By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
As we come off the election last week, we’re reminded that early leaders of the National Consumers League were deeply involved in local elections. Florence Kelley and Jane Addams, from their perch at Hull House in Chicago, worked to defeat corrupt local officials and elect those who shared their concerns about child and sweatshop labor, then known as one of the leaders of the “boodlers,” as corrupt city officials were called.
I personally have always enjoyed Election Day. Ever since I was a kid and my mother would take her with me to vote, election day carries with it a sense of excitement. As Florence Kelley and Jane Addams knew, “all politics are local.” I experienced that during last week’s election; not only did I have my hopes set on the election of a number of consumer-friendly candidates locally and around the country, I myself was listed on my local ballot, running for a neighborhood advisory post that serves as the voice for the local community. I didn’t win, but nevertheless the process was unexpectedly rewarding.
I needed to be at my polling site catching the early voters and handing out literature by 7 am. I’ve never been to any polling site at that hour! But I wasn’t alone. By the time I arrived at 6:45 am, there were signs up and down the street from candidates running in the District of Columbia. And throughout the day I met my neighbors and friends, exchanged tidbits of information, learned about their concerns on traffic, pedestrian safety, or trash collection. We were visited by local officials: Mary Cheh, our Ward 3 city council member, our school board representative, and our new Mayor-elect, Vincent Gray. All stopped to chat and exchange information about turnout and who was likely to win what post.
Perhaps most moving were the elderly voters who came out. One woman moved down the street slowly but deliberately, her walker outfitted with a stylish Burberry pattern that matched her purse. Another gentleman, coming from the nearby assisted living facility, was bent all the way over his walker, but he moved at a swift pace up the hill to the church that served as our polling place. I walked him down the street after he voted, and he had a smile on his face as we talked, though he did complain that since he moved to the District, he couldn’t vote for a member of Congress! A valid criticism indeed, since District residents don’t have a vote in Congress.
I remained at the polls till they closed at 8 pm. Friends came and helped me hand out literature; another friend took me for a quick lunch break; I picked up my 15-year-old son from school and brought him to the polling place for a bit. Yes, there were a few dull moments, but all in all it was a great day and a terrific face-to-face exercise in civic involvement. Friends have asked me if I will run again for this local position. The answer is I don’t know, but the rewards of being on the ballot were a lot bigger than I ever imagined.