Monday, November 03, 2008

Shoe Leather Democracy, Part 2

Obama headquarters, Scranton, Pennsylvania.

(Names, except those of candidates, have been changed to protect the innocent).

The last time I blogged about door-to-door canvassing, I was doing voter registration in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a major city in a critical swing state (and the hometown of vice-presidential hopeful Joe Biden). Two weeks ago, I was in Elmira, New York, going door-to-door with our organizer, Janet, for two campaigns; universal health care (the dead issue that won’t go away) and congressional hopeful Eric Massa.

The first thing you learn as a door-to-door canvasser is that there aren’t many people home on a Saturday afternoon, at least none who’ll answer the door when you knock, especially when it’s a few weeks from Election Day! We knocked on several doors in a middle-class neighborhood before being greeted by a sweet gentleman and his family. Seems that he and at least one of his relatives lived on Social Security disability benefits, so when we informed them that Eric Massa’s opponent, Republican incumbent Randy Kuhl, wanted to privatize Social Security (you know, by turning over its trust fund to Wall Street), they were very interested indeed!

Another of our prospects was a 78-year-old widow who had lived through the Great Depression of the 1930's. Like a lot of us, she was convinced that we were looking down the barrel of another one, and she had not a few choice words for the Bush clan. On our way from her house to another, we ran across two young men standing next to their parked truck. When Janet asked them if they were registered to vote, one of them remarked that he had just recently been released from prison. She informed him that as long as he wasn’t behind bars, he had just as much right to vote as anyone else. Our most interesting prospect apart from the widow was an elderly man who’d been in the Navy when John F. Kennedy was president. He related his story about how he had been standing only a few dozen feet away from the president as he reviewed the men on board his ship.


Yesterday, (Saturday) several of us car-pooled once again to the critical swing state of Pennsylvania to canvass door-to-door for Barack Obama. Florence, Harvey, David and I (names once again changed to protect the innocent) all piled in to Florence’s car and drove down route 81, with a spirited discussion of our man’s standing in the polls going all the way down.

As if to remind us of just what is at stake for our nation in this election, we got a surprise when we arrived in Scranton. Normally, organizations which depend on volunteers count on 30 per cent of the people who commit actually showing up. Today was different. Today, all of the people who’d originally committed to help with the day’s work showed up, and then some. I met volunteers from as far away as Columbus, Ohio and New York City. The little storefront, behind a bakery, which served as a satellite office for Obama headquarters in that city was packed. It looked for a while as if we were all going to be fifth wheels. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing. In all the years I’ve been volunteering for political causes and candidates, I had never before seen this kind of turnout. Eventually we were given lists of voters to be contacted and set out for the appropriate neighborhoods.

The first thing you learn about Scranton is that the street corner you’re looking for might not necessarily have a street sign on it. This made our journey to our assigned neighborhood rather interesting. Fortunately, it wasn’t located too far away from a main drag. One of the first people that Florence and I encountered was a man washing his car in his driveway. Florence opened the discussion by asking who he’d planned to vote for. He replied that he had heard reports that Obama favored late-term abortions which involved the killing of babies. His concerns were obviously based upon inflammatory Republican and religious-right rhetoric. I pointed out that late-term abortions were relatively rare and were only done when absolutely necessary. I went on to remark that abortion was a megaton of cure, and that I believed in an ounce of prevention. I reminded him that in localities with legitimate sex education, where students are taught how sex and sexuality really work, and that sex isn’t the great forbidden fruit that Hollywood and popular culture make it out to be, that kids wait longer before becoming sexually active and take proper precautions when they finally do, which cuts pregnancy rates (and therefore abortion rates). Unlike a lot of right-leaning voters, our man seemed receptive not only to my arguments but to Florence’s about the state of the nation and the economy. We left him to his car-washing and wished him well.

The rest of the day went rather uneventfully. A lot of the doors that we knocked on went unanswered. Florence approached a home where three pre-teenaged boys were playing on their front lawn. Florence told one of them she was with the Obama campaign, and asked one of them if their parents were home, which they weren’t. One of the boys remarked, “I’m for McCain, because Obama has nothing to offer. But, I’m a child, so I can’t vote anyway!”.

At one point we got lost. We pulled into a nearby gas station, whereupon Florence asked a pair of young women who were passing by for directions. These recent high-school graduates were very friendly and helpful. Florence gave them some lawn signs and literature about voting rights, and sent them on their way.


It’s not over yet. I’m going to be calling voters in swing states. I’m going door-to-door and dropping off campaign literature. I’m calling and e-mailing everyone I know to remind them to get out and vote tomorrow. You should seriously consider doing the same.

This just in:My sincerest condolences to Barack Obama for the passing of his grandmother, Madelyn "Toot" Dunham.

This also just in: Filmmaker Michael Moore weighs in on tomorrow's election. VERY highly-recommended reading.

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