I stood on the street of a home in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, in early December, staring, unsure of how to proceed. The floor of the weathered, wood-clad home had fallen through to the exposed crawl space below; its roof along the back had also sunken in, almost in concession to the former home’s tired state.
According to my voter list of homes to knock on, the dilapidated residence was a place I was supposed to visit while canvassing for senatorial candidate Doug Jones; and yet, I didn’t see how anyone could live there at all. And it wasn’t the only home in such a state. There were houses where windows had been removed, or empty lots were homes no longer stood at all; tall, knee-high grass replaced the spots where front steps once stood. Perhaps the devastation was the last effects left from the 2011 tornado. But more than likely, it was a sign of the widespread poverty that has long had its hold on Alabama.
There is something to be said for getting out of your comfort zone, getting out of your neighborhood where you know everyone by name, getting outside of your community where everyone drives the same color minivan, wears the same kinds of clothes, or goes on the same kinds of vacations.
There’s something to be said to getting out of your bubble and opening your eyes and seeing life as it really is. I realized, standing outside of that nearly uninhabitable house while canvassing for senatorial candidate Doug Jones, that I wanted my 8-year-old daughter with me.
We are not political activists. Until last month, I had never put a campaign sign in my yard or donated to a campaign. But this election felt different.
My daughter probably would have preferred playing Minecraft on the iPad, hanging out with friends or watching TV instead of going with me door-to-door. The weekend after my first canvassing experience, she tagged along, bringing a Harry Potter book in tow.
As we knocked on doors in neighborhoods far from our own, we saw kids playing in their yards with other neighborhood kids, the same way my kids do. My daughter knocked on doors and introduced herself when she handed out fliers. I watched her, watching the other kids. I knew she wanted to play, too.
At the homes we visited, many people were still in their church clothes, having just come home from Sunday service; I also hadn’t changed from what I wore teaching my child’s Sunday school that day.
When some of the front doors opened, amazing food smells wafted out, making me miss the Sunday lunches we had around my grandma’s table when I was a kid. We met people who were working in their yard, which reminded me that my yard needs to be mowed. At another home, we saw a man up on a ladder painting his house.
We timidly stepped around a barking puppy to get to a front door, talking nicely to the dog, the same way we talk to our beloved oversized boxer.
We greeted people as they got in their cars to go to work and met others as they took a walk down the street. Some people looked at us and wondered why we were there.
And as we explained why, we almost always got a warm response. People knew about the election. They were ready for it, we didn’t have to ask for their vote, because they already planned to give it.
For someone like me, who has felt like my blue vote never really mattered much in this deep red state, it was like a weight was lifted with each door that opened. As many of the people smiled and a few cheered when I told them why we were there. I felt a flood of relief, of gratitude. I felt like hugging them.
But even more, I was reminded that even though there are stark socioeconomic and racial differences across this state, we are more similar than we seem. As we walked back to my car, which was parked along the street, some kids playing with each other in a front yard stopped to look as we walked past. My 8-year-old daughter smiled and waved; the kids waved back, then continued on.
Perhaps the divide that seems to keep so many apart isn’t that wide after all.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.