You looked so young when I opened the door, a clipboard tucked against your side and your cheeks flushed, smiling expectantly.
I assumed at first that you were seeking donations for the high school baseball team or taking pledges for Jump Rope for Heart. But the first words out of your mouth were, "May I tell you why it's important to vote for Barack Obama?"
I was surprised, though I tried not to show it. That's why it took me a moment to respond. See, you were not wearing campaign gear – just jeans and a white T-shirt – nor did you have any Organizing for America paraphernalia. And your clipboard. All it contained was names and addresses scribbled in messy handwriting with sporadic check marks.
"How old are you?" was my first, inadequate response. You said 16-years-old before repeating your question: May I tell you why to vote for Barack Obama?
"Please do," I said warmly, not revealing that my intentions to vote for Obama were already set in stone. And so with passion and startling eloquence, you began:
"Well, the most important reason for me is health care. I'm an only child and my mom's a breast cancer survivor. With Obamacare we can get insurance. And so if Mom gets sick again, she can see a doctor. But did you know that Mitt Romney wants to take it away from us? If he wins, my mom won't be able to get insurance. And if she gets sick, there's nothing she can do."
I offered my sympathies, and that I was glad she could get insurance, but wondered aloud if the government should get involved in health care, a private matter for many people.
You responded immediately, "The government's been involved with Medicare and Medicaid for a long time already. And those are really important and save lives. It's not like this is new."
Shit, I thought, this kid understands what he's selling. I wondered if you were doing this on your own, or if you were volunteering through the local Pittsburgh campaign office. My intuition told me that, remarkably, the former was the case.
"Can I give you another reason?" you asked.
"Okay. Well, here's another reason for me. Obama's student loan reform makes it that I might be able to afford going to college, if I get in anywhere. We don't have the money to pay for tuition at many places and I'd like to get scholarships but don't know that I will. So I'll have to get loans which are risky because what if I don't get a job after school? Obama's made it so I can get an education without worrying so much about debt. But do you know what Mitt Romney would do?"
I shook my head.
"He wants to go back to the way it was and let banks control everything. All he cares about is what's good for the rich. I need a President who cares about everyone."
"Why do you think he only cares about the rich?" I asked.
"Because he's rich and he said it, that he only cares about half the country that has money or jobs. Plus he wants to lower taxes for the rich who already have too much."
I smiled, and seeing me smile, you smiled as well. You knew you were winning me over. You knew you were right. You knew what you were doing was important.
"Can I give you another reason?" you asked, knowing you didn't need to. But I shook my head, said you'd done a good job, and that I'd likely be voting for Obama.
"Will you make a commitment?" you asked.
"Yeah, will you sign that you plan to vote for Obama?" you asked, passing the clipboard to me.
I shrugged – Sure, why not? – wrote my first name and address. And as I did so you told me that on November 6, you'd be knocking on my door to remind me to vote, taking the day off from school to remind people to vote.
And then you left and walked to my neighbor's house in your jeans and white T-shirt, clipboard in hand as the oven timer rang, calling me into the house to feed my two young girls.
I didn't get a chance to thank you for your work, or to ask whether or not you were, indeed, doing this on your own.
I didn't get a chance to offer you encouragement, or to express how impressed I was by your knowledge, by your passion, by your recognition – at such a young age – of how important the work you're doing is to so many Americans. I didn't get a chance to tell you that, as politically-engaged and invested as I am, all I was doing that Saturday was watching college football and relaxing with my children.
And so I'm saying it now. And I mean this with every ounce of sincerity I'm capable of conjuring, for doing the work I haven't done, for doing the work still left to be done:
(David Harris Gershon)
The Daily Kos