We Never Walked Alone
and don’t be afraid of the dark…”
Three years ago on this day, June 6, 2005, a lot of campaign workers in this town and this state walked through a wild storm doing last minute literature drops in anticipation of the next day’s primary.
Here in Highland Park, there was a lot of walking. The incumbent council members up for re-election had paid Democratic Party machine operatives and college students walking door to door to distribute their pro-redevelopment literature—literature that accused us challengers of spreading “ugly scare tactics” because we dared tell the truth about the potential use of eminent domain against local businesses.
Our campaign had a lot of walkers too, but we were grassroots volunteers—friends and family members of the candidates and supporters who believed in our mission. We were far fewer in number than our opponents, so each person had to cover a lot more territory. It was way too late for any mailings by either side.
A hot, humid day gave way to on and off thunderstorms. Each time the weather cleared, we went out only to have it start raining on us again. Ever the optimist, I chose not take an umbrella, believing the wild weather could only go on for a limited time. Naturally, it went on for hours. The thunder, lightning, and downpour were an apt metaphor for what the political scene had become in town. And I was reminded of this song from “Carousel,” a play in which I had performed back in 1992.
“At the end of the storm is a golden sky, and the sweet, silver song of a lark. Walk on through the wind; walk on through the rain though your dreams be tossed and blown…”
Even at the last minute, on the last night, we were determined to cover as much of the town with our flyers as our opponents did with theirs because we believed the public had the right to know the whole truth, not just one part.
Under normal circumstances, almost no one does any canvassing work during a downpour. But these were not normal circumstances. We were out of time. We had been outspent four to one. But no one balked when the need came to go out one last night even if it meant getting soaked to the skin and looking to anyone watching from their windows like something the cat dragged in.
Somehow, the feeling was, this is what a real campaign should be—not the glitzy, image-centered sound-byte circus into which the media has turned elections, but the ideal imagined by the Founding Fathers—members of the community going out to the community in person with their message braving the elements because we believed so completely in what we stood for that getting wet and windblown didn’t matter.
“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone. You’ll never walk alone.”
Over and over, the mayor and her supporters tried to portray the opposition as fringe, as extremists, as a tiny, insignificant minority. Three years earlier, in my first council race, two days before the primary, the mayor saw me handing out literature in front of Dunkin’ Donuts and sarcastically asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?”
It turns out she was wrong in 2002 and even more wrong in 2005. Idealists filled with hope for a more democratic, inclusive vision for our hometown, we were vindicated by the election numbers as anything but alone. When all was said and done, 861 of us stood together in 2005, proud and unafraid and eager to make our voices heard in future policymaking and elections. And three years later, that is still something to celebrate because we are still here, and we are still speaking.
The political arena is full of storms. For all who believe in what they are doing, quitting should never be an option, no matter how many setbacks, no matter how long the odds.
In Highland Park, we never walked alone. And we never will.