A bold call for local reform, a quick text to Mom

TOBY TALBOT/AP/FILE
A voter casts his ballot at the annual town meeting in Strafford, Vermont, in 2012.

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My oldest son and his pals founded a political party last spring when they were all unceremoniously sent home from college. The first initiative for the Young Progressives of Delco, New York, was to hold a local mayor to account. Before long, they had also launched a nonpartisan voter registration drive.

And when local elections were announced, YPOD posted an inspirational call for candidates to run on its ticket.

Why We Wrote This

Sometimes, the “little child” that “shall lead them” is a college student with a cause – in this case, our essayist’s son and his friends.

My son texted me. “Mom, are you going to run? You promised.”
I have zero chance, I replied. “It’s not about winning, Mom. It’s about running.”

I needed 35 signatures to get on the ballot. It was minus 8 degrees F, and the sidewalks were crusted with patches of ice. The 12-year-old in me whined, “Amy, this is a complete waste of time! Go home. Watch something stupid. Eat coconut cake.” But as my father used to say, “Your only job is to leave the world better than the way you found it.” OK, Pop. OK. 

Voter turnout was twice as large as last time, and the election attracted the most first-time voters in recent memory. I did not win. But progress is never a loss. It’s where hope stakes its claim.

My oldest son and his pals founded a political party last spring when they were all unceremoniously sent home from college. The Young Progressives of Delco, New York, was born of what they saw as America’s terrifying and exhausting realities. Its first initiative was to hold a local mayor to account for what YPOD saw as his racist, homophobic, and misogynistic Facebook page. 

First came the group chat, because you can’t have a movement without a group chat. Then a petition. Social media accounts were created and optimized. The founders met via Zoom to discuss strategy and responsibilities. I listened at my son’s door, because I’m that mom.

There were no oversize egos, no boring reiterations of why they were there in the first place. Someone had an agenda. Someone had the action items. Someone had a calendar. That’s when I knew we were all going to be OK.

Why We Wrote This

Sometimes, the “little child” that “shall lead them” is a college student with a cause – in this case, our essayist’s son and his friends.

My only responsibility was silence, which I’m not very good at. But no one wants to hear some old hippie blather on about how many times she marched on Washington or how to properly get a chant going at a rally.

The mayor would not step down, take sensitivity training, or even allow the Young Progressives to speak at town meetings. This only emboldened them. Their next initiative was an entirely nonpartisan voter registration drive. Genius.

In a decidedly red county, any talk of progressive politics can label one a – oh, pick a derogatory phrase. But no one here dares to question the unabashed patriotism of one person, one vote.

A local business offered its empty restaurant. Between registration lulls, the socially distant volunteers sent postcards to encourage voting in close state races elsewhere. They helped new county residents, transplants from Brooklyn, change their registration. State senators dropped in to offer their thanks. 

When local elections were announced, YPOD founders posted an inspirational call for candidates to run on its ticket.

My son texted me. “Mom, are you going to run? You promised, remember?” 

“I don’t stand a chance,” I replied. “And I’m a long way from young, son.” 

“It’s not about winning, Mom. It’s about running.”

The next day I went to the village clerk and collected a petition to get on the ballot. I needed 35 signatures. It was minus 8 degrees F, and the sidewalks were crusted with patches of ice (make a note to pass a shoveling ordinance).

The 12-year-old in me whined, “Amy, this is a complete waste of time! You have no name recognition, and you’re trying to unseat an incumbent. Go home. Watch something stupid. Eat coconut cake.” 

But as my father used to say, “Your only job is to leave the world better than the way you found it.” OK, Pop. OK.

I got my signatures and a sense of voter issues. My five-point platform included typical proposals on zoning and stimulus. But No. 5 was sticky: the fire horn. Fire horns have long been a fixture of rural America, as a way to call volunteer firefighters in from the fields. Ours also goes off daily at noon. It’s loud. It’s a fire horn. 

In my campaign literature I said we should “talk about the fire horn.” See how objective and gentle I was? Then the “News Around Town” Facebook page took a flamethrower to it. Derision, suspicion, and name-calling ensued. Such is the nature of discourse via social media.

Election Day arrived. On the walk to Village Hall, I recalled that Cleve­land School’s bicycle safety poster contest was the last time I’d been on a ballot. The competition was stiff. My depiction of a bike accident was powerful. The twisted frame of a banana-seat Schwinn. A limp stick figure in a puddle of Crayola razzmatazz red. It was a chilling warning to children to ride on the right.

My mother told me the nice thing to do is to vote for the other person. I lost to Janet G. by one vote: mine.

I did not make that mistake this time. I put an X by my name and placed the folded paper ballot in the box guarded by two women in festive sweaters. Sometimes it takes 50 years to right a wrong.

Voter turnout was twice as large as last time, and the election attracted the most first-time voters in recent memory. 

I did not win. But progress is never a loss. It’s where hope stakes its claim.

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