Fresh Eyes: From the campaign trail to the ivory tower

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image1by Matt Amick

Report from the battle lines:  No I’m not returning from Syria or Afghanistan, but from my native soil, North Carolina, the place of my birth. Although there have been no actual lines drawn yet, take it from me: It is an all-out war zone, minus the armies and rioting. This is the terra upon which blue versus red results in purple blood.

“Canvassing is a lot like being a traveling salesman,” they would say during training. The days began with a thunderous enthusiasm of clapping and banging on things as our director made his entrance. The history behind this ritual hails from the workers in the field clapping in solidarity whenever the union bosses came around. Following the daily rundown of individual performance numbers was a brief discussion of current events and then introductions, which I reluctantly learned were increasingly irrelevant due to the ridiculous turnover rate.

I’m not going to bore you with the numeric details — let’s just say it was pretty rigorous. With quotas to fill, we all left the headquarters in vans dispersing throughout the nearby regions of Guilford County. After assigning us electronic devices, they basically dropped us off in the middle of neighborhoods from Burlington to Winston-Salem.

The first day, solo, I trekked towards some stranger’s house as the van pulled away, vowing to pick me up at the same locale in five hours.

Checking my device and the address once again, I rang the doorbell and after not hearing it, knocked on the door vigorously, but not like a landlord or the police. An elderly woman came to the door and I began my spiel.

“Good afternoon ma’am!” I exclaimed. She stood there with the door partially open and said, “I don’t want any.” Then she shut the door and I just stood there like a dejected dog begging for scraps. At the next house, I rang and knocked.

“Yes sir, good afternoon and I hope I’m not disturbing you,” I said.

“No, just what is it young man?” he replied as he opened up the door.

“Well, my name is Matt and I’m canvassing your neighborhood today and have two questions on the upcoming Senate election, here in North Carolina, are you Mr. Doe?”

He nodded his head and said, “Yes.”

“Great. Sir, as a voter, what is the most important issue to you?” I asked.

“Well… I don’t know really,” he replied.

“Okay,” I said. “Well, if the election were held today, whom would you be voting for?  Tillis, Hagan, or Haugh?”

“Hay… Hagan,” he stammered.

“Okay and your issue?  Can you think of something the community needs improving upon?”

“I would say education or jobs, but why don’t you come in for a minute. I have to sit down.” He looked tired and I felt bad for making him come to the door.

“No thank you sir, I have a hundred more doors to knock on, or I would love to come in and chat.” I thanked him again and checked him off on my device. Oops, I forgot to get his email and phone number or hand him a pamphlet. The next homes were not as hospitable — most occupants would not even open their doors.

Over time I noted some trends. The Democrats overall were mostly amicable. The Republicans loved to let their dogs out the door in an attempt to scare me away. This happened on more than one occasion. The doors that I feared the most were the ones charged out with demonic energy, aimed at my soul, venting pure hatred and frustration for everything wrong in their lives. Their eyes shot through me like lasers of contempt. I just stood there and absorbed it night after night. The thoughts running through my mind spanned from shame to rage. On I trudged averaging eight miles a shift, totaling 13 on my most productive night. Monday through Friday, every evening consisted of this humiliation.

The inevitable breakdown ensued and along with it, that famed moment of clarity. It didn’t matter what issue or what candidate was on the minds of these voters. I finally realized that I had become what I really stood against. I was just another spoke in the wheel of the disaster of campaign finance gone awry. I decided the world didn’t need another spoke right now, and it would roll on fine without me in the trenches.

To all the doors I knocked on, I offer my apologies and accept yours by not taking it personally. The agony of defeat is realizing that the battle being fought is pointless or irrelevant. The death of this salesman still battles for his own individual place within the American Dream. I just needed to join a different battalion and to find a place where my skills were better suited. So, I’ve returned to my tower and I’m firing away.

Matt Amick is a recovering poll worker living in Greensboro. He will not be answering his phone until after the election.