In July of 2018, I arrived in Huntsville, Alabama, sight unseen.
My 2009 Honda Accord was packed to the brim with the contents of my Bushwick, New York, apartment, which had started to feel like a distant memory somewhere in the rolling, monotonous beauty of the Smokies. The trunk held garbage bags stuffed with clothing and liquor boxes filled with books. In the backseat was bedding, framed art and a coffee table my uncle made in the 1980s. My plan was to stay for five months ― through the end of the midterm elections ― and then return to the life I had been living in Brooklyn for the better part of a decade.
I had only been down to Alabama once before, several months prior, to volunteer at the Equal Justice Initiative’s opening of its museum dedicated to victims of lynching. It was there that I met Alabama’s Democratic House minority leader, who offered me a job working on the midterms. It was also there, in the Red Roof Inn on Zelda Road, that I picked up a mean case of bedbugs, which left itchy welts across my face and arms that took weeks to disappear.
Now I was headed to meet Alice, a volunteer on the campaign who had offered to put me up for a few nights and rent me an apartment at one of the properties she owned in downtown Huntsville. The rent was $400 per month for a large one bedroom ― less than half of what I had paid for my portion of the dilapidated two-bedroom I’d been renting in Brooklyn.
Alice and her wife lived about 20 minutes outside of Huntsville in Harvest, an unincorporated rural community. Driving around Huntsville, which I had been told would soon be the largest city in Alabama, I wondered Where’s the city part? The sight of cotton fields sent chills down my spine, and by the time I arrived at Alice’s, I was fundamentally questioning my decision to move.
I was not a professional campaign worker. In fact, this was my first job in politics. Until Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, I had been working in book publishing, teaching yoga and generally enjoying the many privileges that my whiteness allowed me. Like so many New York City liberals, that election had been a wakeup call, and I’d committed myself to doing more, to educating myself, to fighting for the rights I’d naively thought were guaranteed.
I’d read myriad think pieces about how we needed to spend more time in those parts of the country that had voted for Trump. But if Hillary Clinton couldn’t even be bothered to go to Wisconsin, did I…
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