Unexpected Election Revelation: Joy Can Be Found in a Brooklyn Call Bank

by Paddy Johnson on October 7, 2016 Opinion

Jasper Johns, Three Flags,

Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1954-55

Art and the presidential race don’t often collide. Every once and a while we can report on an artist who’s rendered Trump with a small dick, or more recently, the bizarre Twinks4Trump art show.  But mostly, the election replaces the art news on our feeds, rather than intermingles with it.

This past Wednesday I experienced a rare intersection of art and electoral politics in the most unlikely of places—Hillary Clinton’s campaign office. I was there with seven other artists, galleriests and curators to work the phone banks. That night we spoke to dozens of people, all of whom were casting absentee votes. For many of us, myself included, it was our first time doing any campaigning at all.

Now, the connection between my experience making a few calls and art is not exactly obvious. I barely talked about art. I talked to a lot of old people about making sure their vote was cast. And yet, I experienced a very similar kind of joy as I have enmeshed in the art world. The joy that comes from taking a risk and watching others do the same. The pleasure that comes from feeling like you’ve contributed something, even if it’s small or feels somehow intangible. And the happiness brought from connecting with people who have a vision—even if it’s not your own—and work to see it executed.

I experienced all this while talking to voters. Most were registered democrats too old to get out to the polling stations, though a surprising number were volunteers already. In fact, one women I spoke to had just returned home from making the same calls. She was 88.

After we finished at the bank, a group of us met downstairs and discussed our calls. Everyone was elated. It felt like we had received a gift, rather than offered one.  That feeling reminded me of President Barack Obama’s words during the democratic convention. “For all the tough lessons I’ve had to learn…what’s picked me back up every single time: It’s been you. The American people.”

In his speech, Obama went on to cite the words of encouragement people had given him. For me, it was the sentiments and actions of all those I spoke to Wednesday night that gave me faith in the American people and renewed strength. Regardless of who they supported or what their health situation might be, every one of them felt voting was important enough to get the absentee ballet, fill it out and send it back out. Not only that, many of those I spoke to in bad health expressed genuine regret for not being able to volunteer.

Those exchanges were the most meaningful to me of the night and I hope I never forget them. And I hope they don’t either. In those calls, I tried to make clear that voting was more than enough. We shouldn’t measure ourselves by what others do, but rather by what we can do.  In fact, the very existence of the phrase “we all do what we can”, is actually a profound description of the ethos of this country. We pitch in. This is the true test of a nation, and come election day, America will do just this.

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