Friday, November 07, 2008

The Really Minor But Not Completely Insignificant Part I Played in the Great Victory for the US, and the World.

As Election Day approached I found myself increasingly anxious and agitated. Things looked OK over on, but it was still too close. The thought of four years of Bible Spice and Old Spice was unbearable. I thought of how I'd brought my poor daughter into a world where we had an incompetent moronic clown of a president who'd dragged us into an ill-advised, seemingly endless war. Sorry, wars. She certainly deserved better. My new nephew isn't going to be a baby forever, and I'd just as soon he not be sent overseas to die for some dubious cause. I had heard somebody say 'Obama is America's last chance. If we get this wrong, it's over', and it kept bouncing around in my head. It was unbearable. I had to do something.

So first I gave a bit of money to Obama's campaign. Not much, but as we saw, a whole lot of not much can be significant. Then I voted early as part of the effort to keep lines down on Election Day after being urged to do so by a friend. I knew people who were working the phones and knocking on doors for Obama's Get Out The Vote effort, but I found the prospect of interacting with potentially hostile strangers terrifying. I wanted to do SOMETHING, though, because time was running out, so I talked to a volunteer friend, and she said I could be a 'data captain' and possibly a driver on election day.

Saturday before Election Day I reported for data captain duty. This essentially amounted to data entry work, using an ASP.NET (!) application called votebuilder. Canvassers brought in packets detailing what they'd found out, and we'd record it so as not to waste further time with inaccessible people, people who'd moved, or McCain supporters. This was relatively easy, and hanging out at Bloomington campaign HQ was great for my general hope for the future. The kids (college kids) working there definitely were what you'd call kids who had their shit together, and the operation was being run better than many corporate operations I'd seen. It wasn't all kids, though - there were middle aged people like myself, and older folks, too. Food had been donated for lunch, and it was good - better than a standard catered meeting.

These folks had a sense of urgency and much energy, and it was being harnessed and used for good, while presumably folks in the other camp were e-mailing their latest twists on the Obama sounds like Osama joke back and forth to each other. This made me feel much better about the future. None of that 'when these kids take over, were fucked' mentality for me. I signed up to work on Election Day.

On Election Day I arrived in the morning and found the parking lot completely packed, but was directed to a 'secret parking lot' by a sleep-deprived but helpful volunteer. There wasn't much in the way of data entry needed, I was told, but I was encouraged to give canvassing a go, frightening as it seemed. I hesitated for a few seconds at most, then grabbed a packet.

We were given a brief training session, which was mostly a pep talk. We were told 'if we can even get it where Indiana is 'too close to call' late into the night, that'll be great'. Then we were sent off with 'Yes We Canvass!' Everybody cheered and moved out. It felt like the start of a marathon.

The packet had a handy Google Map on the front showing my territory. I was to cover part of 17th St on the West Side, spending most of my time at an apartment complex where most residents were students. More often than not, nobody answered, in which case I left the info about where they were to vote (Assembly Hall) on their doorknob (unless an earlier volunteer had already left the info on the doorknob).

I encountered several people who had voted for Obama or were intending to do so, and those contacts were pleasant enough. A couple people indicated they had voted for McCain, but were not jerky or confrontational. My fears of having an 'M' carved into my cheek were unfounded. A few people didn't answer their door - I could hear the TV and conversations in the room through the door. One woman talked to me through the door. One guy said 'hey, it's some old dude!' before opening the door, so I introduced myself as an old dude with the Obama campaign. A couple people made a point of saying 'you people have been here 3 or 4 times', which made me feel bad, because I hate the idea of being an annoying pest to people, and I was starting to wonder if all the repeated contacts were turning people off.

At one point a dog rushed up to me, but I didn't freak out, and the dog didn't bite me, he just sniffed around and moved on.

It took me maybe 2 hours to finish my list, at which point I had to record # of doors knocked and # of contacts made and return to campaign HQ.

Despite the general positive tone, as a super-introvert, my nerves were quite jangled by the experience, so I sought out a more 'back-office' task I could do. Data dude was still waiting for orders for a printing, and another option was working the phones, but I wasn't sure I wanted to do that either. I was told my assistance would be needed around noon and that I could check out all the free food in the meantime.

The spread was really great - local restaurants were very generous. I had some sandwiches from Jimmy John's, and some of the mashed potatoes donated by Bloomingfoods, which we were told were vegan. I wandered around a bit to see what was going on and take in the atmosphere. Most of the kids were operating on a couple of hours of sleep at most, and their nerves were maybe a bit frayed, but there was no reality show drama, everybody kept their cool (like Obama does) and kept going on some mixture of excitement, hope, enthusiasm, and energy drinks.

While I was out front, some coward in an SUV drove by and yelled 'you fucking socialist bastards!', and people kind of laughed at him and carried on with whatever they were doing - making calls, getting newly arrived volunteers settled in, or eating. He carried on reinforcing our nation's dependence on foreign oil.

I eventually worked up the courage to inquire about getting on the phone, but was told there were plenty of phone people. I offered to drive, and my number was added to a list of potential drivers. I called a woman who needed a ride to the polls and scheduled a time when I'd pick her up.

She had emphysema, and an oxygen tank. She got around in a wheelchair. She was sweet and was very excited to get a chance to participate in the historic election. The wheelchair fit in my Prius easily enough when it was folded up, and she knew exactly where the polling place was, so she acted as our navigator.

The line at the polling place was not long - a few people - and the attentive and helpful volunteers got her set up with a machine she could use. The morale amongst the volunteers at the polling place was good - they had to stay there from 6am to after 6pm, but they too had been provided with some really good food.

Everything went smoothly, and I took her home. She thanked me repeatedly, I thanked her repeatedly. It was a beautiful day, and being around all these great people all day really did wonderful things for my mood. I was ready to deal with the potential disappointment of watching election returns.

Only this time I wasn't disappointed. Oh no. It took a while for it to sink in that Obama had in fact done it. Sometime during his speech I finally was able to let go of the dread fear that things would turn horribly wrong. On 'twitterific', I read tweets from all over the world congratulating the USA on a job well done. The following morning, I pulled up, and where Tuesday morning there'd been a pink Indiana, today I saw it had turned blue. Yes we can. Yes we did.

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