By J.D. Fox, Adjunct Professor, New York University (NYU); Co-author, “Never Try to Drink a Chinese Woman Under the Table.”
For everyone who lives in a blue or red state, especially those in the communications professions whose job is to influence others, take heart: you have another strategic option besides bitching to your friends or avoiding campaign discussion altogether.
You may reside in New York or California or the other easy-call states whose votes are assumed by the major campaigns, and will never see a political spot on local television. But, here’s the critical question: where did you grow up? Where does most of your family still live? Anyone in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia or Wisconsin?
Sorry, two more questions, these intended to guilt you: how long has it been since you traveled home? Wouldn’t Mom love a visit in October?
To hear the campaign press tell it, this election is all about white women who didn’t go to college, beauty queens, or maybe Bernie-nostalgic Millennials who need to be talked into registering before they can be persuaded to vote. I think they’re missing (or maybe not talking about) a potentially huge group of already-registered voters: the elderly.
I grew up in Wisconsin (see “States; Swing”), was a TV reporter in its two largest markets, and my Mom is still there. She already has her absentee ballot – the voting method of choice for Mom and all her friends. They witness each other’s signatures, and mail in the completed form any time between now and early November.
If you’re feeling powerless this election cycle, go book a flight. Talk to your Greatest Generation relatives about their choices, including the consequences of sitting it out. Not voting, this time, is voting. Further, their generation – notably my Dad, since passed – successfully dealt with political extremism once before, in the ‘40s.
Then, extend your impact: condense your family’s backstory and talking points (if you’re a great communicator, isn’t it in part genetic?), schedule a visit to the local senior center, and provide an advance alert to the hometown television stations. Emphasize your roots, and let your forbears work magic with their peers. Tell the local party apparatus what you’re doing; I bet they’d love it and will probably get the cameras there for you (not to mention handling the necessary follow-up).
This idea has already been test-marketed. Back in 2008 and again in 2012, comedian Sarah Silverman organized “The Great Schlep,” targeting Florida’s elderly. It got laughs; it also got votes.
Great plan, right? I hope it works for you, but doubt I’ll be able to pull it off myself. My Mom in Wisconsin is 93 years old. We talk on the phone almost every day. She’s sharper than I am, and voted for the first African-American president. But, she just doesn’t think a woman should do that job (and quickly changed the subject after the first debate).
I’m still fumbling for a way around that – Mom has always been my toughest audience.