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How door-to-door political campaigning restored my faith in humanity.

"The truth is that the real work of politics, the stuff that wins elections, isn’t exciting."

I’ve seen a lot of elections, but I’ve never seen anything like 2016.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, chances are that your feelings about this race are strong.

Case in point: Protesters at a Donald Trump rally in San Diego getting in a massive fight in May. Photo by Mark Ralston/ AFP/ Getty.


With just 21 days left, I wanted to know what I could do to make sure my voice was heard. Of course, I would vote. But what else? Not everyone can donate money. And because social networks like Facebook are engineered to show you opinions they think you’ll agree with, posting isn’t always making a huge impact, either.

The race has been so negative at times, it’s hard to not feel cynical.

But because the choices feel so stark to me, I knew that couldn’t stop me. I kept asking myself this question: "How can I help?" So I decided to try volunteering for a candidate.

Volunteers have been the difference in winning and losing a lot of elections. Barack Obama would have lost Florida and North Carolina if it weren’t for his volunteers. People who cared enough to get involved turned the tide of the election, and I wanted to be one of those people.

That’s how I found myself going door to door in New Hampshire, talking to people I’d never met about politics and policies.

I want you to know that personally, I support Hillary Clinton, but that doesn’t matter much for this story. What I learned was that it’s important to get involved in the things you believe in, not to suggest who others should vote for.

Because Massachusetts is a blue state, I decided to drive to a nearby swing state where my time ringing doorbells would have the biggest impact.

Photo via iStock.

I arrived at Hillary’s campaign headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire, on a Saturday. It’s a quiet New England city, the kind you see in postcards. The people are friendly, but the economic analysis shows this is an important election for the city. Wages have been stagnant for the last decade, and child care costs are among the highest in the nation. The decision about our next leader will strongly affect Manchester.

Walking in the door of the headquarters was hugely encouraging.

It was packed with millennial volunteers, which seemed like a stark contrast to the “millennials are apathetic” commentary I’ve been hearing on the news. After a rallying speech, we were given a quick orientation session, handed packets with addresses, and dispatched to go knock on doors.

I was paired up with Josh Query, a friendly ceramics major in his 20s.

World, meet Josh. Photo by me, used with permission.

Josh was an experienced canvasser, and he said he loves volunteering because he’s made so many friends. He says there’s a place for anyone to get involved in a campaign.

“Phone banking is one of the most valuable contributions if you don’t want to go face to face,” he told me as he led me down the street to our assigned neighborhood.

Canvassing is not the place for a hard sell. Lecturing people about who to vote for can feel both rude and ineffective.

I learned, instead, that the secret to all of this was in listening more than I talked. Canvassing neighborhoods showed me how much (or little) interest people have in politics. I was surprised that the majority of people I talked to didn’t have strong preferences, and they were shy in voicing them.

My husband, Frank, and our new BFF, Josh, after a nice conversation with a nice person. Photo by me, used with permission.

Quinn Rose, a Boston college student who was volunteering with us in New Hampshire that day, echoed my sentiments. “I was surprised by how nice everyone was, even when they disagreed with me. So it ended up being a really interesting and positive experience,” she said.

In the end, I was most surprised at the civility of people, even when we disagreed.

One house I canvassed had a gorgeous golden retriever that playfully barked at me as I knocked on the door. Over the fence, I could see a father playing in the backyard with his two blond daughters. It was one of those heartwarming moments where you could tell he loved being a dad.

“Sorry! I’m on the Trump train,” he told me. “Thanks though, and good luck with the election!”

“You, too!” I returned.

In the middle of a presidential cycle that increasingly feels like an apocalypse, it was an amazing moment. I probably don’t agree with that man on much, but ultimately, he just wants what’s best for his family.

It’s a good reminder that through all the acrimony of the election, there are real people on the other side.  

Of course, I had weird conversations, too. But despite all that, it was an immensely gratifying day.  As my husband and I were finishing up the last few streets of our second canvassing packet, we heard music in the distance. Like a reward for our hard work, an ice cream truck pulled up. Frank and I devoured ice cream, and then drove back to Boston.

Serendipitous ice cream! Photo by me, used with permission.

In a frustrating election like this, it felt really good to actually do something. I felt less helpless and more engaged in our actual democratic process. I felt like I had a say in what will happen to our country, even for just a day.

Query, my partner, agreed with me. “There are so many ways to help,” he said. “[People] can drive people if they have a car. They can open their homes for community events. 'I have work and school and you do, too, so let’s work together and do what we can to help out.'”

I know a lot of you might feel cynical about politics as this election drags on.

But the system wants you to be cynical because then you don’t get a voice, and the status quo continues.

The truth is that the real work of politics, the stuff that wins elections, isn’t exciting. It’s walking around. It’s registering people to vote. It’s knocking on doors. It’s listening to people. It’s mundane but deeply fulfilling. And it’s desperately important.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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