Date: November 7, 2005
Sent to but not published by the Boston Globe

Thoughts on signature gathering.

As part of my commitment for Common Cause, I offered to do a couple of hours of duty gathering Petition signatures outside our local voting place –  the National Guard Armory on Concord Avenue.

I'd not been inside before though my wife had and she told me of the impressive interior – and it was. The Drill Hall had a highly polished parquet floor – I couldn't imagine raw recruits marching up or down on it in their hobnailed boots. But I could imagine the officers' ball with sleek dress blues on the men and some women and silk and satin on the ladies as they glided across the parquet to old show tunes of the 1940's. The piece de resistance was the roof: all wood and kind of arts and crafts curved rafters keeping the wood in place. Very impressive.

My wife and I went into the gym where 15 voting booths had been set up. She immediately went over to chat with a former co-worker who was acting as some kind of observer or official. I tried to follow, but an official by the door took one look at my Common Cause buttons attached to my macintosh and said "No buttons in here. Out you go!" I slunk out and waited in the Drill Hall until my wife had voted.

We then went out and I joined the group of candidate standard-wavers a full 150 feet from the entry to the building. There were a couple for Fittini, one for Sampson, and one for a school board member whose name I forget.

I was very apprehensive about gathering signatures. I am not one to accost people on the street and ask for their help – to my wife's despair when I get lost driving somewhere. However, asking for signatures on a political, albeit non-partisan issue, just outside a voting place seemed more appropriate than setting up in Harvard Square to ask people for their support. So I was able to screw up my courage and ask people for their help – often I could barely get the words out of my mouth before they swept by, but others did stop and listen to my script.

There were four of us there: a big fellow with one of the Fittini signs and the school board candidate's sign; a grey haired older man with the other Fittini sign, and a young woman with a Dorothea Sampson sign. They were all chatting and after a couple of my attempts to get interest or signatures from folks walking in to vote were rebuffed, I joined the conversation. I started by asking for their signatures. The young woman had already signed; the grey haired man allowed that he didn't see much wrong with a little gerrymandering but he did agree to take an information sheet. The big fellow had stuck his sign in the fence and had wandered off with a couple of his friends who had come by and I did not see him again during my stint at the Armory.

After chatting for a bit, it turned out that the other two knew each other. The older man was a 70-year old retired Cambridge cop who lived near Tory Row - a very tony neighborhood. He had bought his house there for $27,000 in 1964 and sat there watching the neighborhood change from one housing cops and firefighters to a neighborhood filled with professors and architects -- just like our street thirty years later.

During my time on the line, about 15 people walked by – a lot more drove to the voting station and were inaccessible to me as the parking lot was off limits to be-buttoned folk and they entered the voting station at the back instead of coming round to the front door where I could have buttonholed them. A couple of people brushed me off on their way into vote, but on the way out asked what the petition was about and readily agreed to sign. For one of the people who signed, I puzzled over his attire. He was wearing a Harvard bow tie, but the little "Veritas" crests woven into the fabric were upside down. Did that signal that he was a chronic liar, or was it a distress signal (as is the case with national flags), or had he merely been inattentive when he dressed that morning. I didn't dare ask.

My other companion on the line turned out to be Dorothea Sampson's daughter. If the parent is like the daughter, she'd be a good candidate. I was glad to hear later that my wife had placed her among the eight candidates that she had voted for. Cambridge has a bizarre form of Proportional Representation, probably devised in the 1940's by a Harvard political scientist and an MIT mathematician. It is much too complex to describe (you can read about it here: http://www.newrules.org/gov/camp.html); but I guess it gets the job done.

During my couple of hours on the line, SUV's came by from three or four candidates. Each were loaded with coffee, sodas and muffins. Supplies were handed out indiscriminately, you didn't have to have a Fittini sign to eat at the Fittini wagon. That was a nice sign of cooperation between the rivals. My favorite candidate came by in his wackily decorated car but didn't have any goodies to hand out! A big mistake.

A couple of footnotes:
        - Crossing Harvard Yard this afternoon I ran across people selling T-Shirts that said "You don't have to be smart to go to Yale" followed by a picture of GWB, Class of ‘68. I (Ph.D., Yale, 1968) felt badly until I remembered that he learned his managerial skills at the Harvard Business School.
        - In Harvard Square near the subway I saw a girl with six clipboards that looked like they contained petitions. I wondered whether she was gathering signatures for one campaign and had six clipboards for different towns or whether she was a signature collector for six different petitions. Again, I did not ask.

And a final point
        - Common Cause is sponsoring a petition to reform redistricting by taking the responsbility out of the hands of the legislators and giving it to an independent Commission (albeit with members selected by politicians). If you have not signed this, please do so by contacting Common Cause:  http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=192849