Have You Met Liz? —the Importance of Meeting Your Candidates

I haven’t been to a political rally before.  I went to the NDP rally just to see what they were like, and because I had met Liz Hanson.

Meeting a candidate makes a difference.  Perhaps you, candidate, wonder what all that door knocking is for—or you, a citizen, are annoyed by all the door knocking that happens around an election.  You both wonder why anyone really does it.  Don’t all the commercials, all the posters, all the op-ed pieces help you know a candidate?  Doesn’t it make you likely to know how to vote?  Nope.  (Ok, sometimes it has to.  Not every person can meet the Presidential or Prime Minsterial candidate.  I voted for Obama from what I read, what I saw on TV, watching him at rallies, in speeches, at town halls.)

Meeting someone changes our minds.  Most of us cannot be changed purely by intellectual discovery—some a-ha moment that gives us the clarity to change our minds about an issue.  Most of us recall an event—a moment that has another person in it—that made us feel the way we do about that person, about their race, issue, belief, etc.

Encounters.  We change because of encounters.

Liz Hanson, NDP candidate, was canvassing somewhere between 7th and Strickland—and I was housesitting for a friend.  She knocked on my door and told me who she was and what she was doing.  I politely told her that I was an immigrant and therefore not allowed to vote in the election.  Seriously, I’m not proud of that:  immigrants should be involved in politics, in understanding and learning about their new country, even if they currently don’t have a vote.  But, frankly, I probably felt a little indignant about the irony of being canvassed when I don’t have a vote—I probably thought that she would just go away if I showed my political impotence.

I mean, really.  Why would she spend her time on an immigrant without a vote?  She couldn’t reap any immediate benefit from spending time with me.

She said, “Well, you’ll be voting one day.  And your opinions matter to me now.”  And so we went into the back yard, on a warm, dry, summer’s day, where there were plenty of raspberry bushes and I gave her some fat fresh raspberries and she and I talked one-on-one in the shade of my friend’s tree about the issues in Whitehorse that I was concerned about.  We must have talked for more than half an hour—maybe even an hour.

I got to know a really interesting person who had decided to become a political candidate, not a political candidate who wanted to play a person for an hour.  When people step up to become political candidates, sometimes, those of us who did not know them before, only see the Mark of Politician on their foreheads—and we run.  They are all alike, we think.  And truly, some politicians bury their personhood so deeply so as not to lose votes.  They see where the wind is blowing and bend accordingly.  This was not the case with Liz.

I felt I met her.  And this influenced me to go to the rally tonight.  It had its mix of rah-rah moments, which I don’t get caught up in; but it also had a meet-the candidates kind of mingle, which allowed people to shake hands and talk with people.  There are several candidates running for the NDP.  They all stood in front of us.  I heard a lot of good things at the rally.

I’m sure no matter what candidate wins, we will still grow economically—we are in a boom year.  We discovered gold.  Miners are coming.  The town is growing.  These are inevitable no matter the candidate.  NDP seems to care that people not get lost in the Boom.  They seem to care that all people, not just the businesses and mining, ride the Boom well.  They seem to care that the Boom doesn’t alter Whitehorse and the Yukon in irreparably damaging ways.  I liked that.  Sure they were excited about the Boom—who isn’t?—but they aren’t so caught up in giddy cha-ching reveries that they forget about me and you, the arts, social programs that support those who aren’t going to hear a cha-ching for some time.  They want to find an answer for the housing shortage—before new families who have come here with good jobs leave the Yukon because there’s no good homes.   I liked hearing all that.  And even if I can’t vote, I can start conversations.

I was there at that rally because someone took the time to meet me.  It’s important that you meet your candidates.  I know,  inevitably they are going to interrupt something that you’re doing.  So why not just call them on the phone (at their home or their office) and make a date that’s convenient for you.  You know, it’s a small territory.  Ridings are cozy.  It’s not hard to arrange a coffee, or have them come over to your house.  Don’t make them stay for three hours—let others have a chance to meet them too, but take the initiative to meet the candidates.

Meeting someone gives you a stake in the outcome of an election.  You can judge their character AND their politics.  You can ask them questions.   The Yukon is an intimate place.  Chances are, you already know one of the candidates anyway, and you have probably run into the others somewhere… Take some time and get to know them.  Meeting someone who’s running to serve you, gives you a chance to actually be served the way you want to be served.

Have you met Liz?  Have you met an NDP candidate?  Have you met any of the candidates running for any party?

Not just five minutes, not a handshake, not a photo-op in front of the Macbride Museum.  I never met Stephen Harper, but I look like I met him in this photo.  I’ll admit, I was standing there waiting to see him up close.  He came out of the museum, and after a few minutes of talking with others, he walked up to us and said, “group photo!”  He turned to us seconds before the camera snapped and said, “I do 20,000 of these a year.”  He has 20,000 group photos with random people he’s never met.  Does he have time to meet us all?  No, but he could take some time to sit down with Yukoners…and chat.

Meet someone who’s running.  Meet them so you can know them.  And more importantly, meet them so they can know you.

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