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This Campaign Pulls Volunteer Into Politics

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It is early morning on August 28th at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. While thousands of delegates and enthusiastic supporters were recovering from their hangovers, eating breakfast, or preparing to attend workshops, Plechette Bampoe was at Mile High Stadium, helping to get the place ready for the thousands of people who would be there later that historic evening. Over the past few months, she has been involved with Vote Texas, a volunteer organization in Houston that has registered close to a thousand new voters. "I was first exposed to Obama through Oprah Winfrey. I then bought his book 'Audacity of Hope.' I feel that he is the first person to run for the presidency who I feel has good ideas and is dedicated to helping middle class folks like me," Plechette explains. Like Obama, she too came from meager means and grew up in a single parent home.

Plechette's parents are from Ghana. "They thought I was crazy at first because they supported Hillary Clinton, who they felt was more qualified. They thought I was voting for Obama because he was black and appealed more to people in my age group. I think because they came from West Africa and didn't move to this country until their 30s, they can't really relate as well to the civil rights movement and the struggles African Americans have endured," said Bampoe. But since the election has come down to McCain and Obama, the campaign has helped bring Plechette closer to her parents and has made politics a central theme at the dinner table.

Plechette's involvement in the campaign has changed her in several ways. First off, her work has brought her closer to local politics. "I was barely involved in the presidential elections in 2004 and definitely not in local politics. Now I am paying attention to everything from the congress, state senators, to even the judges." But beyond informing herself on the local issues, Plechette went a step further and became a delegate for her district to the Texas State Convention. Even though she lost in her run for national delegate, the experience changed her in another significant way.

"I am an auditor who spends most of the day crunching numbers and doing paperwork. I have very little communication with people. But through the campaign, I am learning to hone my speaking skills. During my run for national delegate, I had to get up in front of over a hundred people and talk about why they should vote for me!"

Ever since the Texas primary, Plechette has been a consistent phone banker who shows up at the campaign headquarters to make calls to voters throughout the state. She learned to become a better listener. "I am an arguer. I come from New York where I developed a certain aggressive temperament and edge in my conversations. But simply arguing often times does not convince people. You have to listen too and expect people to say things you may not agree with. I sometimes have to bite my tongue when people say things like 'Obama is a Muslim' or 'Obama is a terrorist.' But if you want people to listen to your views, you have to be patient and listen to them first."

While Plechette wants to believe racism is an anomaly, after hundreds of hours of phone banking and canvassing, she realizes it is far from dead. Plechette can also recall one very low point involving her church, Lakewood, where the famous pastor Joel Osteen speaks. "I had contacted the church to see if Vote Texas could go there to register voters in a non-partisan fashion. It seats over 18,000 people so being there would have been a great way to touch so many people and involve them in our political process. The church's communications person told me to send her a detailed proposal. Even though I did, no one ever got back to me. That was especially hurtful because this has been my church ever since I moved to Houston."

Still, she didn't let that incident discourage her efforts to contribute to change. The highlight of Plechette's campaign experience so far has been going to the Denver Convention where she volunteered with the Democratic Party to help prepare and clean up events. "I was at Mile High Stadium with friends watching Obama speak. We all had tears in our eyes." She plans on getting her tickets to Washington, D.C. soon (before Election Day) to be there for Obama's inauguration.

With only a few days left, Plechette will continue to phone bank through the campaign headquarters and call voters in Missouri. I asked her what her plans were on Election Day. "I plan on taking the day off and doing some phone banking to Ohio in the morning. Then I am going to get my hair done in the afternoon and get ready to attend the Obama victory party in downtown!"