For the past two months, rain or shine, from 11am to 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and for a few hours on Friday nights at the Floyd Country Store's Jamboree, a handful of local Obama campaign volunteers in Floyd, Virginia have maintained a small table where they sell yard signs, bumper stickers, and buttons, and sign up volunteers. On Saturdays and Sundays they have been at the corner of East Oxford Street and Route 8, a highly visible location for locals coming to town on errands as well as others just driving through. In the fall, tourists and Virginia Tech fans traveling to games in Blacksburg frequently drive through town on Route 8. I have driven past this Obama outpost many times, honking and giving them the "thumbs up." Yesterday, with Election Day fast approaching, I stopped and spoke with the volunteers manning (actually womanning) the table.
Pamela helps someone at the Obama campaign table in downtown Floyd.
Trish Calahan, 54, a retired physical therapist's assistant and now owner of Floyd Fitness, a local small business just down the road, started her campaign work phone banking. In the past month she joined the volunteers at the table in town. She remarked that she "has been surprised that there are so many Obama supporters in both Floyd County and Virginia." Pamela, 61, a Floyd County resident since 1978, also was working at the table. For weeks, she has helped to hand out campaign materials, make phone calls and canvas. She reported that the local response to her efforts have been positive overall.
Campaign items and volunteer sign-up sheet on table.
Michele Morris, 46, is one of the volunteers who originally established the Obama table, although she claims that her friend Georgeanne (who unfortunately was not there) was its true founder. Michele and her husband formerly owned Floyd's popular restaurant, Oddfella's Cantina. She now works for a small company in Blacksburg where the employees, she said, "are staunchly behind Obama." Michele revealed that "after McCain put Sarah Palin on the ticket I decided that I had to do more."
The last time Michele was involved in politics was when she canvassed at the age of 14 for Jimmy Carter during his 1976 presidential bid. She wanted to work at the table in town because it gave her the opportunity to talk to people about the candidate as well as to provide campaign items that people couldn't find in the area. Campaign volunteers actually purchase and pay for the items themselves and then sell them at cost to supporters.
Michele also felt that supporters were initially nervous about publicly discussing their allegiance to Obama. That discomfort was understandable given that 62% of Floyd County voters cast their ballots for Bush/Cheney while only 37% voted Kerry/Edwards in 2004. Moreover, the racial make-up of the county is highly skewed--approximately 96% of the population is white (non-Hispanic), only 2% is black and 1.3% Hispanic. She believes that the Obama campaign's visible presence in town has sent a signal to many that there are others who share their views. For Michele, Floyd County is one example of a predominately white electorate showing strong support for a black candidate and debunking the myth that Obama cannot win a large percentage of the white vote. While phone banking for the campaign, she has talked to many white voters in the county who are solidly behind Obama.
All three women I spoke with voiced similar reasons for their Obama support. They are very concerned about our standing in the world, in particular how our allies and our enemies view us. Michele believes that Obama has the necessary cultural sensitivity to change that perception--that he will take cultural differences into consideration in dealing with our friends and enemies. This, she is convinced, will change the way they see us for the better. They also are concerned about the economy, especially the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor, something they feel needs to be fixed. They all agreed that the economy is in a shambles, and if Obama does win, he'll have his work cut out for him. They are impressed with Obama's honesty. As Trish put, "He's just a really good, honest man with lots of integrity."
The highlight of my stop, however, involved the young people who were helping at the table, none of whom are eligible to vote but who, nonetheless, demonstrated a remarkable grasp of the issues! As I finished talking with Michele a little voice piped up, saing "I want to be interviewed." It was Cooper Neukirch, Michele's 8-year old son. He was delighted when I said I would love to speak with him. At times over the past two months, Copper has helped his mom at the table. When I asked why he supported Obama, he simply replied, "I want a different president who really cares about the economy." That from an 8 year old! He also informed me that some of his friends support McCain and try to start arguments with him. His response, "Don't start!" Cooper insisted, however, that the one I really needed to talk to was his brother, Preston.
Cooper Neikirch, covered in buttons and stickers, seated behind table.
Preston Neukrich, 12, was already in his Dad's car ready to leave but eagerly hopped out to speak with me. He has been following the campaign very closely, reading newspapers and watching TV news daily. His professed goal has been "to get as many people as I can to support Obama and turn the county and the state blue." He doesn't bother arguing with his friends as much as with their parents, trying to convince them that Obama is the better candidate. He informs them about "Obama's tax cut for 95% of working families." He also believes that a President Obama "would demonstrate how diverse the United States really is."
Preston and Cooper Neukirch behind campaign table.
I also spoke with Lydia Prokosh, 16, a student at Floyd County High School. She is a member of "Buffs for Obama," a teen club at the school (The buffalo is the school's mascot.) For Lydia, that such a club even exists is impressive, given the county's history as a Republican stronghold even among its youth. She estimates that about two-thirds of those she has canvassed are Obama supporters. She backs Obama because she "wants to go to college and really likes Obama's idea that students can exchange social service work, like the Peace Corps, for financial assistance for college. As an environmentalist, she also likes Obama's plan to stimulate the economy through the creation of green jobs.'"
All of these young people indicated that they would remain engaged in politics because of this campaign. And, since Floyd County Public Schools are closed on Election Day because the schools are used as polling places, these kids, along with the adults, plan to canvass and make phone calls to Get Out The Vote on Tuesday. All hold high hopes that on Tuesday Virginia will prove to be Obama, not McCain, Country!