Here are some excerpts from our son Nicholas Brown's blogs from the Rock The Vote bus as it travels around Ohio. The number of younger voters registered through activities of Rock The Vote is remarkable. The bus tour registers in person, but many multiples of that "live" number register through the Rock The Vote web site. The number at the beginning of each day's summary below is the total number registered both through the bus tour and the web site.
Friday, September 26th
Young voters registered yesterday: 19,441
Miles traveled today: 86
This afternoon's performances by Ben Taylor and Hawthorne Heights were pleasant and fairly mellow. When Taylor broke out his folk songs some of the students sat on the grass and leaned back on their hands. You could imagine it was an earlier era and we were sitting back in Northern California with flowers and good intentions. Fury and conflict are pretty foreign to this tour; most people pretty much agree that registering voters is a good thing.
Come to think of it, about the closest thing we have had to hostility came last night on the bus when we parked outside of Cleveland's House of Blues. It went like this:
A grizzled old man dashed up onto the bus. He stepped uncomfortably close to me and demanded, "Do you work here?" I watch movies, so fantasies of what happens next are not hard to come by. Maybe he is mad at our parking job. Perhaps he had an old grudge against one of the musicians whose pictures are printed on the bus walls. Maybe he has a gun. When I am alone, I imagine myself reacting like an action hero in these situations: a quick karate chop and this nefarious stranger is on the floor clutching his throat. In reality, I stand paralyzed.
"You work here?" he asks again, stepping closer. There are two staffers in the entryway to the bus. We're both over six feet in the prime of our youth. Maybe we are little out of shape but we are certainly physically prepared to defend our turf.
"... I take pictures," I stutter. I am about as intimidating as Stuart Little.
"Who works here?" He demands again with a little forward jerk of his head. This man has tattoos. And a hat. And white, dry whiskers. He could probably eviscerate me with his thumb.
Kim -- a 5'6"-tall perky midwestern redhead and our political director -- steps forward.
"I work here," she says. It is a glorious and heroic moment.
The stranger pauses. He stares her up and down. I tense up, prepared for sudden violence.
"I'd like to register to vote," he says.
There is another long pause, as if someone had just announced to Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and the Clantons that thanks, but no, the OK corral gunfight will not be necessary this afternoon.
Then, of course, things calm down completely and I feel like a buffoon.
If anything, I am feeling a little too accustomed to good will and good intentions.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Young voters registered yesterday: 18,486
Miles traveled today: 161
The headlong charge: from Cleveland to Columbus, arriving at 2:15 am for a four hour nap before an early morning zombie-stumble to the car, coffee, and the Ohio State tailgate.
The good news is that we did good work. In three hours we registered 112 voters, hosted two concerts, and heard 'Hang on Sloopy' (the official song of both Ohio State University and the state of Ohio) at least four times.
Ohio State games pull a crowd. Today's official figure was 105,175. We saw a good solid portion of them as Double Barrel and Downplay played in front of the bus and they are registering and interested. As anyone watching the 2004 election can attest, Ohio matters. With roughly 120,000 votes cast differently, the election would have run the other way. If this football game and the tailgate party around it wanted to, they could probably determine the next president of this country.
Of course we're not the only ones who see this. Every major voter-registration organization in this country has its shock troops on the ground here trying to expand the electorate. On the more active campuses we have visited, it's a surprise if we don't run into some hyper-political student or non-profit employee registering voters...
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Young voters registered yesterday: 12,399
Miles traveled today: 103
9:36 pm - Some -- in fact the bulk -- of our hotels should go down in infamy as miserable slimy hovels fit for criminals or travelers from a prior century. Our production manager, Mary, has slept fully clothed for most of the tour because she fears what creatures may infest her bedding.
That said, the last two nights have been an exception. Whoever created or governs the Comfort Suites somewhere near the Buckeye's stadium in Columbus, Ohio should be treated like a conquering general during a homecoming parade. Real comforters! Clean floors! Sure, the fitness center was a joke, but there was a pool! A pool! Angels manned the front desk and I actually turned two years younger when I drank from the fountain in the lobby. So here's some advice to the Columbus-bound: keep this place in mind.
In point of fact, Columbus as a whole treated us absurdly well. We hit Due Amici on Gay Street (really) where we had one of the few excellent meals of this trip and then headed to the bars and clubs to impel the late-night drunkards to register.
After leaving the brief Eden of our Columbus hotel, we celebrated Sunday morning, as one must: with a bullhorn, speakers, and half-wakened students.
Wilberforce University, the oldest private black university in the country, is situated well away from the hubbub and fury of the city. Large parts of the student body head home for the weekends and those who stay probably don't expect to be roused: "Students of Wilberforce. Wake up! You must vote for your future! Our ancestors died for this right!" Cyrus, a student at the school and a volunteer for Rock the Vote, bellowed at the walls.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Young voters registered yesterday: 20,963
Total voters registered yesterday: 29,445
Miles driven today: 104 so far
4:13 pm - Today marks the first day of early voting in Ohio. From now until Election Day, anyone who turns up at the county board of elections during business hours can vote or register or both without further ado. This morning, we returned to Wilberforce University and bussed some 60 students to the county office to vote early.
The 'youth vote' gets disparaged pretty regularly, and it's true that we haven't turned out as much as we maybe should have in the past. But you have to remember that the campaigns themselves wouldn't exist without the fiendishly devoted young people who act as their shock troops. For every apathetic kid who claims that his vote just doesn't matter, there is a half-crazed activist fighting against the injustices of the world.
Of course, in politics as in romance, it's easy to fall into cynicism. You work for a guy for a while and it stops being about issues. You feel a connection. Your candidate understands you. He's your friend, albeit one you've never met. And then he loses and the bottom falls out and everything you worked for seems pointless and foolish. It's that same old sob story: guy meets candidate, guy falls for candidate, candidate loses, guy ends up broken and alone only to realize that that quirky best friend he's known since the beginning of the film is the real candidate.
Or... well... the romantic-comedy/election-cycle comparison is not an exact metaphor. I am just saying it's easy to lose faith in the system when things don't turn out how you think they should... Think of the non-voters in this election as the cantankerous old hermits who have been used and beaten by the world and will never love again. And then there are the voters. Voting is an affirmation of life. It is a way to have a voice in your country's leadership and, through that, your country's future.
And, all right, admittedly, it's not nearly so stirring to bus someone to the county election center as it is to watch the band geek finally get the girl of his dreams, but if you look for it, there is something touching about a busload of first time voters and the young activists who are needling them on to the polls.
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