The dark clouds obscured the twilight. Rain was falling steadily, large drops bounced off the hood of my olive green jacket. I accidentally cut my finger: it didn’t hurt, but it was one of those irritating lacerations that wouldn’t stop bleeding. I covered it with my thumb as I grasped my stack of leaflets tightly. My colleague and I continued our steady pace up the street: folding the unbloodied leaflets, approaching the door, stuffing the newsletter through the letterbox.
My colleagues and I have been doing this since the selection meeting in January: gathering after work on evenings and weekends, grabbing a clipboard and leaflets, saying “Let’s go”, and then knocking on doors or dropping newsletters off. Some of these occasions are blessed by the sun and warmth: one afternoon, the breeze was gentle, the street was bathed in golden light, the sky was a sharp, crisp blue. A young lady who was unloading shopping from her minivan asked us to convince her to vote for us. By the end of the discussion, she gave each member of the team a hug. The hawthorn was in bloom and the birds were singing.
Some of these afternoons have been dark and cold; ferocious winds blew us down the street, the rain saturated the upper layer of the leaflet stacks. Sometimes there’s the cool indifference of the apathetic: “no, I don’t vote, they’re all the same”. Sometimes this apathy is militant: “I don’t believe in voting.”
But we put on our jackets and trainers and meet again, collect our materials, take a deep breath and say “Let’s go”. Yes, some may not believe in the process, but the process exists nonetheless: surely it’s wiser to take part in it? After all, even the apathetic pay for government. Perhaps meeting us and talking will crack that particular ice: in many instances, I have heard residents say they haven’t met a representative of local government in over five years.
Again, take a deep breath and say “let’s go”. Each conversation is a job interview: yes, you may not agree with Jeremy Corbyn on everything. However, this election is about who you think will most effectively represent you at the local level, to get the traffic sorted, the schools improved, the litter cleared and the police more visible. If we’re elected, this is just the start of a change: we want to be effective representatives, to govern well, to be your voice. We will work hard to be worthy of your trust. We will work hard to make this city a fairer, better place to live. Sometimes hugs accrue in response, sometimes a smile and a nod, sometimes the door is shut. But we meet again and carry on, the team revisiting every inch of the ward which we know so well: from the community centre which was converted out of a former farm, to the large supermarket bustling with Sunday shoppers, to the new build homes living in the shadow of a Victorian water tower. We know the grand homes that circle the main park in a crescent, the flats with the beige letterboxes, the modest terraces on tree lined avenues. We’ve traded hellos with the fellows stuffing kebab shop menus after us and chatted with elderly residents in their homes and spoken with the young mums pushing baby carriages. We’ve talked about everything from antisocial behaviour to zebra crossings, recorded the concerns, thought about what we can do if we’re successful. Afterwards, there’s mugs of tea and perhaps if we’re a bit indulgent, chocolate digestives to go along with them.
We’re a little under one month out: whenever possible, we get together and keep going. Take a deep breath and proceed up the next street. This city is our home and we want to make it even better: how can we help? What can we do to make government, that often unseen, yet powerful influence, be more useful and efficient? The rain may come, the winds may blow, but we’re still out there: jackets on, red rosettes affixed, next time with bandages at the ready tucked into the bottom of trouser pockets. If we’re successful, it will not stop there. The leaves will eventually turn colour and fall, intermittent snow may drop from leaden skies after homes are decked out for Christmas but we’ll still be out on those streets: democracy after all doesn’t finish after voting, rather, it continues via the representatives listening, learning, relaying.
Get together, for “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”, and keep going. My red trainers will probably need to be replaced soon and holes are showing up in my jumper. Cuts quickly heal and fortunately being in the rain and cold seems to have boosted my immune system. Despite the vigour I feel, I’ve been asked why I’m doing this, usually when I’ve ended up particularly rain-sodden or windswept: after all, I’m devoting what little was left of my free time to this endeavour, and if I’m successful, I will be giving up even more. My reasons are straightforward: if we don’t take part in democracy, it dies. Indeed, we’re seeing signs of terrible rot in the pervasive inequality as exemplified by the Panama Papers: if we don’t apply the corrective of our votes, a two tier society will only take firmer root. Certainly, winning a local election won’t solve the problem by itself, but it can be a first step. While perfect might not be achievable, better certainly is. Things can be run more efficiently, effectively and fairly. In that hope, I’ll keep meeting with my colleagues, we’ll proceed down the ward’s streets, talking, stuffing leaflets, communicating, connecting. There will be more mugs of tea. Then we’ll plan for tomorrow.