Trick-or-Treating for Civic Engagement

November 1, 2018Mar Silkes



On October 31, my friend and I took to the streets. Not for the normal Halloween reasons, oh no. We had an ulterior motive. As we went door-to-door, we weren’t asking for candy, but instead asking people if they had remembered to vote in the midterms. Of course, we weren’t going to say no to the candy.

I didn’t know what to expect when we started out. I had no clue if any of my neighbors were politically involved or cared about voting at all. But regardless, my friend and I started walking, laughing nervously as we approached the first door of the night. Five minutes later, we left after a successful conversation, an assurance of a voting household, and feeling much more confident. One house down, many more to go.

For the most part, it felt routine. We got it down to a script - “Trick or treat! We’re here to remind you of your civic duties!”, and the reactions were mostly either a “yes! We voted!” or a “I’m putting it in the mail tomorrow!”*

But then, there were the other reactions, which I really didn’t expect. A few houses later, we knocked on a door, started our spiel, only to get confused blinking at the words “civic duty”. After a few seconds of silence, the woman at the door apologetically said “oh, I can’t vote.” I think she expected that to be the end of the conversation, but I’m more stubborn than she gave me credit for. I quickly started talking about different ways you can be politically involved, from helping with campaigns to showing up at protests. By the end of that conversation, she had a smile on her face and nodded as I told her to look in to other options. This scenario repeated itself a few more times that night, with entire families coming to stare curiously at me as I explained options for being politically involved.

That was something I really didn’t see coming - the reality that some perfectly upstanding people were cut off from voting for any variety of reasons. While I can’t change the laws to let them vote by myself, I can help them get involved in many different ways. Helping get people who are cut off from direct voting have their say in our democracy might have been the greatest success of the night.

There were a few other responses that really stuck out. One man told us proudly “I’ve never missed an election! I fought for 30 years for the right for free elections, I couldn’t just not vote now.” That really reminded me why I was doing this, because voting is a right, and rights are things that people have fought for, and things we all deserve. That really confirmed to me that I was doing the right thing. The interaction that most stood out to me was when, after we went through our spiel, an older woman started talking. She told us that in the late 1800s, her great aunts, before they had the right to vote, would go out and work the polls for every election. She told us about how they believed it was important to make sure people voted, even when they couldn’t. That story really stuck with me.

For centuries, people have been working to ensure a politically conscious and engaged population. While two 17-year-olds traipsing through one neighborhood might not seem like a lot, it’s a continuation of the great tradition of working to get people to vote, and a stark reminder that this voting freedom is not something everyone had or has. All I can hope is that we made an impression, and someone in my neighborhood is going to start getting involved because of my Halloween door knocking. If not, at least I know I live surrounded by intelligent, politically engaged neighbors, which is really all I can ask for.

*In Washington, all voters vote by mail



Mar Silkes is a high school senior from Woodinsville, Washington. They are a member of Temple Beth Am in Seattle and previously participated in the RAC's L'Taken Teen Social Justice Seminar and the RAC Teen Justice Fellowship. 

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