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This was last fall. It was about one o’clock on a Sunday, and I was standing on the sunny porch of a capacious colonial in a nearby neighborhood. A woman came to the door in a soft tailored suit, tasteful scarf, and high heels; the little girl peeking from behind her wore a crisp polka-dot dress and sparkly sandals. It was clear they’d just gotten home from church.

The woman chatted warmly as I introduced myself, explained that I lived nearby, and was a volunteer.

... And then I told her what I was volunteering for.

At first it was like she didn’t hear me. “For Obama?” she said. (“You know, the President,” I almost said, helpfully. She seemed honestly confused, as if I’d said I was canvassing for Nixon, or Beyonce, or Winnie-the-Pooh.)

And then her expression changed, almost cartoonishly... and suddenly this sweet-faced June-Cleaver PTO mommy was giving me a full-scale varsity-level sneer, complete with laser-powered death stare clearly intended to set my hair on fire. I almost fell off the porch.

“I will never, EVER, vote for that man,” she spat angrily, still making the cartoon face. Then she started to yell: “NEVER! EVER! EVER!”

I blinked and started to respond, but then--remembering that morning’s canvassing training--bit my tongue, thanked her, and hastened down her driveway.  Her shouts, ever-increasing in volume, followed me all the way down the street. “Ever! EVER! EVER! EVERRRrrr!!!!”

I couldn’t help giggling incredulously as I hustled away, consulting my clipboard for friendlier venues. Hoo boy, I thought. I just hope her Bible lesson today wasn’t on loving your neighbor.

My little adventure made everybody chuckle (and sigh) back at the field office, but what’s pertinent now, as our nation tackles the crucial issue of gun violence, is this: We can't waste our time arguing with diehard opposition. We have to concentrate on the genuinely undecided, and people who agree but need a nudge to take action.

Well, duh, right?

Except that I remembered this only after spending twenty minutes composing just the right Facebook post to a person who thinks the right to carry an assault rifle was handed down on a stone tablet by God himself... and I then proceeded to reflect (okay, stew) about it for an amount of time I’m embarrassed to reveal.

Duh, indeed.

So, sure, put that witty comeback on Facebook (just don’t spend as much time on it as I did!), and write that awesome essay for Daily Kos (seriously: I want to read it).

But also remember to call your dad who generally agrees with you but needs you to send him the links to his congressman’s online email form. Engage respectfully with friends who are undecided. Email your sisters with a list of their representative’s and senators’ phone numbers.

And try to educate your agreeable-but-not-so-active friends and family about how exactly to proceed when calling a member of Congress.

Many people don’t realize they don’t have to have a bunch of policy points memorized, and that nobody will argue with them. Remind them that it is acceptable to call repeatedly, even once a day, since most members of Congress simply get a tally of the viewpoints expressed by callers each day, rather than tracking an individual voter’s calls or viewpoints. (Heck, I didn’t know this last point until just recently.) Tell them to put a post-it on their desk with their Congress members’ phone numbers to remind them to call, next to a photo of their children so they remember why. Encourage them to call, and call, and call again.

So, good luck and godspeed (and don’t forget to love your neighbor). I’ve got my fingers crossed for all of us.


Right now my four-year-old daughter and her friend Maya are riding their scooters up and down the street in crunchy fall leaves, taking breaks now and then to practice wobbly cartwheels in my front yard.

Maya is healthy now, but a couple of years ago, she was anything but. She was sick all the time and no one knew why. Only after she became so ill she nearly died did her doctors finally pinpoint the cause.

And that was just the beginning: The little girl then endured not one, not two, but three lengthy courses of harsh chemotherapy to try to fight the rare immune disease; she underwent a bone marrow transplant, then had to have a second one when her body rejected the first. The second transplant, thank God, worked.

When I tuck my own little girl into bed at night, all rumpled and pink and unfairly healthy, I think about her friend Maya, and what it must have been like for Maya’s parents to kiss their daughter goodnight in a hospital bed night after night ... to reach past blinking monitors and coils of IV tubes just to touch the curve of her cheek and the rise and fall of her little body, wondering how long she could fight, how long they would have her. Just imagining it makes it hard for me to breathe. I find myself returning to my daughter’s room over and over, looking at her in the glow of her Winnie-the-Pooh nightlight, watching her sleep.

For a long time, Maya’s parents didn’t know if her story would have a happy ending. Even now, they take extra precautions, and fight the urge to encase her in bubble wrap every time she leaves the house. But some lucky things happened along their journey: They found a diagnosis in time. They found marrow donors in time. They found the right hospital. They found the right doctors. 

And one other thing happened, one other thing that isn’t dramatic or glamorous but changed everything nonetheless. When the costs for Maya’s treatments hit the lifetime maximum on her parents’ insurance, the rest was paid by Medicaid. Medicaid saved them. Instead of panicking over the enormous cost of their daughter’s treatment (a cost that would have bankrupted them completely), Maya’s parents were able to concentrate all their energy on the child who needed them, supporting her through her pain and fear, fighting to save her life. And today, instead of scraping their way out of financial ruin, they are watching their healthy little second-grader bound off the bus after school every day, and jump in piles of bright fall leaves.

It is easy to glaze over when presidential candidates start debating their budget plans, easy to think that the “social safety net” is for somebody else’s family, somebody else’s kid. We forget that budget choices can mean everything, even life or death, for someone we know or love, maybe even us. But they do. 

So when a candidate for the presidency proposes an $800 billion cut to Medicaid, a program expressly intended to help sick children, low-income children, and elderly people in nursing homes, we should take notice. 

When I go to the polls on Election Day, I will think about a lot of things, but I will mostly think about how close every one of us is to needing a hand up instead of giving one ... how we are all just one diagnosis or accident or pink slip away from having the bottom drop out of our neatly ordered lives. 

I’m self-reliant; government programs are for other people, we say. I worked hard in school. I have a good job. My family eats well and exercises. We do everything right. 

Of course you do. And that’s great. But so did Maya’s family ... and it only took one doctor’s appointment to make their whole world fall apart.

I can handle things myself, we tell ourselves. But can you, really? Your church loves you and will drive you to your appointments (a gift of love that should not be diminished)... but it can’t fund months of chemotherapy. Your savings are admirable ... but if you lost your job and then became seriously ill, I don’t know a soul who could self-fund a million-dollar bone marrow transplant. 

You just don’t know. You can’t know.

So when I am given the choice between a candidate who plans to cut $800 billion from a program that helps sick children, poor children, and old people but still has room in his heart for billions in inexplicable tax cuts for profoundly wealthy people and trillions in new defense spending ... and the other option is a man who has abolished lifetime caps on health insurance, removed restrictions for people with pre-existing conditions, and will by 2014 have made health care affordable for everyone in the country, so that parents can pray without ceasing beside their children’s hospital beds without also having to ask “how are we going to pay for this?” ... when I am given this choice, I will think of Maya. 

And it will be no contest. 

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