This is the first in a series of posts in which I will document my experience with something entirely new, whether that be a food, an activity, or a new part of the world to explore. I love trying new things, but I find that it can be scary to try something for the first time and not know what to expect, especially as someone with anxiety. I hope this series will encourage others to be brave and try something new, and I also hope that frantic google searches of “what is it like to [insert thing here] for the first time” will lead people to one of my posts and that the information here will make them feel better or at least give them something to laugh about.
For this post, I plan to deliver a petition regarding Donald Trump’s proposed budget to Senator Roy Blunt in St. Louis. I’ve previously attended a protest outside of the Senator’s office, but I’ve never had any interaction with his staff, and I’ve never delivered a petition to an elected official.
I’ve signed up for a lot of emails about activism in the last couple of years, and I received an email last week from United We Dream asking me to attend a petition delivery on Monday, April 3rd. If there wasn’t a petition delivery taking place nearby, they encouraged me to create my own event. There wasn’t an event within 400 miles and I am trying to take more active steps to improve the world around me, so I created an event and posted it in a few local activist groups. I also later got a text message from United We Dream inviting me to my own event, and I loved that they were publicizing the event for me, since they have more local reach than I do.
United We Dream has provided me with a lot of resources to prepare for the event, and as of this writing, at mid-afternoon on Sunday, there are two strangers signed up to meet me at Starbucks at 11am tomorrow and then walk over to deliver the petitions. In preparation, I need to look over some talking points and print the 90 pages of signatures to deliver. I’m a little relieved, actually, that I’m only delivering local signatures and not a dozen boxes of paper.
What I’m concerned about: That no one will show up and I’ll be waiting around wondering if that random guy in a Minecraft hoodie is looking for me. That we won’t be allowed into the building, or that I won’t be able to find the office. That I’ll completely forget what I want to say when it comes time to explain what I’m there to do.
Well, friends, this was a bit underwhelming, which I probably ought to have expected. The forecast called for rain, so I parked near the Senator’s office and walked to the meeting point so that I would have a quick getaway if it was pouring by the time we were done. (Can I just pause for a moment and say how much I adore parking apps? No more scrambling for change! Just pull up the app, put in a code, and I’m done!)
I was only expecting two people, and I know that the “interested” and “actually attended” numbers for events are often wildly different, so I hung around Starbucks for 15 minutes expecting (and honestly, a little bit hoping) that neither of the two would show up and I wouldn’t have to make awkward conversation. Eventually, one retired gentleman approached and said that I didn’t look much like the picture, but was I Erin? (What picture? I guess I uploaded one when making the event.)
We walked over to the Senator’s office together, chatting about the job he had recently retired from, his attempts to get some friends to join us for the action, and maintaining relationships with friends and relatives that have very different viewpoints. At one point it started absolutely pouring, and I felt a little guilty for choosing a meeting location a fair distance from the Senator’s office.
At the office building, I expected a receptionist, security, and a metal detector, as I’ve seen in other buildings that host federal offices. Instead, there was an empty lobby, and up on the third floor a poorly signed maze of corridors. The Senator’s office itself did have a buzzer with a camera, but we were buzzed in almost the moment I hit the button.
The office appeared to be totally empty except for the polite woman who came out of a back room and asked what we needed. I quickly ran through a few of the talking points that United We Dream thoughtfully provided me with and hoped that I hadn’t completely mangled them. I really just wanted to say “please tell the Senator not to be a jerk,” but I stuck to my talking points about the wall and about how the money for it could be better used to support infrastructure or schools. She said she would pass the petitions along to the Senator, and we were done.
“Well, that was anticlimactic,” my delivery partner said. “Also, how did you get my phone number?” And then I had to explain that United We Dream had texted people about the event on my behalf and that no, I wasn’t some weirdo texting random strangers and asking them to meet me at Starbucks at 11am on a Monday. (But if I was, success?)
All in all, it went approximately how I expected it would. I completely expected to get a “well, I’ll pass that along” response, but for some reason, the empty office and lack of security really let me down. I guess I thought that a busy office and metal detector would make it feel as though we were participating in something important (which we were regardless!). I would definitely do this again, though I think I would either do it on my own or as part of a large group, as two people probably isn’t much better than just one.
It turns out that democracy looks a lot like two strangers walking in the rain.