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Lessons from Poll Greeting

We're down to the final days. On Tuesday, the direction of Chapel Hill for the next four years will be decided.

It’s been noted by some that I’m new to local politics, and they’re not wrong (though I don’t agree that that disqualifies me from being an effective Town Council-woman). Still, even in my comparative inexperience I know that this is the part of the campaign where I’m supposed to double down against “the opposition.” Every vote counts, particularly in these small municipal elections. It’s end-game time.

Instead, I find myself closer to where I was at the beginning of this election season, when I had hope that we could overcome our differences, be civil, and arrive at compromise. Because I’ve been spending hours a day hanging out with “the opposition” at the polls, waiting for you, the voters, to wander by so that we can tell you why we’re better than each other. Come Tuesday a lot of us will be there from 6:30am to 7:30pm, giving it our last, best shot.

Some of my opponents and their poll greeter-supporters prefer to keep to themselves in between talking to voters. And I’ve heard second-hand that others are really quite nasty, though I’ve not yet experienced that myself. I have heard “the opposition” unfairly characterize my running mates and myself to voters, and then I have to take some big, deep breaths.

But I'm chatty to a fault, and curious. If you make me stand next to another living, breathing human being for hours at a stretch you better believe I’m going to strike up a conversation.

I’ll grant you that I don’t generally broach the topic of our political differences with my opponents and their supporters. Instead we talk about our kids and our pets, the different places we’ve lived in common, what we do when we’re not campaigning, and how campaigning is stressful. Depending on how willing “the opposition” is to be friendly, it can be quite pleasant.

I’m relieved to find that this is still possible, because most of this campaign season has been quite unpleasant. It’s been months of forums where we point out each other’s faults and try to catch each other up in our mistakes, weeks of watching our road signs suspiciously disappear. Article upon article upon blog post has insinuated or flat-out stated that I’m naive, unqualified, unprincipled, greedy, manipulative, and worse (being called a “stealth Republican” is the one I can’t get over). I have watched us all, myself included, get angrier and angrier. Resisting giving in to bitterness is a daily inner struggle.

But this campaign will end. Some people will get elected, some won’t. No matter the results, the winners will have two choices for what we do next. We can get out our shovels and commence digging deeper and deeper into our separate trenches, OR we can wander out, look around, play a game of soccer, trade cigarettes and chocolate bars, and realize we’re all just people.

What if instead of saying “your idea is different than mine, therefore I hate you,” we had the confidence to say, “hey, that’s a pretty good idea, I hadn’t thought about it that way” or “let me help you understand why this is so important to me and I will listen to why that is so important to you and then maybe we can figure out how to get us both what we need.”

I don’t pretend or expect that working with people against whom you've been pitted, willingly or unwillingly, is easy. It’s hard to come back from vitriol (hugs help). And there are some people who have caused real injury to others. Those people must come farther towards us to make amends than we towards them. But if those of us who have always wanted only to work towards an optimized Chapel Hill can lead the way together, perhaps even the most extreme among us can be part of the solution.

No doubt my inclination to emphasize kindness and respect will be taken by some as weakness. And I may be accused of focusing on style rather than substa

nce. I request that those people look to the other things I’ve written or the many, many questionnaires I’ve answered or the interviews I’ve given for my policy positions. In the meantime, if we want to implement policies that will outlast us, and serve more than just ourselves, we must start to communicate effectively.

Just think what we can achieve if we’re brave enough to let the best that we each have to offer carry the day. At the very least we’ll have a pleasant conversation to show for it, instead of yet another scar.

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