Canvassing the Valley

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Alice Chen’s decision to become politically involved in the midterm elections introduced her to communities she wasn’t familiar with. Here’s her Perspective.

Last month, I was among the Bay Area residents who descended on communities like Modesto and Turlock to talk up a Democratic challenger to a four-term incumbent. We carpooled and caravanned from our bastions of liberalness, guided by Apple and Google and Waze. We were collectively driven by a desire to have someone’s vote count in DC, even if it wasn’t ours.

The weekend before the election, there were so many volunteers that the campaign had to orient us in batches. The crowd skewed older, and overwhelmingly white. There were a handful of Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Latinos, and even some kids, including my 12 year old twins.

As my family made our way door-to-door, people were unfailingly polite. Even the tattooed grumpy white man unloading his biracial toddlers smiled at my kids as he dismissed us by saying, “I don’t do politics.”

I chatted with a multi-generational South Asian family, a young woman dressed in a bright pink sari with preschoolers in tow, followed by her father-in-law who lamented how he knew which politicians were good in his home country, but was confused by all the mudslinging here.


Down the block, I chased an extended Latino family up to their front door, half a dozen adults in their late 20s, kids underfoot. All eligible but not registered to vote – but interested enough to interrupt their family gathering to hear me out.

I left both uplifted and sobered. The community I visited was more diverse than any neighborhood I frequent in the Bay Area. The people I encountered were more generous with their time and thoughts than I would ever be. But the level of disengagement from the political process was profound. With the proliferation of propositions and offices, we’ve made voting way too complicated. With all the negative campaigning, we’ve caused people to tune out.

A week after the election, my candidate was finally declared the winner. A hard won victory, but the real work – of engaging Americans like those I met in my trips to the Central Valley – remains ahead of us.

With a Perspective, I’m Alice Chen.

Dr. Alice Chen is a primary care physician in San Francisco.