Comic-Con Campaign Politics: Democratic Grassroots Taps Youth Energy

08/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jonah Lalas Former Union Organizing Director and Labor Activist

Obama-McCain Matchup: Jedi Knight Clashes Light Sabers with Sith Lord at Comic-Con

"We will fight another hundred years of war," taunted the Sith Lord McCain.

"Not if I can defeat you with the power of hope," responded Jedi Knight Obama.

Their light sabers clashed next to the voter registration booth set up outside the convention center where the annual San Diego International Comic Convention was taking place.

Fanboys and fangirls dressed as X-Men, droids, video game characters, and superheroes, witnessed the "epic battle." Meanwhile, Jack Robertson made sure his team of volunteers, armed with voter registration forms, was ready to engage people when the light saber duel came to a close.

Robertson, who is 72 years old and an active volunteer with the San Diego County Democratic Party, decided to target the comic-con because he wanted to reach out to young people. "It was very satisfying to see the younger group express interest in participating this November, especially with so much at stake," Robertson said. "We had about 20 to 25 volunteers here each day of the convention." His group registered nearly 300 new voters.

This was not his first time at the comic-con. Robertson was also here in 2004 just prior to the Bush/Kerry matchup. Though they registered close to the same amount of new voters, Robertson noticed there was so much more enthusiasm for the Democratic nominee this year.

To attract people to the table, Robertson set up a life-size Obama cut out and put a sign on his chest that read the unforgettable words uttered by a dying Uncle Ben to his innocent nephew who would become Spider-Man: "With great power comes great responsibility."

Robertson is involved in voter registration efforts throughout the county, participating in the recent gay pride parade and every month at the naturalization center in the county where over 1500 immigrants become U.S. citizens. The level of enthusiasm at the comic-con compared to these other events was overwhelming. "People jut stopped by taking photo after photo after photo [with the Obama cut-out]. Out of all the events I've done, this was by far the most successful."

But Roberston understood voting wasn't enough. He also had people sign up to help volunteer with the Democratic Party on block-walking and phone-bank efforts.

The volunteers had to get creative in order to draw geeks to their table, many of whom were already being wooed by Hollywood and the loads of free merchandise offered by the studios. Cynara Kidwell dressed up as Obama Woman and yelled out to the crowd, "Be democracy's hero. Register to vote!" Like Wonder Woman, Kidwell wore blue hair, red heels, and a cape, but replaced the "W" symbol with an Obama logo.


Just a week or two before the convention, she posted a notice on the Obama web site asking not only for volunteers, but help with costumes. "If you happen to have a Sith robe in your possession, please loan it to the cause!" the post read. Kidwell also had to make sure enough people volunteered to play Sith Lord McCain and Jedi Knight Obama, which required each person to wear a warm robe and a mask in the sweltering Southern California heat.

Her efforts at guerilla geek theatre seemed to have worked. "We registered tons of new voters and handed out over 3,000 Obama stickers," Kidwell said.

No volunteers for McCain ever showed up.

The Obama volunteers were not the only creative people trying to engage comic book fans in politics. Frank Grau Jr. designed the cover for this year's San Diego Comic-Con souvenir book and guide, which is handed out to all of the attendees. It features the Republican elephant dressed in a Superman outfit and the Democrat donkey dressed as Batman.

"Some may see the Batman donkey representing the candidate who they see as a 'dark knight.' Others may see the Superman elephant as representing what they see as the stronger, more virtuous candidate," Grau noted. "The truth is there was nothing esoteric about my decision. The donkey's big ears fit the Batman suit better."