Alan Gross has a thing or two to say about the value of freedom. And the handful of Hillary Clinton campaign volunteers gathered at her canvassing office in the blue-collar community of Brookline on Sunday were eager to listen.
The former United States government contractor, who was imprisoned in Cuba for five years after being accused of bringing satellite and computer equipment to members of Cuba’s Jewish community, stressed the imperative of getting out the vote in a short motivational talk before the volunteers hit the pavement to knock on their neighbors’ doors.
Gross, who was released from prison in 2014 and who now resides in Washington, D.C., spoke at five locations to Clinton supporters on Sunday, including to a group of local Jews in Squirrel Hill. Brookline was his last stop of the day.
“Pittsburgh rocks for Hillary,” he told the Brookline volunteers.
Gross said he had “already voted for Hillary,” taking advantage of the early voting policy in Washington and stressed that he had cast his ballot for Clinton, not against Trump.
He nonetheless did not mince words criticizing the Republican presidential candidate.
“In many ways, Donald Trump reminds me of Fidel Castro,” Gross said. “He’s a megalomaniac who lies through his teeth.”
With nine days left until the election, Gross explained to the volunteers the source of his personal feelings of appreciation for Clinton.
“A week after I came home [from Cuba], not Senator Clinton, not First Lady Clinton, not Secretary Clinton, but Hillary Clinton, private citizen, tracked me down to find out how I was doing,” he said. “And that really impressed me.”
Gross was moved by Clinton’s sincerity, he said.
“This was a sincere expression of a personal concern for my well-being,” he said. “It was touching. I don’t snow that easily. I’ve been in prison for five years in a foreign country. I can recognize a snow job when I see one, and this was not a snow job.”
Clinton, he said, was also instrumental obtaining his freedom through her role as a public servant.
“Let me preface this by saying no member of my family has ever contributed to the Clinton Foundation,” he said. “But my wife met with her several times while I was in Cuba, and what I learned when I came back was that then-Secretary Clinton really started the ball rolling in the process of helping to get my freedom.”
Gross encouraged the volunteers not to undervalue their own work on the ground.
“I can’t think of anything that is a greater expression of freedom than to be able to go out and talk to people about an election, about your country,” he said. “I came from a place where I spent five years as a political prisoner on the island of Cuba. And if we were on Cuba right now doing this, they would be locking us up.”
The act of voting is itself an expression of freedom, Gross said.
“Last time I voted was by absentee ballot,” he said. “Way absentee.”
Volunteer Caroline Lovelace was moved by Gross’ personal experience with Clinton, she said, and the concern that Clinton showed for Gross in her capacity as a private citizen as well as the role she played as a public official in bringing him home.
“These kinds of stories are inspiring,” said Lovelace, who also campaigned on behalf of Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary. “I hope to share this story with people as we canvass.”
Gross said he was pleased to see people in Pittsburgh willing to roll up their sleeves to help get out the vote for Clinton.
“I’m really happy to see there are people canvassing for her in Pittsburgh,” he said. “This is really important stuff. We need to knock on those doors as though our lives depended on it, because you know what? They do. And the quality of our lives depends on it, too.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.