Guest Commentary

This political season, please be kind to the wandering candidates and volunteers

I love the change of seasons, even in the ultraviolet clearinghouse of Tucson.

Oh, I'm not talking about fall, which around here is really more like a second summer in these globally warmed times. I'm talking about the onset of the political season--primaries, elections, bright ideas and bonehead candidates.

Depending on what neighborhood you live in, you may have noticed lots of people wandering the streets lately with clipboards and propaganda in their hands. Maybe you're one of them. Or maybe you're one of those people I've heard complain about being bombarded with political messages. Well, consider this a volley of generic political flak, a little cover-fire for those intrepid souls who wander the streets in search of a better world.

See, the way these folks look at it, it's better to hit the streets now, with paper and pens, than be forced into the streets later with placards full of angry slogans, or more drastic tools. In our lazy-minded, self-absorbed material world, democracy depends on the few who force it upon the many.

It'd be nice to forgive apathetic people with a whisk of the "human nature" broom, but the truth is just the opposite. It is actually human nature to organize, get involved and take responsibility for one's circumstances. It is this cornerstone of human nature that has allowed us to build the society that we have. Unfortunately, the society that we've built militates against our better nature. It plays to our weaknesses. It encourages selfishness and offers facile pleasures and numbing cynicism in place of civic responsibility and communal imagination. Blah, blah, yeah, we've heard that old complaint a million times.

Well, here's the answer to that complaint: Without the streetwalkers, and phone callers, and message mailers, our selfishly pleasurable American society would mutate into something resembling a bad day in Afghanistan.

Busybody political types come in many colors. Candidates have their armies, ranging from a small cadre of core supporters to casual volunteers who are dragged in to the headquarters, given a quick primer and then sent to the streets to smile, sprinkle yard signs and secure votes. I have a soft spot for these fringe players. While cynical political operatives (myself included) have been heard to complain that individual volunteers sometimes are worth only what you pay them, taken as a whole, this group represents the true vox populi, the average folks motivated enough to transcend apathy and pitch in. Without them, political junkies would be a lonely bunch. You can't organize in a vacuum.

Truth is, I have a soft spot for all streetwalkers, because I spent many years doing it myself. I was a different species, however--a professional canvasser. In addition to participating in numerous political campaigns, I dialed phones, prowled neighborhoods and interrupted dinners all year long, signing up members and racking up contributions for a half-dozen different nonprofit organizations in Ohio, Washington, Wisconsin and right here in the wild, wild Southwest.

In fact, by way of full disclosure, I recently came out of political retirement to help the Arizona League of Conservation Voters restart their door-to-door canvass. With any luck (and a lot of hard work), you may see their earnest canvassers on your doorstep sometime soon.

Professional canvassers tend to be more committed to the notion of long-term social change, and their projects and objectives tend to be far less ephemeral than a single election. They are often young, since canvassing serves well as an entry-level breeding ground for attorneys, lobbyists, consultants, candidates and political officeholders--all the necessary evils of democracy.

The AZLCV isn't the only nonprofit kickin' ass and takin' names in this town. They share Tucson's streets with the Arizona Action Network, which works on a whole range of issues at the state and local level, and other groups who drop in now and then on Tucson. Organizations such as this, just like the candidates' election armies, operate on the premise that the only reason many people don't get involved is because no one asks them to. All you have to do is make politics more accessible for the overworked, electronically distracted masses, and many of them will gladly do their civic duty.

So next time someone jangles your phone, or your doorbell, or even your nerves, with a political message--even if you disagree with it--be nice! And if you agree, cough up the goods. Because the day these political pests disappear from the streets will be a dark day indeed.

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