THE BLOG
11/12/2012 09:56 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

The Grassroots Do It

While Republicans and PACs were expected to spend close to a billion dollars to defeat President Obama, thousands of grassroots Obama supporters had hit the streets to even the playing field. Twenty-two-year-old Chris and 19-year old Courtney in Boulder, Colo. -- a swing state -- are exemplary. Over the past 18 months Chris -- initially using a cell phone from coffee shops when no Obama offices existed -- contacted 2008 Obama supporters in an effort to organize grassroots support. He held house meetings, recruited University of Colorado sophomore Courtney and found an office to commence the Obama campaign at the foot of the Rockies. Over the following months, the one office downtown on Pearl Street became two when they opened an office on Baseline and three with an office on the Hill adjacent to the University of Colorado campus, then four with an office on Canyon. Chris and Courtney were joined by Jonathan who had overseen the 2008 Obama campaign in northeast New Mexico. As a team, they walked door to door to identify Obama supporters. When a potential voter told them she or he supported Obama, they recruited the voter to join their door-to-door effort. By November 2012, tens of thousands of volunteers were walking door to door across the country.

This approach to elections began decades ago after now-Harvard professor Marshall Ganz left Harvard as a student to join the civil rights movement in the South during the 1960s. Ganz moved on from Alabama and Mississippi to Delano, Calif., where he joined the Cesar Chavez effort to organize farm workers fighting the corporate lawyers and millions of dollars for survival-level wages and safe working conditions. The civil rights and farm workers' efforts depended on identifying and getting supporters to speak out to improve deplorable living and working conditions. When Barack Obama began his journey to the White House in 2008, Ganz explained this get-out-the-vote effort to organizers and volunteers across the country. By 2012, facing a billion-dollar Republican Super PAC effort to remove the president from the White House, the grassroots GOTV effort became the means by which Obama would seek to continue his effort to improve the lives of the middle class and poor in America. President Obama's campaign leaders believed that overcoming the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by the corporations depended on the vote of people who support Obama's effort to stand with the middle class and poor but often believe voting is futile. They created a grassroots effort to visit these voters in their homes and explain that although as individuals we feel powerless; together we can elect a president.

Three weeks before the election, I traveled from San Diego to Colorado to join the grass roots operation at the Canyon Street office. Over the following days, sometimes through the snow, I walked the tree-lined streets and climbed up and down steps to knock on 1511 doors at the older homes that were often converted into apartments. Our goal was to identify Obama supporters, and urge them to vote by mail or vote early. For those who chose to vote on Election Day we returned to their homes as many as four times to make sure they did vote. When the president came to the University campus five days before the election, I joined a score of others to urge those waiting in line to hear the president to volunteer in our effort to get out the vote. For 20 days, I walked streets in Republican Colorado and did not see a single Romney supporter visiting a voter's home.

Over the weekend before the election, with many volunteers in Boulder to carry out our effort, my wife Olivia, a Boulder friend we knew from California's Central Valley Celia, and Carlos and his son who drove from California to join us walked streets in a Denver Latino neighborhood to identify Obama supporters so we could be sure they voted. On Nov. 6, Election Day, thousands of volunteers, young, middle-aged and old, walked streets across the country until the polls closed. They put work, school, and their families on hold to join a grassroots effort to show that America includes all people, not just the rich.

Before the president spoke to the country, at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 7, he emailed his grassroots supporters telling us:

"I'm about to go speak to the crowd here in Chicago, but I wanted to thank you first. I want you to know that this wasn't fate, and it wasn't an accident. You made this happen. You organized yourselves block by block. You took ownership of this campaign five and ten dollars at a time. And when it wasn't easy, you pressed forward. I will spend the rest of my presidency honoring your support, and doing what I can to finish what we started. But I want you to take real pride, as I do, in how we got the chance in the first place. Today is the clearest proof yet that, against the odds, ordinary Americans can overcome powerful interests. There's a lot more work to do. But for right now: Thank you."

A few minutes later, with scores of other grassroots supporters, we cried with happiness and cheered with enthusiasm when we saw our president speak to the country. Together, we had shown the world that when individuals join together they can face the rich corporate powers and elect a president who cares about the people. We know the struggle will continue but together we can assure that the poor and the middle class, women, and people of color who are the United States can together be heard.

President Obama was re-elected for a number of reasons, including his record as one of America's great presidents. But, the thousands of volunteers, the grassroots, who personally spoke with voters on their front porches in an effort to get out the vote likely enabled the president to overcome the billion dollars spent by Republican PACs to defeat the President. Si se Puede. Yes we can.

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