I know that some of you reading these words are disappointed by the outcome of last week’s election, but I hope you will take comfort and pride in the fact that you live in a community where residents all across the political spectrum give freely of their time to causes they consider important, and where people with opposing views interact with civility and respect in spite of those differences. And we can all feel good about the fact that voter turnout in the City of Falls Church reached 87 percent – a record even for our traditionally high-turnout city, and apparently the highest in the state.
Unlike other parts of Virginia and the country, the wait to vote was reasonable, and the process was very well managed by the Registrar’s staff and a cadre of volunteers willing to work from pre-dawn hours until late at night to help the rest of us exercise this fundamental right.
I spent the past seven months as the team leader for Falls Church for Organizing for America, the grassroots effort to re-elect President Obama and other Democrats. While I was of course very happy last Tuesday night, the best part of this whole experience has been getting to know so many outstanding people, and experience so much of what this city has to offer.
When I started out to recruit volunteers to register voters, make phone calls, knock on doors, enter massive amounts of data, work at our campaign office, and host and attend events, I was competing with many other worthy causes. Falls Church residents must be some of the busiest, most civically engaged people in the country. Our neighbors are active in schools, religious organizations, charitable and other cause-driven groups, city boards and committees, not to mention watching their children play soccer or lacrosse or participating in their own sports leagues. “I already have two other meetings on Tuesday, and am doorknocking on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for an anti-hunger group,” was one typical response – from someone who went on to volunteer two days a week with us.
In the end, hundreds of people in Falls Church got involved in the campaign. Volunteers stood outside week after week during one of the hottest summers on record, and even showed up on the morning after the derecho storm. Our canvassers included children as young as eight and retirees in their eighties. People who thought they would never want to knock on a stranger’s door and talk to them about politics bravely got out of their comfort zone and found they actually enjoyed it. This was the vaunted “ground game” we’ve been hearing about: The extraordinary dedication of tireless volunteers, some of whom who kept knocking on doors week after week in spite of disability or chronic illness, because they believed their participation would make a difference. I also applaud local Republicans for having an impressive presence at the Farmers’ Market, Fall Festival, and other venues; their supporters were also clearly passionate and hard-working. We also heard from people who were equally dedicated to their third-party candidates.
I am grateful to the many people who supported the campaign in other ways – opening their homes to us, donating food, letting us use their office space, putting up yard signs, and providing helpful advice and encouragement along the way. It was also a privilege to attend virtually every public event where people gather in the city, including First Friday, the Memorial Day parade, Civil War Day, the Tinner Hill Blues Festival, summer concerts and movies in the park, the July 4th fireworks, the Run for the Schools, Farm Day, and more. We are fortunate to live in a community with so much to enjoy, and I was impressed by the hard work of City staff who organize all these events. Volunteers from neighboring and more distant states and even as far away as England were charmed by Falls Church as well.
None of us will miss the endless ads that rained down upon us swing state voters this year, or the heated rhetoric of a closely-fought campaign. However, it was really gratifying to see that people on the other side of the partisan divide were almost always civil and respectful when our volunteers contacted them. (In fact, the Obama supporters were probably more likely to get exasperated with us, because we kept coming back over and over again to remind them to vote!)
We are lucky to live in a community where people care enough to cast ballots in numbers far above the national average, and to give freely of their time and energy to the causes that motivate them. No matter how you voted last week, I hope you will share my appreciation for this spirit and dedication.
Peg Willingham was campaign organizer for Barack Obama’s Falls Church re-election campaign.