My Street Fair Report

Last weekend I spent a few hours at Wilmette’s Summerfest street fair. Besides enjoying the community fun, I was there to share public outreach duties at the New Trier Dems’ info table. We offered literature from our Democratic candidates and helpful information from Democrats in office. But mostly we were there to engage the passersby, acquaint them with our organization and, for those who showed interest, get them involved in the upcoming mid-term battle.

As with past street fairs, we used a straw poll to attract pedestrians. The polls have always been extremely simple – a list of five or six short questions with a choice of very general answers. Personal comments are welcomed too. And as with past polls, the results are always tabulated and sent to local newspapers for publication.

Over the years, we’ve had straw polls featuring a range of topics. But this year’s poll seemed to be especially attractive to participants. Basically we asked the public how they feel about President Trump’s performance. Soon after arriving at the NTD table, I began using this pitch to attract people: “Would you like to take a straw poll and give your opinion on the job our President is doing?”

Upon hearing my question, a hefty percentage of the passersby would laugh and say something like, “You don’t want to hear what I have to say about that!” But of course we did. So, they would then take a minute to stop and fill in their answers, some asking if they could write in a category beyond “poor.”

What I found especially interesting was that this year, I didn’t have one single conservative person stop by to give me a good-natured tough time about why we Democrats are so misguided. I suspect that Trump’s recent behavior in Helsinki has a lot of Republicans keeping a low profile.

It’s true that nearly 80% of voters openly identifying as Republican still do favor President Trump’s actions, no matter how disgusting they might be. But here’s the reality behind that number. Those self-identifying Republicans usually make up little more than 25% of the total of American voters. (Self-identifying Democrats generally do a few percentage points better.) It’s the self-identified “Independents” who make up the largest single block of voters– leaning left or right, depending on the issues and candidates.

With that in mind we should be reassured about two things: 

1. There are a lot of potential votes within that 40%-plus segment of independents who are presently very much turned off by the leader of the Republican Party. This should be a big Mid-term advantage – if Democratic leadership doesn’t blow it.

2. The “80% Republican” group favoring Trump’s behavior actually represents only 20% of the total number of American voters. This somewhat good news means we aren’t completely surrounded by idiots.

But let’s get back to the Wilmette Summerfest. Since virtually every conversation at our table contained some mention of Trump, two women I spoke with had notably interesting comments.

The first was a woman whose mother was from Puerto Rico and father from Columbia. She’s always been an American citizen, raised a family here in the States and appeared to me to be a successful businesswoman. But her roots make her especially sensitive to the nasty generalizations our nation’s president regularly spews out about people of Hispanic descent. She finds Donald Trump’s words despicable.

Another younger woman who stopped by our table was from Eastern Europe. She’s a civil engineer working on an advanced degree and is on track to become an American citizen next year. Her story is inspiring. But sadly, President Trump’s regular (and generally ignorant) statements on immigrants chip away at her feelings of security in her newly adopted country.

Many other people stopped by our table without any straw poll coaxing. A married couple, both retirees, expressed concern about Governor Rauner’s recent veto of IL Senate Bill SB-2273. (If you’re immediately curious about Bruce Rauner’s shameful veto, Google SB-2273 right now. Otherwise, I promise next week to fill in the details. They will further inspire you to help elect J.B.)

Table visitors also asked what they could do to help change things in the upcoming November election. We urged them all to take some part, however large or small, in the campaign process between now and November. Each week there will be opportunities to join phone banking and/or doorbell ringing for some great candidates. And you can be sure that whoever you help will play a role in pushing back against the right wing’s assault on a more inclusive democracy.

Your first step is to learn about those candidates. Visit their websites. See their positions. Decide how you can help them. – And remember, even the smallest occasional involvement can have a cumulative impact that will result in victory.

Here are five websites to investigate: — Laura Fine, Democratic candidate for State Senator in the IL 9th Senate District (replacing retiring Dem. Senator Daniel Biss). — Jennifer Gong Gershowitz, Democratic candidate for State Rep. in the IL 17th House District (to fill the IL House seat being vacated by Laura Fine) — Sean Casten, 6th Congressional District (to replace Republican cypher Peter Roskam) — Lauren Underwood, IL 14th Congressional District (to replace Trump apologist, Republican Randy Hultgren) – This website is loaded with volunteer opportunities for many outstanding Democratic candidates on a daily basis. Laura Fine and Sean Casten have regularly scheduled phone banking nights.

And of course there’s NTDO’s weekly Thursday night phone bank for J.B Pritzker at our Oak St. office.

The campaigning is well underway. It’s time to join in.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973