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The woman glanced at the sign and rolled her eyes. I considered sticking my foot out to trip her as she walked by, but realized that wouldn't win our group any fans.
The night was hot and sticky, most likely the last gasp of summer. People rushed by, trying to get to their next air conditioned destination as fast as possible, some looking at us, some pointedly avoiding eye contact. A man drifted a little too close to us. I stuck out my hand and held a flyer in front of him. "Ron Paul wants to protect your Second amendment rights!" I said quickly. The man sidestepped my hand and I pulled the flyer back.
We were standing outside a building where an NRA event was being held, waving Ron Paul signs and handing out flyers that listed Paul's stance on gun issues. To be totally honest, I'm not a Ron Paul supporter. I'm not committed to any candidate. But I was curious about how New Yorkers, residents of this bluest of cities in a rather blue state, would react to campaigning by a Republican candidate. I thought the best way to find out would be to jump onto the front lines. Granted, it wasn't the most extreme test--Ron Paul, with his anti-war stance and libertarian leanings would probably be considered the most palatable candidate for many typical Democrats. It's not like we were out there with, "Change the Constitution! Re-Elect Bush!" signs.
A woman smiled at us and gave a thumbs up. "I'm voting Republican for the first time in my life!" she called out. We smiled back and waved. I noticed an approaching man staring at the signs. I thrust a flyer in front of him and he took it. I sighed with relief. So far I'd been a flyer failure and was beginning to feel bad.
I was paired with a guy who had brought his own large, impressively professional-looking sign. We initially weren't sure whether we were supposed to give flyers only to people who appeared to be going to the event or whether we should try to hand them out to random people. The building management had moved us away from the entrance, so it was hard to tell who was going in until the last minute. The best I could do was scope out men in suits, and as soon as they veered towards the door, lean over the velvet rope and try to catch their attention before entering. But it was early and people were arriving at a slow pace. Others entering the building for different reasons just gave us annoyed looks as they tried to avoid our outstretched hands.
I turned back to the people passing by on the street. I looked for people who made eye contact and tried to reach out to them. If someone looked to consciously avoid meeting my glance, I went after them as well; being dismissed or ignored is a wonderful motivator. I had always been irritated by the people who stand around near the top of the subway entrances, pushing campaign literature upon you when you have something better to do, like get where you're going without being stuck with unwanted paper. Now I had become one of them and I finally knew what kept them going: perversity.
However, the rejection eventually wore on me--it was still meltingly hot on the steamy crowded sidewalk and any excess movement didn't seem worth going after people whose disinterest was a given. The most successful ventures I had were targeting people whose gaze seemed to linger a little long on the sign. That slight hint of curiosity or interest was enough for me to jump in with a flyer and a hopefully not too nervous looking smile. It didn't always work, but at least I got some takers.
I asked the sign guy next to me if he had done this kind of thing before. He said that he had (given the quality of his sign, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised). He said he was very politically involved and had been to lots of rallies, protests, and events. He'd never been arrested, he said, something which he seemed to find slightly surprising. He owned his own megaphone. We both agreed that if you own your own megaphone, that probably is a sign that politics plays a big part in your life. It reminded me of one boy I knew in high school who, acknowledging the number of proms he was attending that year and most likely the next, gave up and bought his own tuxedo rather than going the standard rental route. I suggested to my sign-holding friend that he try to get one of those universal handcuff keys so he'd be ready if he ever was arrested. He thought that was a good idea. Either that or riot gear.
A woman and a teenage girl were walking towards the doors of the building. They smiled at us so I hopefully stuck flyers towards them and asked, "Are you going to the NRA dinner?" They took the flyers and I felt a moment of triumph. Then the girl said, "My dad's the chairman." Oh. I guessed they probably didn't need a lot of lecturing about their right to bear arms.
"Protect your Second Amendment rights! Who wants to save the Constitution?" one of the other flyer hander-outers called out to passers-by.
I looked up at the sky. The sun was finally going down and a slight breeze was kicking up. The other people in our group were talking about a trip they had planned to go to New Hampshire this weekend to attend a "Meet Ron Paul" event. All of them were very sincere and seriously committed to the Ron Paul cause. They had all been so nice to me and seemed so happy to have someone else come out to help--I felt guilty about my mild level of duplicity and my not-dwindling fast enough stack of flyers.
I asked sign-holding guy, "Why Ron Paul?" He looked at me a little strangely. I guess this seemed like kind of an odd question from someone who was supposedly a fellow supporter. I explained that I was always curious to hear people's reasons because, unlike many of the other candidates, he wasn't a nationally known name. Sign-guy talked about how important it was to him to have a candidate who wanted to stay out of people's lives, who didn't want to tell him how he was supposed to live, what kind of food he could eat, or drugs he could take, who didn't want to take away any of his rights. I nodded silently and offered a flyer to a man walking towards the building. He took it.
Someone asked what the Second Amendment was. I just said it was the right to bear arms. He held out his arms and asked, "Like these?" "Sure," I said. He thought this was hysterical and went on an extended unfunny riff about how if he was an octopus he'd have eight arms and could he bear those also. I wearily said yes and Ron Paul was the candidate who would protect those rights. If nothing else, I was locking up the crucial octopus vote for Dr. Paul.
I had to leave soon to get to another event but the competitor in me wanted desperately to find takers for a few more flyers. I couldn't stand the thought of being a flyer failure. Improbably, my stack had shrunk somewhat, but I just wanted to do a little better. I searched for anyone who would meet my glance, read the sign, lean towards the building. I could have been handing out flyers advertising my own execution, but I didn't care. I just wanted to win the hand-out battle.
"One more...one more...one more..." I muttered. It was almost dark now. I really had to leave. Someone stopped and asked for a flyer. I gave it to him. I couldn't let that one be the last one, though. I hadn't done anything. It didn't count.
A man turned towards the building. I leaned way over the velvet rope and pushed a flyer in front of him. He looked down at it quickly and took it.
"Yes!" I said. Sign-guy smiled. I thanked him and wished him good luck with the trip to New Hampshire to meet Dr. Paul. I raced down the steps to the subway to catch a train, now a seasoned campaign pro, a flyer girl of some success. Other candidates, my services are available.
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