Scenes from Cambridge: Each Sign-Holder Tells a Different Story
By Paige Moulton
Boston University News Service
Monsters Mittens Match Her Campaign Sign
Jane Myers donned a black beret-style hat and a blue pair of monster mittens, complete with mismatched eyes and pointy teeth, for her task on Election Day. She stood outside for hours in 40-degree weather to hold signs touting Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
She bought the mittens at the Bazaar Bizarre and thought they were perfect for today: They match the colors of her Warren sign.
At the polling location in Cambridge where Myers held her picket sign, the line flowed into four different rooms. Myers was the lone picketer.
Her purpose for holding the sign is personal. “I decided that if I woke up the morning after the election, and Elizabeth Warren hadn’t been elected, and I hadn’t volunteered any time, then I wouldn’t feel good about myself,” said Myers.
She knows there’s almost no need to convince Cambridge residents to vote Democratic. “Obama will win Cambridge by startling numbers.” Myers said. “This is a very democratic city. It’s nice to live in it.”
The thumbs up she received greatly outnumbered the thumbs down. Myers did, however, have one man pass by and yell out “Yay Nixon!” She was more amused than insulted. “When Nixon died,” said Myers, “somebody put up a sign that said ‘honk if you’re glad he’s dead,’ and I did.”
Myers, 67, works as a photographer and a secretary. She has always been a Democrat. “My father was a factory worker. It colors who you are,” said Myers, adding that no one, not even Obama, will ever be far enough left for her.
Don’t Call Us Picketers
They are not picketers. They are sign holders or, preferably, visibility people. There is no picket line, or shouted protests. Only the occasional honking car or supportive pedestrian.
The difference is important to Stephen Leff. He calls himself and his wife, Judy Leff, are “visibility people.” They held matching signs this Election Day in their hometown of Cambridge for three Democratic candidates: Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Marjorie Decker, who ran for state representative.
Political expression has always been a shared interest for the couple.
“We’re old timers. We pretty much get out for all the elections,” said 70-year-old Stephen Leff, a senior vice president at the Human Services Research Institute and an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School.
“Our first date was a march in Washington D.C. against the Vietnam War,” said Judy Leff, 68. She recently returned from working for the Obama campaign in the panhandle of Florida, a Republican hot spot. She feels exhilarated by her involvement, which has spanned decades.
“You connect with so many people who feel the way you do,” she said. People like her husband.
Teachers Group Leader Recalls More Sign-Holders in Days of Old
Used to be, trucks would come around bringing doughnuts and coffee to numerous shivering sign-holders on Election Day, recalled Paul Toner. It was a community event.
This year, however, the 46-year-old North Cambridge resident was alone as he stood with four signs stacked a few feet taller than him on one picket stick.
“Maybe this holding signs thing is getting old-fashioned,” said Toner, a Democrat and president of the Massachusetts Teacher Association. But he does believe in his ability to influence people’s votes, especially when they come up to him and ask about a specific candidate. He also gets a lot of thumbs up from people walking by.
Toner agrees whole-heartedly with the quote, “All politics is local.” The man who said that was Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, another North Cambridge resident who went on to becomes Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. The city is currently celebrating what would have been O’Neill’s 100th birthday.
In the age of social media, where one person can instantaneously reach out to millions, local is losing its meaning. But Toner offers a different interpretation of local politics: “sticking your hand out and making that physical ask.”
“It has to be one-on-one,” said Toner. “You can tweet all you want, but you’re still going to have to go knock on some doors.”