I have a lot of sympathy – nay, pity – for door-to-door salespeople. Their job is the worst. No one wants to be interrupted at home by a stranger, especially one whose main offering is guilt: for just $5 a month, door-knockers give us a chance to save polar bears, children without clean water or the newspaper industry, but almost always receive rude grunts in return.
I know this personally, because I’ve spent hours pushing the second most loathed door-to-door product after religion – a political candidate. When I was a tween, my dad took his first run at office (he was a city councillor for 17 years and has been a Member of Provincial Parliament for the last nine), and every three to five years since then, I’ve stuck flyers in mailboxes and knocked on doors.
It’s very, very far from my favourite thing to do. Walking up and down driveways is boring and tiring, and a lot of people get pretty angry when sharing their opinions on government. It’s also one of my favourite things to do, because it’s about the realest way I can think of to figure out where people are at and where they’re coming from, what’s important in their lives and what they expect their public servants to do about it.
It’s always a downer when after a busy season of door-knocking, voter turnout stays stalled at Canadian lows. The highest turnout in a federal election in the last century was in 1963, when it almost hit 80 per cent. Municipal elections are even more depressing – about 40 per cent of eligible voters usually show up at the polls, which is why Toronto got so excited at our last go-round, in 2010, when a big fat half of the city turned up to mark a ballot.
At the risk of sounding like a high school teacher: democracy is a verb, people. Yes, I’m here to remind you that in June, the turnout for Afghanistan’s election was so high that hundreds of polling stations ran out of ballots. In Hong Kong, people are currently marching in the streets to demand “universal suffrage,” a phrase that invokes Victorian women in long skirts here, where we take it for granted. Quick pop quiz, Canada: who was the Conservative party staffer charged of purposefully deceiving voters during the 2011 federal election through the robocalls scandal? Answer: Michael Sona, who was found guilty last month, meaning our democracy is hardly impenetrable.
Showing up to check off a name or two is the very least you can do, and so many others do so much more. Democracy is a verb that keeps moving after the ballots are counted, like in Ferguson, Missouri, where residents tolerated tear gas for nights on end to demand accountability from their police force, or Kiev, Ukraine, where the fragility of the vote is on frightening daily display.
Back in Toronto, we’re heading into one of the most energetic mayoral races in years – or so I’ve heard. In real life and online, I run with a crowd that loves to pontificate on our mayor and council, yet just a handful of them are volunteering for election-related campaigns and events. Everyone else seems to be sobbing and chest-thumping over the low chances of pet candidates who don’t stand a chance against incumbents or big names with deep pockets.
As my aunts would say, are your legs broken? Good news, there’s still lots that you can do. Even sitting down, you can fold flyers, make phone calls, or cut the crusts off sandwiches for the hungry servants of democracy getting back from doing their rounds door-to-door. If no candidate has yet rocked your vote, start by attending a debate – with more than 40 organized at the mayoral level, surely one will fit into your super busy schedule.
Every election is a chance to trot out the truism that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. This round I’d like to up the ante: lace up your sneakers, or keep your mouth shut.