Monday, October 24, 2011

Big Slim's Neighborhood: Knocking Doors on Lockheed Boulevard

Over the past few weeks, I've been knocking doors in apartments on Route 1. 

Earlier this year, I wrote about knocking doors in Hayfield Precinct.  I also wrote about a few people I've met including an artist named Pat Monk, and an old soldier named Samuel Ferguson

Tonight, I had to coach our makeup game for my oldest daughter's soccer team until about 6:30 P.M.  I wasn't able to start knocking until late.  I swung by the campaign office, said hi to the volunteers, and I headed over to Lockheed Boulevard right up the street.  Because I started late, I was only able to hit about twenty doors, but it was an interesting night. 

The first door of the night had a really unusual name.  It turned out to be a Cambodian family.  I had not remembered meeting a Cambodian family in 10,000 doors.  The the mother and daughter were registered to vote.  However, the mother was unemployed and disabled.  She told me she could mend my clothes and gave me a homemade business card which was an index card with an address label stuck on it with a phone number handwritten on it. 

Her daughter was off at NOVA in classes and her other daughter was doing her homework on their one computer in the living room.  She corrected her mother a few times when she was not picking up my english well (a common occurrence when I talk to immigrant families).  A friend from Janna Lee was visiting, but she was not registered yet because she said she had not been able to afford the fee take her citizenship test yet.  I encouraged her to take the test so she could vote next year.  They all pledged to vote this year.

Next, I ran into a hispanic family whose door I knocked two years ago.  Their forty-five year old son answered the door.  He said he was staying with his parents because he was unemployed, but he used to live in Murraygate Apartments (behind Gold's Gym).  His parents were at work (it was 8:00 pm).  He assured me that they would make every effort to vote and he appreciated me stopping by.

I next knocked the door of an African family (maybe from Ghana).  The mother opened the door with a few kids.  At first she was kind of annoyed and then she had an epiphany - she said "you were here a year ago!" (two years ago actually).  She said "we're voting for you," thanked me for stopping by and returned to her apartment.

Downstairs, I met another African man who I spoke to two years ago.  He came out in his pajamas after his son at West Potomac answered the door.  He said he remembered me and our conversation two years ago.  He was really interested in getting more well-paying technology jobs in the Route 1 Corridor.  His daily commute to Herndon was over one every day one-way.  He said that he had never really voted before President Obama was elected, but that the President had inspired him to register and participate.  He assured me he would find time to vote. 

I walked up to the next building and ran into a tall African-American man outside who was kicking a soccer ball with a kid.  No one in the apartment was registered and I asked him if he was registered.  He said he used to vote where he lived before and wanted to register when he moved to Virginia, but they would not let him because of his felony. 

We talked about how Virginia's restriction dates back to the 1905 Constitution that was specifically adopted to disenfranchise black voters and that Virginia was the last state in the country to have significant barriers for felons to vote.  He said everything else in Virginia "was great" and he was really pleased at how things had been going for him, but that he really wanted to vote and could not.  I told him I would help him with his restoration next Spring whether I was elected or not.

I went upstairs and knocked the door of a woman.  She answered the door with three children.  After I talked to her about expanding preschool, she told me about how she had been on the waiting list for subsidized childcare or Head Start and that only one of her children was able to get in.  She was paying $300 per week for childcare for her youngest child and she was barely breaking even working and was thinking about not working because it was not really working out.  She leaves for work at 6:00 A.M. every day and drops her children off at daycare so she can be home in time for school to let out. 

We talked about the McDonnell Administration's recent proposal to limit childcare subsidies to five years per family.  She said that would hit her hard.  She can only earn so much with her job skills and was barely breaking even as is.  She could not figure out how to make things work out with a five year cap.  I talked to her about how important these issues were and told her she needed to vote.  She said she would.

I knocked her next door neighbor.  That turned out to be the sister of a high school classmate (who was in bed).  I talked to her son who I had talked to two weeks ago at a West Potomac J.R.O.T.C. car wash.  We didn't realize we had that connection.  He told me that he would get his mother to vote.

For my last door of the night, I went downstairs to the last apartment on my list.  The registered voter was a thirty year-old woman, but the door was answered by a 6'8" man who probably weighed 250 lbs. (his name was "Big Slim"), was holding a video game controller and was decked out in some kind of high tech X-Box head gear.  The voter wasn't available so I asked Big Slim if he could vote.  He also couldn't vote because of the prohibition on voting for former felons.  We also talked about Virginia's Jim Crow Era prohibition, I took his information and we agreed to talk next Spring about getting his rights restored. 

When he closed the door, it had started to rain and then pour so I called it a night. 

I hadn't really planned on writing about knocking doors tonight, but I was really struck by how different each door was in this one complex.  I've now knocked over 10,000 doors in two years.  Obviously, tonight was a bit different from the 1,000 doors I knocked in Hayfield, the 5,000 that I knocked up and down Fort Hunt Road in 2009 or the 1,000 doors I knocked in Hollin Hills last month.  I really enjoy it because there is no better way to understand who makes up our community.  You never know who will be behind the next door and what perspective, story or issues they will bring to the table. 

Route 1 is especially interesting because it is so different from the part of the district where I live.  U.S. Senator Jim Webb always says that you measure a strength of a community at its base, not its apex, and when I first ran, I pledged to work hard to represent both sides of Route 1.  Knocking doors helps me remember my pledge and keeps me in touch with everyone that makes up the community that is the 44th District. 

At the end of the day, every person I met tonight was working hard, trying to make it in a tough economy, and trying to provide the best they can for their children to the best of their own individual ability.  It is an honor to represent them.


  1. I used to live off of Lockheed Boulevard-86 to 90. This was very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to listen to these people. I think it was great they remembered you.

  2. I see that there were at least two felons with whom you spoke.

    We need to quit making everything a felony just so we can provide the impression of being tough on crime.

    Years ago, one had to know one was breaking the law, in a serious manner, when one committee a felony. Those people make a choice -- when they commit a felony, they lose many of the rights other citizens have -- to commit a crime. On the other hand, after years of "tough on crime" legislation that isn't, it is now possible for individuals to lose rights by living their lives responsibly.

    If these two of whom you speak committed serious or violent crimes, how can you justify voiding what the courts have determined -- that they deserve to lose their rights? And if they have not committed serious crimes, what will you do to ensure the offenses for which they were convicted are not felonies in the future?

  3. I agree with you that we need to stop making everything a felony.

    Becoming a felon - even on a minor offense - has significant consequences for most people who are convicted. Many cannot obtain employment, have difficulty finding landlords willing to rent, and with today's internet, even people willing to date them. Allowing the restoration of the right to vote is a small gesture given the gravity of the other consequences inflicted by a conviction.

    Virginia's restrictions on felon voting date to the 1905 revision to the Constitution of Virginia.

    The express purpose was the disenfranchisement of black voters who were had recently been given the right to vote during Reconstruction and were influencing VA election outcomes to the dismay of white conservatives.

    Every state in the Union has repealed similar restrictions. Virginia has the most restrictive felon restoration provisions in the United States.

    I disagree with you that repealing this restriction has to do with "voiding what the courts have determined." Once people have served their time and been released from probation we should do all we can to help reintegrate them into society so they can lead meaningful lives.

    Prisoner reintegration is one of Governor McDonnell's priorities. This is also why he has streamlined the felon restoration process.

  4. Funny, I learned in fourth-grade social studies that felons forfeit rights.

    So people who commit felonies do so with the knowledge that conviction results in loss of rights. It's a personal responsibility issue.

    Some need review; but that's because felonies are now levied on minor offenses so that we can look "tough on crime".

    And why do Governor McDonnell's priorities have anything to do with this?

  5. Hello Mr. Surovell, I am the young lady whose door you knocked on in the neighborhood of Woodlawn Garden Apartments, if you don't remember me I'm sure you remember my son, mother, and step father, they were pretty hard on you at the door. They aren't used to a strange white man at our door. I am the first person in my family to actually fully soak up all the education my high school and Community College education provided me So I am up to date with not all, but a lot of current events that take place in our area. I will just like to say, although this story isn't of me and my neighbors it has truly touched me and shows me the kind of man I will be voting for. I appreciate your accomplishments for our community and will be more than happy to have u for state delegate! Keep up the great work this is in honor of all the "BIG SLIM'S" I know.

  6. Evelin:

    Thanks for your note. Knocking doors in Route 1 apartments is always fun. You never know what you will find behind each door.

    I remember your door very well! I was actually struck by the flags, God Bless America & Stand for Change sticker, took a picture of it and posted it on my Facebook page (feel free to friend me)!

    Congrats on graduating and thank you for taking the time to read my blog within 60 minutes of me knocking your door!

    Make sure you stay involved in your community, stay informed, and vote on November 8!