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What I Canvassed on My Summer Vacation

One idea for those who've got time, but not money, to contribute to politics

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The only time Bill Dingfelder took a week off work to help a political candidate was two years ago, when he went door-knocking and pamphlet-wielding in Tampa, Fla., on behalf of his brother John's bid for county commissioner. John lost.

 

But that hasn't stopped Bill Dingfelder from pushing an idea whose time -- your own time -- he believes has come: vacation for a change.

 

From his home in Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County (outside Philadelphia), for the past month or so, Dingfelder has been promoting the notion of everyone dedicating a week of vacation from work this year to canvassing on behalf of your favorite candidate.

 

As long as your favorite is "progressive," he emphasizes. Or even if he's John Kerry.

 

"He's not as progressive as a lot of us would like," says Dingfelder, a former Howard Dean supporter. But the Democrats' de facto nominee will do. "I'm just a realist," he says, adding that an examination of Kerry's Web site reveals a supportable guy. "It's not just about Kerry," he continues. "It's about changing the direction of the country overall -- getting it back to humanistic, progressive ideals."

 

Conservatives can all just go to the beach as planned, he says.

 

Dingfelder has politics and progressive ideals in his blood. His mother, at 74, is still working phone banks. His brother eventually won office in Tampa, becoming a city councilor this past fall. But in his 51 years he hadn't done more than put a few leaflets in doors or pound a few lawn signs into his grass before today. The policies of President George W. Bush finally pushed him over the edge.

 

Fortunately, Dingfelder is a self-employed writer of grant proposals for nonprofits, so he doesn't have to parcel out his vacation days. But time is still money, of course: "I take four weeks of vacation like everybody else," he assures.

 

One of his weeks, probably in early October, will be spent walking the hills of Bala Cynwyd on behalf of Kerry and of more local pols. From his Tampa experience, he expects to be welcomed.

 

"They do appreciate meeting people from the neighborhood," he says of the nearby strangers he'll encounter. "Most people are flattered" to be asked their opinion. "People are almost always polite." But are they often convinced? "It's hard to say." He's looking for people in the muddled middle, swimming in purple instead of red or blue. Bush 1 lost because people changed their minds, even though he led in polls with 6 months to go, he recalls.

 

"I have nothing to gain from this, I'm just putting it out and saying, don't contact me, go contact your progressive candidates."

 

He may indeed never know whether anyone at all has taken him up on the idea: "All you can do is try. I'm not keeping count. I think the important count is going to be kept on Election Day."

 

So far, Kerry and Democratic Senate hopeful Joe Hoeffel have both ignored his press release, as has every major newspaper in the country, as far as he can tell. "You're the first one to pick it up," Dingfelder says. "Once again the Pittsburgh City Paper is on the cutting edge of a story." Or non-story.

 

"A lot of people like me were active in high school or college," he concludes. "But since then we've lived our lives, started our careers. But I still think there's a seed of activism in each person."

 

That's tremendously idealistic, isn't it?

 

Answers Dingfelder: "Well, thank you."

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