Column: Contributing to the Democratic Process

By Susan Parker
Tuesday June 13, 2006

My friend Ronnie Caplane ran for Assembly representing Oakland’s 16th District.  

It’s exciting to know a politician, to be able to say nonchalantly when her name comes up in conversation, “Oh Ronnie Caplane, of course I know her.” It is less thrilling to acknowledge that as her friend, I should be out there on the campaign trail with her, supporting her causes, informing her constituents, contributing in some way to her power base.  

Even before Nora, Ronnie’s campaign manager, e-mailed me with a polite request for help, I knew I was in trouble. I wanted to lend a hand, I really did, but I am not a campaigner. I cannot stand in front of Safeway and collect signatures for a cause. I cannot make myself knock on doors and talk about political issues with strangers. I cannot shake people’s hands and ask them to vote for someone, even an intelligent, courageous dear friend. This is, perhaps, why I am not yet the president of the United States.  

Despite my aversion to ringing doorbells and making cold calls, I knew I had to do something, so I went down to campaign headquarters and got a Ronnie Caplane For Assembly yard sign. I stuck it in the garden in front of my house and felt better, but not for long.  

Almost every weekend for 14 months Ronnie crisscrossed the district, hard at work giving speeches, cutting ribbons, marching in parades, and attending fundraisers. I was inconspicuously absent, never able to make a rally or fair, a house party or precinct walk.  

“Can you give me a campaign button to wear?” I asked.  

“Yes,” said Nora wearily, “but that’s not really the help we need.”  

“Do you have any jobs that don’t require the ability to talk?”  

Nora cheered up. “When it gets closer to voting time I’ll let you know.”  

As promised, Nora called me right before the election and asked if I could distribute door hangers to certain houses in my neighborhood. “You don’t have to talk,” she said.  

“You don’t even knock on the door. You just wrap the promo piece around the knob and go on to the next residence.”  

“Okay,” I said. “I can handle it.”  

“And,” she added, “you don’t go to every house. You only hit the homes of female registered Democrats.”  

It turns out that as a doorknob campaign tagger I’m an overachiever. I didn’t just tag the houses that were on my list—I hung a piece of literature on EVERY doorknob on every house and apartment building within my precinct. And when I found that I had extra hangers, I called Nora and volunteered to do all the blocks between 51st and Aileen streets.  

No one yelled at me. No one kicked me off their porch or told me to take my door hangers elsewhere. In fact, no one really noticed me at all. My confidence boosted, I asked Nora for another assignment.  

“On election day can you call everyone on your list and remind them to vote?”  

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll do it.” I was becoming a real go-getter. Good lord, I was morphing into one of those annoying people whom I always hang up on. 

Last Tuesday I phoned each individual on my list. With only one exception, everyone I spoke with was polite and friendly. Sometimes they even thanked me for calling.  

Ronnie did not win the election. But she proved herself to be strong and energetic, dedicated, resourceful, and sincere. I hope she decides to run again for office. If she does, I’ll ask if I can be in charge of silent literature distribution. I liked making a small contribution to the democratic process, and, as it turns out, I’m really quite good at the doorknob thing.