Running for public office gives me an excuse to talk to strangers, and I’m learning quite a bit from these conversations. Ordinary people seem to be discovering that our national moorings have been severed by government and they are surveying the trashed social landscape desperately for help. They’re convinced that their leaders are crooks. They sense a catastrophe ahead, with a loss of income, property, health, even the necessities of life. For the long term, they grieve silently over the society that seems to loom for their grandchildren. And they agree that government officials have acted with utmost cowardice, pretending that things are fine and in every way driving us in the direction we’ve been going, despite all pleas from us
My rhetoric is alarmist–justifiably, I contend–and I tell people that I’m running for Congress because I think our country is in the toilet and I’m willing to go in there and pull it out. Cleaning up Congress is a dirty job, I tell them, and somebody has to do it
I look for connections. If somebody is about my age and from Hartford, I ask, “Hartford High?” If you have the last name of somebody I know, I’ll ask about that, and if you have a Hungarian name, I’ll tell you I studied Hungarian in the service. I’ll ask about your service if you display any insignia that I recognize. Yesterday I got the signature of somebody I hadn’t seen for 45 years.
I talk to many people who can’t vote. If they’re too young, I ask them to read my message anyway, maybe give it to somebody who can vote. Same with felons. Most of them seem to have been cited for offenses much less serious than the spectacular crimes committed against us all every day by our leaders and their rich patrons, and I acknowledge this. Immigrants always agree with me when I remark that people who can’t vote because they’re not from here seem more interested in US politics than the natives
Not everybody talks to me. I’ve been frequenting the bus stops of downtown Hartford, offering my advertising flyer to people passing by or waiting for a bus. It’s easier to talk to a waiter than a passer, who may be pressed for time or hungry. People in twos and threes usually include at least one who wants to avoid a conversation, and so I approach people who are alone first.
The better-dressed people are more likely to be in a hurry and less likely to talk to me. Many people wear a mask of hostility, to protect themselves from intruders, I guess, but a surprising (to me) number of them are willing to relax their defenses for a political message. I’m no longer surprised when people with tatoos, nose-rings, cornrows, baggy trousers, bulging bellies, or skimpy shirts exhibit civic responsibililty and political sophistication.
Some people simply don’t trust anybody who would presume to lead them, and I always express solidarity with them and try to convert them into participants. Sometimes I get through.
I tell people that I’m out to vindicate us with our grandchildren. They will certainly piss on our graves if we don’t make big changes now. I want Reilly, Aaron, Myles, and all our grandkids to be able to say, “At least Grandpa tried. “