Unless you’re that guy from Memento, you remember that the State Senate campaign laid down a marker a few weeks back: we were looking to add a parallel roster of community based volunteer events to our standard political calendar. In other words, we didn’t want this Senate campaign to focus exclusively or single-mindedly on getting the candidate elected. We wanted it to stop, along the way, and accomplish real things for real people in real towns and villages. Things that won’t disappear come election day, win or lose.
The meet-up, 10:30 Halloween morning, Martone’s, Essex Junction. L to R: Annika Ljung-Baruth, Selene Hofer-Shall (with horns), Todd McGowan, Keith Morrill, Jim DeFilippi, and Teen Center E.D. Ray Coffey, standing.
Sounds a lot easier than it plays. Remember, we’re still a year out from the general election. So you’ve got to locate and turn out people for whom the election isn’t the only motivation. People who just generally like to get stuff done. Not easy to find them, but when you do, you know it.
We turned out about 20 of these types at Martone’s in Essex Junction on Halloween morning, and then got them as hopped up on coffee and cinammon buns as is humanly possible. Which is pretty hopped up, it turns out. Teen Center Executive Director Ray Coffey spoke briefly about the mission of the Center, and some of the great things they’ve accomplished over the last few years.
And then we headed into battle.
Volunteers pre-cinammon buns.
The objective? Refinish the dance floor at the Center. If you’ve never seen it, the main meeting room at the Teen Center is the big killer clubhouse you always wanted and never had as a teen. It’s packed with couches, pool tables, pianos, refrigerators and other cool appliances — all of which have to be schlepped down a long flight of stairs if you plan to refinish the floor.
And that wasn’t the only glitch: turned out there was tape, decades old, probably from an old basketball set-up, glued tight tight tight to the hardwood floor. And we couldn’t just sand it off because it could foul the sanders — not good. But most any obstacle will bend to the will of ten determined people wielding putty knives.
Even with three power sanders, and enough hands to hold the cords and sweep and vacuum the dust as we went, it turned out to be an absolute bear of a job.
But again, 7 or 8 strong backs switching off in fifteen minute intervals — with the occasional donut break worked in here and there — and you could see the job coming together over the space of a few hours, like time lapse photography, but without much lapse.
It was a very nice mix of folks: a few Essex teens, a few parents of Essex teens, and campaign volunteers from across the county. At a certain point, when the main room was taken over by power sanders, the rest of the group picked up a series of other jobs we hadn’t planned on, and made those problems go away too.
That’s the thing, you don’t realize how much force there is in your average political campaign until you turn it away from the election for a minute, and apply it to an isolated real world problem.
Like hitting a sand castle with a garden hose: it’s not even close to a fair fight.
Elaine Sopchak, who brought her girls and one of their friends, embarked on a general cleaning of the greater Teen Center, for instance. Hallways, bathrooms, stairs, whatever was not as clean as it might have been very quickly became as clean as one might wish it to be.
And Sarah Suscinski, the campaign’s Service Politics coordinator, put together a small group to write Veterans Day letters to a veterans organization down the street. After an hour or so of walking the sander over the dance floor, walking into the computer room at the Center felt like walking into a chapel.
Funny thing: we had three power sanders, two uprights but the third was an edger, a thing you had to work on your knees and muscle around and just generally sweat over to get the proper result. You’d think it would have been the job everyone wanted to ditch.
But for some reason, people got hooked on the edging sander. Jim DeFilippi, for instance, wouldn’t give it up, although people offered to spot him time and time again.
Finally, when Jim could edge no more, Todd McGowan, a quiet thoughtful type, took over and he also got hooked on it. He too sanded on his knees through several changes in shift, locked in on the work, the tool, the edge.
And when he’d had enough, at long last, Todd came over to tell me that he was leaving. And when he did, he shied a hand back at the baby-smooth track he’d left tight to the wall, and he said, hesitating over just the right word, “That was really . . . satisfying.”
And everybody knew pretty much exactly what he meant.
Dance on, Essex teens.