogs. Downside: the only thing breaking the idyllic quiet of the streets was the incessant barking of BIG dogs and tons of little yapping ones.
–we LOVE the diversity of these neighborhoods: next to The Garvey House, a center for Black Liberation groups with residents that have names like Tarbitha Shabazz, was a “Green” house with a Free Farm stand, where they leave vegetables and fruit from their own garden for the taking. George also found at least three Free Little Libraries.
–most houses where we were supposed to drop fliers already had piles of political fliers on their porches or in their mailboxes. I really can’t help but wonder if this kind of activity really makes any difference at all in this year’s campaign. Can it really make a difference in getting the vote out? Our feeling is that a lot of these actions are just ways to make the volunteers feel like we’re doing SOMETHING to inform and help the campaigns we care about. About the only thing that might really be of use is that the fliers tell them where their polling places are.
–all that being said, I always come away from these events feeling optimistic–about the neighborhoods, about the general decency of most people living their lives comfortably and quietly, and about American life itself. I suppose that is why we take up the call to participate in such civic duties. In a city as huge, as diverse, as complex, as Los Angeles, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together, and to become part of a community, one needs to get out there and find out how decent life really is for most of us.
SO: we’ve done our little part! And it’s almost over, thank God!!!!