This day and age, to perform the most rudimentary civic act — voting — is as painless as walking to and from your mailbox. That's it. Little forethought or physical exertion necessary. But three Colorado College alumni are kicking it up several notches by biking across the country to psych up swing-state voters during the election season home stretch.
Midway on their westward journey, Benjamin Feldman, Jamie Daudon and Meredith Bird (disclosure: they're friends of the author) rolled into the Springs last weekend to spend some days volunteering for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, which locally and around the country, is digging deep for the final push.
The trio, whittled down from the original crew of five who set out from Maine, spent a day registering voters outside the Walmart off Academy Boulevard and another canvassing in the southeast part of town. After a restful day of regrouping and planning, they set off again toward Las Vegas.
That's been the standard itinerary, more or less: Bike through swing states, stop for a day or two in certain critical cities, bust butts volunteering for the local Clinton campaign, maybe get a beer and/or burger, then hit the road again. So far, they've averaged about 80 miles a day with about 30 pounds of food, clothes and spares in their panniers. And if all keeps going according to plan, they'll make it to northern California before election day, having committed hundreds of voters to show up in what some anticipate will be one of the lowest turnout cycles in recent history.
Among the least stoked about this election are young voters who, according to the Pew Research Center, make up just under a third of the electorate but suffer, this cycle especially, from pervasive "mehh." Even Bird, who dreamt up and organized the ride, admits she wasn't always this enthused. A self-described "Bernie Bro" during the primary, she had her qualms about the eventual Democratic nominee's relatively tepid progressivism. "Every day of the trip, though, I become more supportive and more confident in her ability," Bird says, adding "I'm definitely more pro-Hillary now than just anti-Trump."
Daudon was in the Clinton camp from the get-go, which he acknowledges wasn't exactly popular amongst his peers. "She's not the most exciting candidate for people our age, I get that," he said. "But it's cool to show up at these local offices where most of the volunteers are older folks, mostly women, and we're pumped about volunteering. They get so excited."
And for good reason: Millennials were a driving force in the movement that put Barack Obama in the White House. Then in 2012, when the President asked Americans to keep him there, the younger generation once again obliged. According to exit polls, 60 percent of voters under 30 cast their ballots for Obama in his re-election compared to the 48 percent of voters that age who expressed support for Clinton in a mid-September poll done by CBS and The New York Times.
To up that number, the Clinton campaign has deployed a formidable array of Millennial-friendly surrogates like the timelessly poised Michelle Obama, populist firebrand Elizabeth Warren and man-of-many-memes Bernie Sanders. It helps too that the Democratic candidate has adopted some of her former opponent's policy proposals and even the language he once used to describe them. Her stump speech is chock full of references to "making the economy work for everyone, not just those at the top" — a blatant Sandersism designed for progressive appeal.
Certainly, these young bikers name priorities like addressing student debt, corporate power and climate change, which, since primary season wrapped, get some play from their candidate and absolutely none from her opponent. They're reasonably confident that if elected, Clinton could move the needle on those issues, but, like her predecessor, the greater unknown is whether and to what degree she actually will.
"It's different with Hillary than Obama because with him I feel like there was this expectation for radical change and with her it's not really there," Bird says. "So while it's clear to me that she's the right choice, we're definitely going to have to hold her feet to the fire to make sure things actually get done."
As far as efficacy goes, the bikers readily admit their sweat-powered, cross-country approach is hardly the most impactful. After all, they could have worked more directly for the campaign, recruited and organized an army of volunteers and hustled them through long days of canvassing and phone-banking all summer. Friends of theirs who took that approach may have more influence over the outcome and a neater line on their resumé to boot. But the "Riding Hills for Hillary" trip has a mission that's as much social as it is political — to bring people from distant points on the political spectrum together for roadside conversations that, hopefully, refresh their understanding of the "other" side.
"The exposure to different viewpoints has been the most valuable part of the trip, for sure," says Feldman, who cites a particularly memorable canvassing stop in Milwaukee that had him going door-to-door in a massive affordable-housing complex. "I was talking to all these poor black folks who initially were Trump supporters because of his stance on gun control," he says. "I feel like I got a way more nuanced understanding of their need to protect themselves while also being able to share a lot about why his 'tough on crime' stance, history of housing discrimination and getting endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard makes him not a great candidate for what they're concerned about."
Daudon, too, remembers a conversation with a McDonald's employee that veered into tearful territory. "She had an 'Ohio Women for Trump' hat on, so I asked her about it and she started talking about how she didn't want to be working there but her husband's health care had gone up so much since Obamacare," he recalls. "And I could see how frustrated she was and how she couldn't imagine continuing on this trajectory for another four years, then there's this strong man saying he can fix everything and she believes him."
The trio can't say whether they've actually swayed anyone's beliefs along the way, but they have surely come to respect other perspectives better, and that's what they're hoping to broadcast to their followers.
"A huge part of this whole shebang is making it accessible to other people," says Bird, citing their blog, ridinghillsforhillary.wordpress.com, and Instagram, @RidingHillsforHillary.
"A lot of people following us are our family and friends in liberal circles that always reinforce their own opinions," she says, "so we're putting up reports of the conversations we're having and what we're finding on the ground to get them in touch with different viewpoints."
The ride has had its share of low points — like 19 stitches in Nebraska and all those flat tires — but the slog will undoubtedly be worth it, the trio says, no matter the election outcome. And though none has intentions of working in professional politics, they all see a lot of on-the-ground work to be done during the four-year stretch between elections that this race, at least in theory, is all about.
After all, the finish line ahead is just another starting gate.
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