“Planned Parenthood will fly you to Maine tomorrow to work Collins. You in?”
By Nora O’Reilly, former Policy and Legal Intern
After my internship ended with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland this summer, I went back to school missing the daily political banter and everyday wonky conversations that had come to define the Silver Spring office. The energy and passion that my co-workers brought to the job had made every day exciting, purposeful, and made me feel fired up to do something despite, and partly because of, our dire political landscape. So when Diana texted me about flying to Maine less than 24 hours later to do some canvassing against Kavanaugh, I said yes despite lacking details and having piles of homework because I knew I’d get to be back in that goal-oriented, idealistic environment even for just a day or so. And I hoped that I’d get to add to the barrage of pleas Senator Collins is receiving for her to please vote “no” on the nomination of a man who will almost certainly dismantle a woman’s rights to bodily autonomy.
Before I really knew what was happening, I was landing at the tiny Portland airport with my friend Rachel, a fellow intern from the summer. We met up with fellow volunteers and employees of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, and another intern from our office, Taylor, and immediately fell into the kind of excited and flowing conversation that comes easily when you agree with each other nearly completely on political issues. From Kate, the volunteer from Johns Hopkins who gave up her weekend for canvassing, to Rahula, the Planned Parenthood coordinator who tirelessly worked to get everything coordinated at short notice, everyone was there because we felt a common distress and a common motivation to do something about it. After hanging out in Portland the night before, we got up Saturday morning and headed to Boothbay to go door to door asking people to call Senator Collins and telling them about their local and gubernatorial elections. Walking up to strangers doors wearing shirts that say “I stand with Planned Parenthood” or “Trust Women” is bold, to say the least, and I was interested to see how it would play out. In my experience, people were incredibly polite and not once did I feel scared or even angry at the responses I received. In fact, canvassing for Hillary Clinton throughout 2016 was much more harrowing and risky in my experience, which says a lot but is a whole other thing that we don’t need to rehash right now.
For those who haven’t canvassed before, here’s what makes it worth it despite most people not being home and most others trying to say whatever they can to get you off their doorstep: it’s the woman who said she supported Planned Parenthood, but didn’t know about Kavanaugh’s record on reproductive rights; it’s the TSA official who says they like your shirt and then before you know it you’re giving him literature on his gubernatorial options’ it’s the parent that brings out their kids so you can teach them a bit about political involvement. All of these cases are reminders that we are all a part of this country together and we all hold a tiny stake in our government, and a lot of people care enough to take that responsibility seriously. Canvassing is a reassuring reminder that it isn’t just you listening to the radio every morning scared about the latest headline or excited about the new law that was passed. There are people all around this country that really care about our government and really care about reproductive rights, and they’re grateful that you care, too.
Throughout the trip, as we waited in line in security, as we drove through foggy coastal towns, as we sat at a restaurant one night, I kept noticing the people all around me. Our trip was purely political, but at the end of the day politics is about helping those people in line with you, the ones serving you at a restaurant, the ones living all over this diverse country. I was reminded that we all made this trip because we want to help foster reproductive freedom for all people across the United States, from Maryland to Maine to Ohio and everywhere else that the composition of SCOTUS will have an immediate effect on. As someone who can get pretty wrapped up in DMV politics, this weekend reminded me how big this country is and consequently how serious the Kavanaugh nomination is. Myself and all my fellow interns were so privileged to work in a part of the country with so much political agency and I was reminded of the far-reaching importance of this work.
I learned this summer how exhausting it can be to work in a place where politics are inherently intertwined with day to day work and where payoffs, successes, and progress can feel few and far between. Opportunities like going to Maine to canvass for a weekend are valuable for the work they accomplish, but also for the fun and friendship that is built along the way — the progressive movement loses the wind from its sails once people get discouraged and distracted. You need a reminder once in a while to appreciate the work that you are doing and the amazing people you are doing it with.