The call came out on a Thursday afternoon: A young woman's voice informing me that they need volunteers over the weekend to clean the new Obama campaign headquarters. Not much notice, but we are Democrats in Texas after all, so forty eight hours is not bad. It is technically in advance of the event and that counts for something in these parts. The campaign has taken over an abandoned building on the east side of town. It will be torn down within the year, but for now offers ample if unattractive space from which we can man the battle stations in preparation for the coming electoral storm.
600 million Republican dollars is a whole lotta 'change.' Not the kind that you can 'believe in' of course, unless you are a ruthless billionaire hell-bent on buying control of all branches of government. The Roves and Kochs and Adelmans and their ilk are so brazen with their schemes that they would not be out of place in a James Bond movie. Large headed porcine old men rubbing their hands with glee, you can almost hear them squealing with delight every time an attack ad is played. If one of them has a cat, I say we cast him in the next 007 saga, here and now. Everywhere I go folks are asking me if there is any 'hope' for our side. Sure, we have a billionaire or two, but we cannot match this largess. Recent activities in Wisconsin seem to suggest that if they can spend 47,000 to our 12 we are doomed. If intimidation is part of the plan, then our wealthy would-be overlords can rest assured that this spending spree is taking a toll on our morale.
So what to do? Well, frankly, I have no idea, but they needed help down at the local headquarters and so I rolled out of bed determined to get my democracy on. I arrived to find a diverse group of folks milling about, some with purpose and others hoping to find some. A few clever folks had thought to bring their own cleaning supplies, which gave them an aura of superiority. There was a rather daunting shortage of materials to do the job. Several large tubs of white paint looked promising, but the equipment on hand consisted of three four-inch rollers with small trays and a dozen paint brushes, all one inch wide. Now mind you we are meant to paint a 3,500 square foot building with these implements. The older folks in the group, myself included, sighed a deep sigh and went to work. The young were milling about, attempting to fashion teams out of this motley crew. There was no evidence that they ever succeeded in this, but you gotta love them for trying.
The walls were covered with markings in pen and Crayola and watercolor and marred by all manner of thumbtacks and staples, the remnants of a pre-school with a free-wheeling attitude. One fellow, a tall white haired man set about finding pliers to remove the most obtrusive adhesives while the rest of us seized upon our meager tools and set to work painting any smooth surfaces we could find. Another man, tall and black with a whiff of gray about the temples and a warm smile fashioned a paint container out of a paper cup and got busy with his one inch brush tackling a sizable wall. I laid claim to one of the miniature rollers and joined him at the opposite side. We worked for several hours stopping only for a drink of water or occasional trip to the now not-disgusting john thanks to those well prepared clean-teamers.
A few hours in, one of the young women gave up on the organizing detail and decided to join in the painting. She made off with my fellow painter's cup, as there were no other vessels which could hold the white goo. He returned from the restroom to find his supplies missing and was visibly disappointed. "That's cold," he said and fumbled about looking for a suitable alternative. A few minutes later I looked over to see him desperately trying to saw a plastic water bottle in half. I took pity and went in search of his cup or any kind of damned cup. He was delighted when i returned with a 16 oz. Styrofoam number. Sometimes it's the little things...
Finally, the white haired man returned from his thumbtack removal mission -- a not inconsiderable task in over 35,000 square feet. His name was Darwin, a retired U.S. Army Colonel who cut his teeth with this politics business canvassing for Obama in Colorado. He loved it for the most part, met a lot of nice folks, but there had been a few run-ins with guard dogs that still made him shake his head. Democracy, after all, is not without its perils. Someone had blessedly sent out for large rollers and a few four-inch paint brushes. The big room we had been working on was more or less complete, so a few of us headed out to work on the offices. Darwin, it turns out, was a damned good painter and it lifted my spirits to think that now armed with proper tools we might actually whip a few of the offices into shape. I, on the other hand, am not a good painter, but being a volunteer is kind of like being a porn star in that one need only be willing to qualify for the job. My Styrofoam cup pal took a break to go home for some food as he was diabetic and had to be careful. A large number of the young people got down to business and we all worked for another few hours knocking out office after office. It felt good. It felt hopeful.
I arrived home tired and covered with cheap white paint. I deposited my clothes in the trashcan as they could not be salvaged and threw myself in the shower trying in vain to get the stuff out of my hair. I thought about Darwin and the two ladies with their cleaning buckets and my new friend trying to fashion a tool out of an old plastic bottle. I thought about the young people who showed up on a Saturday trying to make a plan for the day as well as their futures. I thought about Barack Obama, the Right's whipping boy, staying cool, staying focused, trying to help folks get health care, find work, keep their families fed, while simultaneously eliminating a number of very bad bad-guys. I thought about the candidates all across the country who know they are facing the most vicious fight of their careers and are fighting anyway. Folks like Sherrod Brown who have been relentlessly targeted by the fat cats but who remain unbowed and determined.
I thought, go ahead and bring it on bullies! We do not have billionaires, but we have a community of folks from every walk of life who still care enough about this country to wield a one-inch paintbrush without complaint. We are not armed with unlimited cash, but we are loaded with spirit. If you are a Democrat, reading this and thinking that all is lost... do yourself a favor. Pick up a paintbrush or a broom, pick up a phone and place a call. Pick up a clipboard and walk among your neighbors. None of us can predict how this avalanche of money will affect the outcome in the fall, but there is still work to do and the value of it cannot be measured in dollars.