The young Black driver of my Uber said he was taking the day off on Tuesday to ferry friends and supporters to polling stations in Philadelphia. “It is the most critical election of our time,” he said. “Gun control and social security are the two things that can protect Blacks. if Donald Trump wins he will reverse both. Do you know that the Ku Klux Klan has endorsed him? Black lives will not matter.”
I understood his anxiety as I drove past boarded factories, office buildings on sale and dilapidated houses to the Hillary Clinton campaign office on Frankford Avenue in the inner city of Philadelphia. Unemployment, militarised policing, homelessness, the cost of health care and access to college education were issues that every Black family was thinking of.
My spirit lifted to see the vigour and energy of young Black and Latino youth lined up to help Hillary. My rally campaign, Misha Battiste, a young Black woman, welcomed me with a smile and gave me a packet of information before sending me off for canvas training. Our trainer told us to be very polite if we came across Trump supporters and leave quickly as they sometime got aggressive.
Armed with names of voters, I knocked on doors to make sure voters had the right information about voting times, place to vote, IDs to carry and transportation to get there. For the undecided we tried to give more information to help make up their minds.
“Liar, liar, liar!” shouted a Russian woman, as she followed me down the road from her door. I had left when she said she was voting for Donald Trump. But now I turned around and asked, ”Is Trump not a bigger liar?”
“No, he will do business with Russia, she (Hillary) will make war with Russia,” she replied.
Her neighbour, another Russian immigrant, who had voted Democrat in the past agreed. I tried to explain that Hillary had never once said that she would make war with Russia. But the lady’s argument was that Bush Junior had completed the wars that his father Bush senior had started, and that similarly Hillary Clinton would complete what Bill Clinton had started.
But Bill Clinton did not start any war, I said. In fact, Bill Clinton had improved the economy, created more jobs and raised wages. And that Hillary Clinton had clearly stated that she would reduce gun violence, raise minimum wages, ensure affordable health care, make college accessible, protect social security and medicare, rebuild infrastructure, increase jobs, invest in clean energy, advocate for equal pay for women and the right to take medical decisions over their own bodies. Did the lady not want all this as an American citizen?
“I don’t believe her. She is a liar,” she replied.
That is when I realised that this election was not based on facts but on perceptions. The Russian immigrants only heard Donald Trump screaming the words “Putin” and “liar” when they switched on their TV. They did not hear Hilllary Clinton asking them to check her website for facts.
Other Trump supporters I met, one holding a sign saying Hillary4Prison called her a “bitch”, a drunk man from a bar who followed me to my car, called her a monster and a “slut”. That is when I began to grasp fully what Hillary was up against-a deep seated misogyny. These men feared female authority more than they feared Russia or China.
And the Russian women believed Trump more easily than Hillary because he was a man. They had been conditioned to accept what a man said loudly more easily than what a woman said politely. What would be seen as strengths in a man was projected as a weakness in Hillary Clinton. At a Kate Perry concert to turn out the vote for Hillary, a woman standing in line to get in said she was a Bernie Sanders supporter who was likely to vote for Trump. The two had nothing in common except that they were both men.
Worried and anxious, I started knocking on more doors, talking to more people, and I was reassured. Philadelphia would vote for Hillary.
Women would wear pantsuits to the polling stations to show solidarity against the sexist comments made against Hillary for wearing pants, many had T-shirts saying Nasty Woman to reclaim the abuse that Trump had heaped on her, and at the Kate Perry concert, girl power had turned out in full force. Kate McGinty gave her senate election speech, Kate Perry sang, Madeline Albright reminded us that 20 years ago, in 1995 Hillary Clinton had said “women’s rights are human rights,” and a young woman from college asked us to join her chant of Madam President.
I saw a father hold up his seven-year-old daughter to see Hillary on stage as we all chanted Madam President. In 36 hours this will become a reality. The conversation will change from bitch, slut and nasty woman to Madam President and smart woman.
I did not think that 20 years after I had heard Hillary, standing in the rain in Huairou near Beijing in China, I would be canvassing for her in Philadelphia but then Women Hold Up Half the Sky!
(Ruchira Gupta is a US-based journalist and activist. The views expressed are personal.)