When the good people at Make the Road put out a call for volunteers to register voters, I knew I should sign up. It had been too long since I had done something charitable. Plus it was in Queens! On a Sunday! How could I say no?
I had a brief moment of panic when I met the team at the Queens Center Mall and they said most of us were not going to be sitting at a booth but instead had to spread out and invite strangers to register. From the looks of them, many of the shoppers around us were either fans or practitioners of caged fighting, and my only defense would be a measly clipboard.
I was sent out with a young couple, but guessing they didn’t care for a middle-aged third wheel I struck out on my own. My turf was the entrance next to the Cheesecake Factory, and my strategy consisted of asking passersby if they were ready to vote in the next election–I figured everyone would already be itching for another go.
Approaching strangers was agony for me, but I knew it was for a good cause. I got a lot of no-thank-yous, some people told me they were already registered, a few more said they didn’t vote, and one of those returned a minute later to tell me that voting was bullshit. Many people just ignored me. The patriarch of a Hasidic family gave me an inexplicably dirty look.
I was thrilled when a little old lady said she did, indeed, want to register. She was an 88-year-old Hispanic immigrant, and my heart filled with pride as I helped her fill the form. Then it sank when party affiliation came up.
“I’m a Republican,” she told me in Spanish. “The people in my neighborhood don’t like it, but I came to this country 40 years ago and I became a citizen thanks to Ronald Reagan. They can’t tell me not to vote Republican.”
I spouted some pap about how this was what made democracy great and she thanked me. Then she came back a few minutes later and put a chocolate bar in my hand. “This is for you,” she said. “I appreciate your help.” I was touched but wished I could explain that Reagan probably didn’t have anything to do with her citizenship and that the people in her neighborhood were right.
I stuck around for a couple of hours trying to balance the scales with at least one Democrat, but no luck; maybe the Cheesecake Factory was not quite the hub of civic responsibility I assumed.
After I dropped off my clipboard and the one registration, it dawned on me that all I accomplished that day was getting the Republicans a vote they don’t deserve. And I don’t eat sugar so I couldn’t even enjoy the chocolate.