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Canvassing Through Allentown

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It's not often that I'm awake at 5am, stumbling through sidewalks looking for a cup of coffee to clutch. Most of the time, I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do less. I don't even like coffee.

However, after attending the RNC and witnessing hordes of delegates bellowing the horrifying chants of "drill, baby drill," my mode of operation changed from lazy bastard who sleeps till 2:30pm, to cranky, nervous bastard who hitches rides to Pennsylvania and goes door-to-door with wide eyes and a cracked voice, reminding people that Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 is a big day indeed.

This past Saturday, I snagged a seat with the cheerful and hopeful New York Latinos for Obama, a grassroots organization. They were headed to Allentown, PA. On our way there, crammed into a rented minivan, we were informed that a rally would be taking place in Bethlehem, a few miles east of Allentown. I managed to cause minor alarm when a book I was reading, McCain's Promise by David Foster Wallace (may he rest in peace), slipped out of my back pocket and onto the floor. I'd noticed people walking by, giving me a suspicious eye and finally, the genial and energetic field director pulled me aside and said "You have McCain literature on you." I quickly explained that it was merely a profile on McCain from the 2000 campaign trail and while the book didn't really take a position, it certainly was not a propagandistic, McCain-love-fest-work-of-journalism. Relieved I wasn't a mole, he shook my hand and left and all seemed to be well, save for the older woman giving me the stink eye until we returned to the van to hit the pavement in Allentown.

The short drive from Bethlehem to Allentown is akin to driving from the cushy Upper East Side into East Harlem; it's a slow crawl from pure-bred dogs and over-protective young mothers to dilapidated homes and loud music blasting from slow-moving cars.

As we drove up to the newly opened Obama office in downtown Allentown, we'd noticed most stores and delis were either closed for the weekend or empty, with for-rent signs sticking to the insides of display windows. Not much was stirring.

We were greeted by a tired-looking, but very dedicated fellow named Marlon. He split us into pairs of two and gave us a list homes to hit, and explained why this area was so important: there are 15,000 registered Democrats in the county and yet, only a few hundred came out to vote. We'd encounter many Obama supporters that day, but they needed to be reminded that November 4th is all-too-important this time around.

Armed with clipboards and adorned with pins, we hit a small, largely Latino neighborhood, just north of the Allentown HQ. Many folks in this neighborhood worked two or three jobs and, as a result, many were not home. The few that were, provided some interesting encounters: A middle-aged woman, perched on her stoop, told us her current woes of unemployment and of the mischievous teens that broke into her garage and apparently burned it down. One woman, wrangling two of her children, came flying to the door when she saw us approaching and screamed "No! Absolutely not! Get out, get out of here! Go!" through her screen door. We approached an elderly couple sitting in rocking chairs on their porch. Miniature, plastic-handled American flags lined their porch railing and a "Never Forget" sign hung on their door. My canvassing partner and I nervously approached; they were also white. As I spoke, the wife noticed my sticker and proudly proclaimed "Obama's our guy!" That'll teach me.

Most encounters were quick and, for the most part friendly. No one seemed to have any interest in engaging us in a debate. The last house of the day left the biggest mark on me. A small South-American woman answered the door. She'd been a citizen six years and spoke English just fine. She informed us she hadn't registered to vote because "What is the point?" She said she didn't relate to any of the candidates and never did. She didn't think anyone, no matter how many promises he made, could really deliver and could really make a difference. It was hard to disagree with her. After some prodding, though, we convinced her to register, had her fill out the form and urged her to watch the upcoming debates.

As we hustled back to the Obama HQ, I thought of that woman. Even though she had become a citizen of this country, she couldn't have felt more like an alien. I thought about all the folks out there like her who feel that there's no one out there willing to make good on their promises to help those in need. And I thought about how alone they must feel.

I've never been someone who blindly follows. Rather, I think everyone, regardless of political affiliation needs to be held accountable. I can't say that Obama is the be-all, end-all but I am positive the other available options project a pretty scary future for America. At the very least, I believe the man cares about this country's future and cares about the angry and those that have lost faith these past eight years.

The only way to convince those undecided voters to help this country steer clear of another presidential blunder is to make ourselves visible. There's still time to show our faces in these neighborhoods. One time isn't enough. Get out to Ohio or Pennsylvania or Nevada. People living in these homes may slam doors in your faces. They might curse at you or sigh heavily or flash a fake smile, hoping that'll make you leave. It doesn't matter. They'll remember you came and they'll remember it even more when you come back. Just being a presence shows the urgency of all this. I especially urge you to do this if you don't want "another 4 years like the last eight."

And, if you do decide to join the ground game and you're reading McCain's Promise, why not leave it at home for the day, just to avoid any potential confusion. Lady, if you're reading, you can stop giving me the stink eye.

Resources:

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