I would love to share my experience of the last two weeks of the campaign, when I went to Reno, Nevada as a member of the Vote Corps. The VC is another great idea of OFA: a group of people willing to move to a swing state for the last two or three weeks of the campaign, and commit to working on the campaign for at least 40 hours a week through the election. That meant that the young staffers and field organizers, who mostly appeared to be somewhere in their 20’s, essentially had a group of full time staffers who were mostly retired, bringing with them many years of experience in getting things done. Because it was Nevada, a lot of the volunteers were Californians. I’m a New Yorker, but I’ve spent the last year roaming the west in an RV, and Nevada was the closest swing state at the time.
I did what everyone else has been doing: canvassed, did data entry, took photos at a few GOTV events, bought healthy snacks, and, for the last four days, kept moving the army of volunteers at our staging location in and out, collecting the data they brought back from their canvasses, and preparing the lists to be brought around again. My shortest day — 10 hours — was my first. For the rest of the time I probably averaged 12 hours a day, still considerably shorter than our field organizers’ days. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing.
I don’t like knocking on people’s doors. I’m old enough to have been brought up when it was important to be ladylike, and though I’m a very strong woman with strong opinions, I’m still too ladylike as far as I’m concerned. I also don’t like it when people call or knock on my door to try to convince me of something. So interrupting someone’s day, especially day after day, makes me uncomfortable.
But I had some great experiences. The first place I was sent is the largest and oldest mobile home park in the country. The area is divided into a fairly coherent grid, but the homes tended to be stuck haphazardly all over the place. There were lots of fences, behind which were LOTS of dogs, many of them pit bulls. Clearly, that’s the security system in Sun Valley. There were yards full of a wild profusion of things — bags of clothes, couches, boxes of dishes, old cans, hardware, even sea shells at one house. Despite the utter wildness of the place, or perhaps because of it, I liked it and kept asking to go back.
I liked talking to young women (“Bring your girlfriends to the polls!”), to working men, to the elderly of both sexes. I liked using my halting Spanish, and deeply appreciated the graciousness (even when you’re interrupting their day) that’s such a warm part of Latino culture. I loved showing people how to navigate the system, like the 80 year old man who spoke no Spanish and was hard of hearing, but so proud that he had just registered to vote. I took him to vote, with his 11 year-old grandson as translator, and he was jubilant, planning to bring friends to vote now that he could see how it was done. I talked to young mothers who saw clearly how their children would suffer if Romney won. I talked to one young woman who, despite a yard of complete chaos, was nevertheless organized enough to run the local Pop Warner football program for kids.
When I canvassed I took my husband with me. He is elderly, and somewhat frail, but he’s a retired minister with many years of convincing people to do things (whether they want to or not!) under his belt, so he not only canvassed but stopped people on the streets to get them to vote. Then I would drop him off at our nice RV park, have a sandwich for dinner, and head to the office for data entry. A bunch of us did this tedious task, so we were buoyed by the camaraderie. I would listen to others calling people, either to insure their vote or to get them to volunteer. The field organizers were great at this, managing to make a request for volunteering sound like an invitation to a party.
I took pictures at several GOTV events: one with Rep. Xavier Becerra from LA, who was handsome and charming, one with Beau Biden, who was earnest and seemed rather shy, another with Ken Salazar, one at a do called the Monster Phone Bank. My favorite was the event with Beau Biden, though before he came. It was at the University of Nevada in Reno, and there was a symposium on the American election for a group of 76 Fulbright fellows. They were a blast! They came from all over the world, and all loved the President, wanting the wear the red, white and blue swag, and have a picture taken with the cardboard PBO. I had a great conversation with a man from Delhi, who said Americans are very good at many things, but one thing they aren’t good at is taking the time to talk nonsense, which brought our beloved amk to mind.
The last five days were a blur. I told the field organizer for Sun Valley, a charismatic force of energy named Elvin, that I would like to be at the staging house in his area. We worked from 7 am till 10 pm until election day, when we worked from 5 am to 8 pm. We had 100 Californians show up, including a van of 10 young Berkeley residents, all glowing vegetarians with great attitudes. The volunteers were amazing — they just kept coming back and going out again with another list. They said people were sick of them, but still discovered those who could be convinced to vote, or didn’t know where their polling place was, so were grateful for their coming. By then I could tell them that studies have found it takes 10 visits to get a sporadic voter to show up and vote.
They did complain about our coffee, however, so the night before Election Day, when we were asking volunteers to show up at 6 am to hang door hangers with polling places on them, I went to Costco and stocked up on coffee, muffins, croissants, and apple turnovers, all of which were surprisingly delicious. (I didn’t get enough croissants — forgot how many Californians I was dealing with!) Elvin, being young, didn’t quite get the need for it, and was a bit mystified by my insistence on spending good time this way. But in the morning, when people arrived so early, it was great to say, “Grab some coffee and carbohydrates,” before sending them off again.
By 5 pm even Elvin had left to get the last stragglers out to vote. At 7 the polls closed. We had heard snippets of news all day, but knew very little at that point. Someone asked me how I could keep working, because he was too nervous to do anything but pace, and I said work helped keep the anxiety at bay. And it had. The whole two weeks I was there I was so focused on what we were doing, so much a part of the whole energy of the process, that I wasn’t often aware of my anxiety. But once the polls closed it came over me like a wave, leaving a lump of iron in my solar plexus. It wasn’t too long, though. We cleaned the house, and then, on the way home, with a bursting heart, I got the news.
I was inspired to do this by any number of things, including the hard work and dedication of our TODers. Like so many, I’ve been very anxious for a long time about this election, and felt that the best way to calm my nerves in the last stretch was by working hard for the result I wanted. But there was something more, too. The connection that so many of us feel, not just to the man, but to the force he represents, has been a powerful presence in my life since 2008. LIke many, I’d assumed that PBO, young and politically new, had entered the race to become known, and begin a process whereby he would one day become president. Hillary was my senator, and though I didn’t like her vote for the Iraq war, and doubted her ability to transcend the Clinton phobia on the right, I admired her for her brains and her amazing energy and hard work. I’m also her age, and absolutely loved the idea of a woman in the White House. So all in all I was delighted that we had the choices we did, and kept an open mind.
But something came to me in the late spring of that year — the idea that Barack Obama was being being called into place by a force I had no name for. I told a friend I felt the future was calling him, and that it was a feminine force. Although I’m very open to all sorts of ways of apprehending our world, this was a pretty unusual feeling for me. Later that year, not connected to the election, but to something personal, I came to sense a force I call the mothers, the grandmothers, and the great-grandmothers, a powerful feminine energy that I could almost see — the spirits of women standing shoulder to shoulder, bending, with sheer will, the arc of justice. They were the ones calling Barack Obama to bring us into the future.
On Election Day in 2008, I was hiking away my anxiety when I sensed that they had relaxed. They had done their task for the moment, and that’s when I knew he would win. It was the wildest experience I’ve ever had. Since then I’ve known that they are watching over him, and that he is supposed to be where he is, doing what he’s doing. Because of that feeling, and because by the end of the 2012 campaign the only place I went for news was this haven and Jefferson Obama’s twitter feed, I felt that he was going to win this election, too, but I couldn’t rest. There are powerful forces working against our march into the future, and I am old enough, and historically aware enough, to know that they often prevail. Not forever, but they can drag us backward in ways it takes a long time to recover from. That’s how I felt about McCain, and even more so about Romney.
Barack Obama has accomplished an enormous amount, and his new term will be a wonder to watch. Contributing to that is something I cherish. But he is more than what he does or doesn’t accomplish. He is the very energy of change and the future. He is the literal blending of cultures and races. He is the symbol of where we are going. That’s why he inspires such fear as well as such love and admiration. He is the wind of change, and is blowing all over the earth.
You can leave comments here