Political volunteering: Wild tales from the driver’s seat

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Today is Election Day, and I made arrangements to be available for some volunteering for my local candidate of choice (the NDP’s Mira Oreck). I was keen to help as best I could in getting the vote out, particularly by driving people who needed a ride to the polls.

I turned up at the campaign office at 10:30am, and was promptly given my first assignment: drive a voter to his polling station. All right! So excited to make my first-ever contribution to democracy, and extra pleased to likely be helping a senior, or someone with mobility issues, to get out and mark their ballot. At the appointed time, I was at the entrance of a nearby apartment building, waiting for “Jeffrey” to come downstairs.

He emerged, and I was a little surprised. He was no senior, but more in my age range… and a tightly-wound type in camo pants wearing a slightly dazed expression. He looked more like De Niro’s haunted Vietnam vet Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” than the kindly senior I was expecting.

I mentally shrugged my shoulders and proceeded with the task at hand, doing my best to make small talk (and avoid disturbing the seemingly murky waters of his demeanour).

We arrived literally a minute later at the polling station – it was at a church only two blocks away. I dropped him off, parked the car, then returned to find him at the table talking to the election official. And she was telling him his name was already crossed out. He’d already voted in the advance poll!

Sigh. Not the brightest start for my big day of getting out the vote.

I walked back into the campaign office, ready to share my wild and somewhat disappointing tale. But before I could say a word, I heard another volunteer say, “we need someone to drive this lady home.” And there, by his side, was the exact little old lady of my imaginings! “I can take her!” I piped up. And soon I was driving Sima, an elderly lady with gray hair pulled back into a bun and a volunteer badge dangling around her neck, back to her house. She was chatty and full of opinions. Now this was more like it!

I was getting a combination of little-old-Jewish-lady vibe from Sima, mixed with a bit of South Asian due to her trace of a lilting accent. Turns out I was right on both counts: she was Jewish with Indian cultural roots. An interesting combination and an interesting lady.

After a break for some lunch and a bit of work at the home office, I was back on the streets, having been charged with delivering a box of lanyards and badges to a “Zone Office” in a suite at the antique office building at 12th and Granville (I’d never been inside though I’d driven by it a million times). I’ve been very politically involved in the past, but I decided not to ask them what I was wondering: what exactly a “zone office” is!

Inside, the answer to my question was pretty obvious. It was a residential suite converted into a hub for planning canvassing and the like, and as I arrived, it was filled with folks millling about and preparing to head out for some streetcorner sign-waving.

It reminded me of what I’d missed by only volunteering for the final day – the fun and camaraderie of planning and organizing with a group of like-minded folks. Though I was warmly welcomed, I still, due to the circumstances, felt a bit of an outsider. But it was a happy vibe in the room, everyone smiling, and I soaked it up.

Finally, I was given some signs to bring to the same sign-waving crowd, now occupying the corner of Broadway and Granville in front of the Chapters bookstore. I brought them the signs, and stayed for a few minutes to wave one of the giant ones over my head, bringing amused smiles from the volunteers and passersby. On the street, lots of horns honked in approval of our happy throng and our cluster of orange signs bobbing up and down.

I’m still fighting off a cold, so as the rain began to come down, I said my goodbyes and wished them the best of luck when the results come in tonight. My election day pitch-in may have been a small one, but it was full of great and memorable moments and I feel I at least offered some tangible help in getting the change we so desperately need in this election.

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