A canvass to remember

By Daniel Stratford

A canvassing event last fall. (Geoff King/Collegian)

As a political science major, campaigning, elections and writing about campaigning and elections typically consumes most of my time. It can be said that they lie at the dead center of my metaphorical universe, along with my family and my passion for both bagpipe music and long, meandering bus rides. So what better way to spend a weekend than to canvass for the much-contested Sixth Worcester District represented by state Rep. Geraldo Alicea?

On April 2, my compatriots in the University Democrats and I, including our president, Emily Jacobs, went to Southbridge to canvass for Alicea. In the process, however, we engaged in not only canvassing and other quintessentially political tasks, but also a degree of personal bonding that would be unfathomable in any other quest.

There is nothing I enjoy more on a given Saturday than getting to campus at 10:30 a.m. after a night of wild, rancorous reading and contemplation about the minutia of politics. Specifically, there is nothing more enjoyable than getting to campus and consuming myriad organic pastries from the French Meadows cafe on the campus center concourse while preparing for a vigorous and fun-filled day of canvassing. After eating my breakfast, Jacobs drove us to Southbridge, which involved many a joke and hearty laugh, but especially a multitude of puns. If there is one thing that we Democrats pride ourselves on, it is our prodigious propensity for wordplay, which was in full swing on the ride to Southbridge. In fact, it would not take a particularly great leap of faith to assert that our never-ending stream of puns and jokes was akin to Bob Dylan’s so-called “Never-Ending Tour,” with comic interludes at every stop yet with no stop being the last.

As we ventured further into what can only be described as the more bucolic areas of central Massachusetts, one striking economic feature stoked our collective curiosity: the sheer preponderance of antique shops and venues for antique “shows.” In all seriousness, once we reached the sleepy town of Brimfield, there had to be one of these places every two or three blocks. To us, it was the most peculiar thing, but it is actually intriguing to conceive of a town economy underpinned almost entirely by the sale of antique wares and trinkets. In an ironic twist to the adventures of that day, it could be said that the road to the tentative promise of the future – in the form of Alicea – runs through the rustic thicket of the past. Perhaps this overriding fact is proof, as Edmund Burke once asserted, of history being “the pact between the dead, the living, and the yet unborn.”

In addition to the large number of antique dealerships, we passed by restaurants with names and menus that could only be done justice by a personal sampling. These fine eating establishments included the illustrious Jenny Chan’s, to whom we owed the pleasure of our dinner much later during the day, the Apple Barn Cafe and Girly’s Grill. These culinary idiosyncrasies could only occur in an area as pleasantly idiosyncratic as central Massachusetts.

Once we arrived in Southbridge, we began to get organized for the great endeavor of canvassing. One of the great intellectual gems of this special election is that Alicea’s original race against his Republican challenger Peter Durant resulted in a literal tie between the two candidates, with individual ballots even being contested in court. In more ways than one, the race is beginning to resemble a mini-Florida from the 2000 presidential election, minus the hanging chad hearings. It was in the middle of this electoral tumult that we found ourselves that day, walking streets that were unfamiliar to us yet replete with potential votes for Alicea. At a first glance, despite the aforementioned lack of familiarity, many of the houses could have come right out of Amherst, being large structures with multiple residents housed inside of them akin to off-campus student housing. This is not to mock the integrity of such dwellings – most were actually quite lovely. This, aside from the electoral politics involved, was one of the chief sources of our beloved group’s intense bonding experience: The realization that, in the aggregate, and sometimes literally, we all have to find some way to live with each other.

Either way, that day’s canvassing was nothing, if not tremendously successful. My fellow University of Massachusetts Democrats and I even went out for a second round of door-knocking – at the insistence of yours truly, of course. This only reiterates the fact that politics in a republic is an intrinsically communal enterprise, requiring the participation of the populace at large to be truly considered legitimate. If anything, traversing the Massachusetts countryside with my fellow college Democrats only strengthened this sense of civic obligation. Our travels in Southbridge were proof-positive that politics in a republic originates locally. However, it was the shared experience with my fellow Democrats that made it personal.

Dan Stratford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].