Dear Friends ~
For last week’s election, I spent the better part of the day handing out leaflets promoting the reform candidate for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, as well as a slate of Democratic judges, most of them women. The morning was cold for early November, but crisp and bright with the low-hanging, autumnal sun. In the early hours, I was alone on the stone steps to the church—other electioneerers had hunkered down just inside the double doors of the polling place.
At nine o’clock. another woman arrived with cards to hand out. Glad for the company after two hours working by myself, I cheerily introduced myself. Her name, she told me, was Cyreeta. When I asked whom she was stumping for, she showed me cards for the Republican D.A. candidate, Beth Grossman. I was a bit taken aback—Cyreeta, in her mid-thirties, I guessed, and African American, did not meet my expectations of a Republican voter—but I said, in what I thought was a friendly manner, “Oh, so we’re on opposite sides then,” and showed her my literature for Krasner.
Cyreeta told me not to intimidate her the way she had been intimidated last election at this same place. “I’m not political,” she insisted. “I’m here to do a job.”
I tried to assure her that I understood and had no intention of hassling her, but she backed off and chose a different spot from which to do her work—down on the sidewalk, well away from me.
A car drove up, and Cyreeta crossed the street to talk to the driver through the open window. I guessed a Republican party operative had come by to make sure their worker was there and that she had what she needed to do her job.
“Oh I’m fine,” she said, loudly enough that I could hear, “They’ve already started to intimidate me, but I can take care of it.” She crossed back over with determination and resumed her work on the sidewalk.
So, I thought, I’ll keep my distance from Cyreeta. I will smile if our eyes happen to meet, but I’ll stick to business in my own spot.
I live in a politically progressive neighborhood. Most voters who came along refused Cyreeta’s cards and accepted my leaflets or told us both they already knew what they were doing. It wasn’t long into her work, however—maybe fifteen or twenty minutes—when Cyreeta started walking toward me. “Uh oh,” I thought, “trouble might be coming.” But I met her eyes and smiled, as I had promised myself I would. Curiously, she stopped in her tracks just below the steps where I was standing and stayed there on the sidewalk, silent for a moment. She looked at her cards, then at me.
“This is the last year I do this,” she said firmly.
I cocked my head with a silent question, and Cyreeta joined me on the stairs. She told me that God was showing her something today. God was helping her see it was not right to represent someone you know nothing about. She said it began with her scripture reading of the morning— a verse which had to do with knowledge, with how your actions should come from deep knowledge and your knowledge should lead to action. Something from Proverbs, I guessed to myself, but I didn’t ask—I was held rapt by what Cyreeta was telling me. She was highly animated, as if something powerful was happening to her as she was talking with me. “I’m so grateful,” she said, more than once. “I am being shown a different way today.”
When she asked me to tell her about Larry Krasner, I did. Pointing to the blue card in her hand, she said the things her candidate stood for also seemed pretty good. And indeed Beth Grossman’s bullet points were not so different from Larry Krasner’s—end cash bail,end stop and frisk and mandatory minimum sentencing. I spoke about how important it is to look at not only what a candidate says but what they have done. Krasner has a long history of fighting for justice for the poor and for the civil rights of those who protest injustice. I went on to explain the program called “civil forfeiture” which allows the police to commandeer property in a drug arrest. “Even your grandmother’s apartment or your mother’s car,” I said. Grossman’s career in the D.A.’s office was marred by a tenure of running the notoriously opaque Office of Civil Forfeiture, the very office she now says she wants to reform. “Where was she while the corruption was occurring under her nose?” I asked.
Cyreeta listened and understood well what I was saying. Then she confessed she did not vote last November. “I wasn’t in a good place in my life,” she told me, explaining that she was a woman in recovery and that last November she was using. “I hold myself,” she continued, “and everyone else who didn’t vote responsible for what we’ve got now in the White House.” I’ll never do that again,” she vowed. “And I’ll never do this again,” pointing to the cards in her hand, “unless I know who it is I’m pushing.” She told me she would put in her time, because she had made a commitment, but she wouldn’t foist the cards on people. “These voters in this neighborhood know what they’re doing. They’ve done their research.”
Cyreeta stood on the steps with me now. We continued talking together when we could and soft- selling our candidates for another half hour or so. Cyreeta’s pitch, I noticed, was becoming so soft the cards stayed in her coat pocket more often than not.
Then I told Cyreeta I needed to leave for a while—I had some door to door canvassing to do get out the vote—but I would be back in a few hours. I felt I could leave for a while, because by this point I knew there was no threat to the Krasner/Justice vote at my polling place.
When I came back, as I approached the church I found Cyreeta accompanying an elderly voter, guiding her to the double doors and holding them open while she entered. While I was gone, Cyreeta had thoroughly and happily reinvented her role at the polling place! She was pushing no candidate at all but had taken on the role of greeter, welcoming everyone who came with warmth and a smile and thanking them each for coming out to vote. That is what she did for the rest of her allotted time. The Republican blue cards remained in her pocket where they stayed for the remainder of her shift. Cyreeta was proud, joyous even—she had squared herself with her God. I was delighted too—and proud. I let her know it.
She told me that when I was gone she had posted a live broadcast on Facebook. She wanted her friends to hear about her epiphany and to understand the importance of knowing who you represent. “I know sometimes we need the money,” she told her friends, “but what we say and do now can affect our children and our children’s children. We have to ask ourselves, is it worth it? There are consequences to everything we do. You’ve got to know what you stand for.”
Amen, Cyreeta. Amen.
And as I remember now our pivotal encounter at the polling place, I want to add this: the politicians too, those who purportedly represent us, should also know for what, and for whom, they stand.
It’s a covenant, a holy relationship—the people and the politicians. Let’s make it work, Cyreeta.
And to Larry Krasner, I say—your victory was sweet. You won handily because we, in our numbers, walked and talked and stood for you. We stood for you, because you stood for us.
Let’s make it work, Larry. Let’s make it work.
Through the Gates
Letters and poems illuminating each of the forty-nine days of the Omer, the ancient Jewish practice marking the days between the spring festival of Passover and the summer festival of Shavuot—for spiritual explorers of all traditions! Read more or purchase….