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Oberlin Volunteer Canvasses Neighbor-to-Neighbor

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The local middle school in Kathy Rednaur's old town used to call Child Abuse Services on her every few months. Eventually, she picked up and moved her children to Oberlin, Ohio. Kathy is a loving, single mother of eight. Four children are adopted from a black woman in the area who suffered from a heroin addiction. And fter enrolling her children--the only black students in the district--in the local school, Kathy was harassed by false abuse reports and visited by the police whenever a local break-in was reported.

Kathy is a loving mother: she is also an active community organizer, and a "total" Barack supporter. Her sentences are littered with the effects of an eight-child household: "awesome" and "no doubt" float in and out of her sentences as she talks about racism, single parenting, and the effect of the Obama campaign. Her two oldest sons are enrolled in the Army and the Navy, her boyfriend is Hindu, and her recently evicted ex-husband rents a room in their house. Despite two weeklong trips to the hospital in the last year, Kathy brushes off her health as just another hurdle she can overcome. At 43, Kathy campaigns for Obama because, "I mean, look at my family. We're such a diverse family, and Obama looks like us."

Monica Klein: How did you start working for the campaign? What kind of work do you do?

Kathy Rednaur: Once I heard Barack speak, I was sold off the bat. I campaigned up until the primary because I ran for county commissioner, and then, because I didn't win, I decided that I had the time and energy to campaign for Barack Obama. So I hit the ground running, and have been stopped a couple times with this health issue, so its been a little bit of a bummer. But I just think that not only is this a historic election, but I really strongly feel we need a change in our leadership. And I see Barack Obama as much more open and able than John McCain. He just doesn't have the personality for it. And I know a lot of people who think, its not about personality--but it so is.
I'm actually a social worker and I'm the executive director of Leadership Ohio. Then I work part time for the city of Elyria as a victim advocate in the prosecutor's office. I had a private practice where I did counseling for injured workers, but I've just taken a leave from that because I've had some health issues.
So I've been doing a little bit of everything. I've canvassed, I've done doors, I've made phone calls, I've handed out literature. Every time I get the opportunity to talk about Barack Obama, I'm all over it. I was in Southern Ohio recently to give a talk for a leadership program, and it's a pretty Republican area. We were having dinner with a gentleman who was like, I don't know, I've always been a Democrat but I don't know. So I just took that opportunity to really sell him on why Barack Obama needs to be the president.

M: What was he apprehensive about?

K: He really never specifically said. I wondered if it wasn't race, because usually I think if they don't say what it is, I think its race, but they don't think that they can say that. Because when people give me reasons, then I can accept that. But when they don't give me a reason, I can't help it, I just assume its race. And that might be wrong on my part, but it's just my guess.

M: What reactions do you get from the people in town when you canvas?

K: It depends on whose door I knock on and how open they are to talking. I meet some really awesome people from canvassing, and I think that one of my talents is that when people say, 'I'm not interested', I say 'well, just give me a minute and chat'. And then when I personalize it a little, and tell them a bit of my story, then people are like 'well come on in'. But some people just say 'I don't want to know', and I say, 'then just give me five seconds'. Since I'm from the town, people are more willing to listen. Because we're neighbors. People listen to their neighbors.

M: How has working for the campaign changed your views of the community?

K: Well I had a dinner for people in the area to talk about Obama. And when I saw his signs for 'Change', I was like oh Barack, I wish you would've called me. That's what they all say! We want something new. But then, when I got involved in the campaign, I realized, oh my gosh he's already created change. My neighbors that wouldn't have been at my house, they were over talking about politics. He created the atmosphere for that to happen. And we live in a world where we don't know our neighbors. We don't communicate with our neighbors. We communicate on our computers. We don't sit on our neighbor's steps and talk about the kids or what we made dinner. So the way he ran the campaign created a place where that change could happen. It's already happened.

M: Were there any specific moments where you felt your campaigning made a tangible change?

K: I think it's easy to feel like you're successful, when you're in Obama headquarters, or with Obama supporters. But one of the best moments for me, when I had that dinner and my friend was on the fence, I was able to say, well, here's how I see it. Obama doesn't just talk about change, he's already created it. He's already done it. McCain is still just talking about what he's going to do. Barack's already done it. And when I was winning my friend over, that was one of those moments where I said to myself, oh my gosh, I'm really good at this! Those moments where people are on the fence and I can say, well lets just sit down and talk about Obama. As long as the issue with Barack Obama is not about race or this bizarre idea that Obama is Muslim. Because then I really won't debate with you, because it'll be a waste of my time. Because it's a conversation that's just shallow or ignorant--it just makes me too angry.

M: What kind of changing attitudes have you noticed from the town?

K: Well originally, people really liked Sarah Palin. Women really liked her initially. But the more she opened her mouth, the more we, as women, were insulted. I had a conversation with another woman, and I said, 'if she calls me 'Joe the Plumber' one more time...' I mean, that is so offensive to me. That tells me that Barack Obama has the insight to take in so many kinds of people. It's such a diverse word, 'Middle Class'. So when she says 'Joe Sixpack', that's their perception of middle class. It's narrow minded and insulting. I'm not a plumber. And so Palin really frustrated me. Just because she's a woman, doesn't mean she's not an idiot.
And people are just always asking about healthcare. My Republican friend said, Kathy, there's only a small percentage of people who don't have heath care, and they choose not to. And I said that's ridiculous. Sit in my private practice for a couple days and tell me that. I have injured workers who have lost their healthcare. So my friend is under this bizarre belief, I don't know where he gets it, probably from Fox, that the majority of people have healthcare.

M: Do you think you've changed at all since you've started campaigning?

K: What's changed the most is being this inspired. Actually believing that we might actually have a black president, it's inspiring. The fact that we're going to have someone that is inspiring, after Bush, that is inspiring. Being involved in the campaign, it has suddenly become all about us. He has put us into action, so that we can't sit here and say, well the government isn't doing anything. Now, I feel like if I want something to happen in government, I need to be a part of it. I think that I've changed because I've been inspired, more than I have by any other politician.

M: How much time do you think you've spent working on the campaign?

K: Probably about ten hours a week. I started about a month after the primaries. I go to a lot of the Democratic Fundraisers in the area, and when I'm at those I'm even campaigning for Barack. It's just part of my daily life. There's not a day that goes by now without me talking about Barack Obama. Or my kids, they're at it too. I spent hours getting those sample ballots out, and I worked at the Democratic Women's luncheon this week, making sure everyone had those in their hands. It's a part of my daily life. At my private office, even though I shouldn't, my patients and I would talk about the campaign sometimes. At lunchtime, I talk about the campaign. Lunch hour, conversation is always on Barack and McCain. But most people these days, its all about Barack.

M: Are your kids involved in the campaign?

K: Oh definitely. They've been on the phone banks, they've done data entry. Sometimes I have to twist their arm a little bit, but they've all been involved in the campaign, canvassing. The fact that Obama has gotten young people involved in the process now, is unbelievable. My kids have always known what it's like to be active in politics. But when I heard my thirteen-year-old daughter telephone during the phone banks for Barack, she said, 'Hi, my name is Shyanne and I'm calling from the Barack campaign, do you have a few moments to answer a couple questions?' It was amazing. When I was thirteen, I could've never done that. But my kids will keep working up until the elections. And I'll keep working: I won't let myself think 'what if'. But on the day of elections, that's when I'll be panicked.

All of us are working on election day, except for my one son who left for the Navy last Sunday. Unfortunately he wont be here; he went to Michigan. But he did vote before he left. My other son is leaving for the Army next month; he's going to Atlanta, Georgia. Everyone's excited, though I'm a little nervous for him. But they already voted, all of them. And Shane, my son, came home and said, 'Mom, will you be mad if I didn't vote for Barack?' And I said, 'if you didn't vote for Barack, you'd better pack your bags.'