Walking the Streets of Modesto

Harder campaigning in Modesto. | Fabrice Florin, Creative Commons License


By Rev. Dennis Hamilton   

A friend invited my wife, Mary Kay, and me to join him for a rousing good time in Modesto. It would be a working vacation, said Ken Peterson, the friend. A political working vacation.

Ken was campaigning for Josh Harder, the Democratic candidate challenging Rep. Jeff Denham in the 10th Congressional District, and he asked for our help. I had never been in Modesto, except to gas up, but I thought of the week as a way to escape this bubble of beauty we live in on the Central Coast and to get to know the real world of the Central Valley.

All I knew was that it was a Republican stronghold and help was needed if America was to put the brakes on an out-of-control administration.

I had been rooting for and supporting Andrew Janz, running against Rep. Devin Nunes to the south, but Janz was 12 points behind Nunes and Harder was running neck and neck with Denham in Modesto, so that’s where we went.

When we arrived at the Josh Harder campaign headquarters on the Thursday before the election, I was blown away by the level of organization. This was no fly-by-night operation. We were trained in how to canvass, how to encourage people to vote, and we were given an app on our cell phones that provided all the info we needed to contact the registered Democrats. I was impressed and encouraged. There were hundreds of volunteers going out in teams, dozens more preparing packets, providing water and pizza and snacks.

On Saturday there were at least a thousand people heading out! Many were from the Bay area, desperate to make a difference where it would count. That day alone, we connected to 95,000 houses! A big thrill was meeting Josh Harder and his new bride, Pam.

But the biggest thrill was meeting America’s best hope, Adam Schiff, who is now chair-elect of the House Intelligence Committee. I shook his hand and told him that I was proud of him and looked forward to hearing what Robert Mueller had to report. (I kind of gushed, I’m afraid.)  I mean, this was a truly important person who would soon be making history.

As we went from neighborhood to neighborhood I had to admit that Modesto was actually not a bad town. It was a lot like every American suburb with strip malls and franchises. Lots of three-bedroom homes with neat yards, and mainly Hispanic names. But it was in old Modesto that I saw its past quaintness. Old tree-lined streets with a cottonwood and ash canopy. Homes that had seen greatness and awaited gentrification. People who had lived there for 50 years and knew all the dirt and were willing to talk about it.

My favorite neighborhood was a sad trailer park across the tracks. I met an African American woman with two little boys and beautiful Asian eyes sitting on her stoop trying to stay cool. She listened to my spiel as her littlest one took her my handouts and hung one on their door for me. She told me she was registered but hadn’t intended on voting. I told her where the voting place was and why we needed her vote.

As we talked, I saw something come on in her eyes, a determined look. She looked at me, and maybe she saw that I respected her. Her eyes narrowed. Her mouth set. She looked right at me and said she would vote this election for this Harder guy.

That was my highlight. Somebody who would have been ignored got enfranchised. Somebody who had been betrayed, lied to, bilked and who-knows-what that led to her living in this seediest of trailer parks with her gentle children may have been given hope. I know she gave me hope. This is why we went, to make sure America would wake up and re-establish balance of power, right some wrongs and tether this president’s poisonous message.

After a week of waiting for results in what proved to be a tight race, Josh Harder was declared the winner, by almost 5,000 votes. He ran against heavy odds but never gave up. Neither have I.

I was glad to get back to my bubble of beauty here in Pacific Grove, my own house and bed, but I have been bitten. In 2020 I will be back knocking on doors, first because it is crucial that America awakens from this nightmare of lies and hatred, but also because this person-to-person connection is what we need to give hope to the disenfranchised.

Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter.


About Rev. Dennis Hamilton

Dennis Hamilton is a retired Unitarian-Universalist minister from the Monterey Peninsula.