So I went out to the suburbs today to volunteer with the GOTV operation for Tammy Duckworth, a candidate for the House in Illinois' 6th Congressional district. The 6th is mostly mile after mile of suburban sprawl, strip mall after strip mall along 6 lane "arteries" surrounded by characterlesws subdivisions. It's the part of America I like the least. So why the hell was I out there, butting my head into an election way the hell out in Republicanland?
First of all, there are only three, or possibly four, competitive House districts in Illinois. When it was redistricted in 2002, there were nine safe Democratic seats, and ten somewhat less safe Republican seats. Since then, longtime GOP incumbant Phil Crane was ousted from what had once been a suburban stronghold (before Crane, the seat was held by Donald Rumsfeld). The seat has become the key "swing" seat, but honestly the Democrat, software millionaire Melissa Bean, is a little too conservative for me to actively support.
My own district is represented by Luis Gutierrez, and is not contested. In terms of state and local politics, my choices are abysmal. For Governor, our incumbant Democrat, Rod Blagojevich ("G Rod" to almost everyone), will almost certainly be indicted soon on various hiring fraud and corruption charges. His Republican opponent, Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka, was a close associate and ally of previous governor George Ryan, who is already in jail. The other hotly contested local race is for County Board President. Longtime President John Stroger won the primary over reformer Forrest Claypool, in spite of the fact that President Stroger had just had a stroke and was in a coma. Since Stroger couldn't stand for office, the party leadership conducted an intense search for a new candidate, and came up with . . . Stroger's son, Chicago Alderman Todd "Toddler" Stroger. While Toddler does have some experience in government, as a state Representative and later an Alderman (appointed to a vacancy by Mayor Daley), his big qualification for office is being able to hold together his father's coalition of political forces, a remnant of what used to be called the Chicago "machine." I'm not really a big fan of those people, but his Republican opponant is anti-gay, anti-abortion zealot Tony Pereica, whom I probably wouldn't vote for if his opponent were Saddam Hussein.
So if I wanted to do something this election cycle, it would have to be far afield.
The other reason I was out in the 6th district is that I'll always feel connected to this particular area even though I'd never really want to live there: I was born there, and lived in the town of Wheaton until I was four. Our town wasn't that sprawling, we had sidewalks and were a few minutes walk from a train station and a commercial street with storefronts right on the sidewalk, just like you find in the city and in traditional small towns.
The neighborhood I walked today had sidewalks, but no shops or restaurants were within reasonable walking distance. There was a park that backed up on a gulf course, a sprawling one story elementary school, and a nice looking new Public Library. For some reason, the tiny square of suburbia that we worked was back on the city grid, with street names taken from my own neighborhood, perhaps a dozen miles due east - Fullerton, Montana, Altgeld, Nevada, Schubert, Wrightwood, etc. These houses were not so far apart as in newer sprawl, and many of them were looking sort of run down. And in a race featuring so much demagoguing on immigration, I found a surprising number of Latino, Vietnamese and Indian names on my roster.
I don't know if we did much good - the people seemed sick of all the attention, since at this stage in the campaign we were only contacting previously identified supporters to encourage them to vote on Tuesday, give them directions to their polling place, and ask if they needed a ride (ridiculous in this case, since the polling place was less than half a mile away for most of the houses we visited). And we were asked to stop knocking once the Bears game started and just leave campaign literature and directions. Considering how badly the Bears got their asses handed to them by the previously hapless Dolphins, my guess is that was a real good call. The last thing the Duckworth campaign needs to be associated with is a historic, ignominous defeat.
Other than Iraq, I mean. The reason the Democrats think they can pick up a seat that's been represented since my toddlerhood by Henry Hyde is that their candidate, Tammy Duckworth, is an Iraq war veteran who lost both her legs while serving as a helicopter pilot in the National Guard. She's studied international relations and worked with Rotary to wipe out disease in the developing world, campaigned against indoor air pollution, etc etc whatever, but everyone knows she's running because of the war, and because Party people believe enough Republicans might be sick enough of the war to switch sides or stay home on election day. My unscientifically small sample size (I still have family out there) suggests they just might have a point.
But even if we gained the seat, could we keep it? It seems to me that long term, we're going to gain much of DuPage County. Not only is the population changing and growing less overwhelmingly white, but the older parts seem to be experiencing a bit of decline, and if I've learned one thing from knockng on doors, it's that the shabbier looking houses are more likely to have Democrats living in them. Underneath all the bullshit talking points, the class struggle persists.
When I got home (and woke up from a long nap) Trope pointed out that it was November 5, and wanted to watch V for Vendetta. The film is based on a graphic novel, based on the story of Guy Fawkes, "the only man who ever went to Parlaiment with honest intentions," as the British say. Actually he was trying to blow it up. Fortunately democracy offers us the opportunity to accomplish the same goal nonviolently every couple years. I hope we take advantage of it Tuesday.