Texas has a long history of breaking quorum to influence change. In 1979, the original "Killer Bees" were State Senators who went into hiding to prevent a presidential primary bill from being passed. More recently, in 2003, Texas Democrats faced down a Delay-backed redistricting bill, which prompted House members, later known as the "Killer D's," to leave the Lone Star state for Ardmore, Oklahoma and eleven State Senators fleeing in jets to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Texas Democrats are now being asked by the Obama campaign to help in crucial battleground states, a plan that somewhat infuriates local campaigns scrounging for down-ballot volunteers. In signing up for the "Road Trip for Change," a bus trip from Austin to Albuquerque organized by local Texans for Obama, I found that the convenience of getting involved was one of the major appeals -- everything was arranged, and all I needed to do was show up with my $50 check. My initial thought upon boarding the bus was, We're going to drive all the way to Albuquerque in this? Not exactly the jet that the State Senators took to Albuquerque, the Bejucos bus seemed to have skimped a bit on leg room and arm rests. Nevertheless, the hodge podge group of about fifty I was assigned to -- known as the Blue Team -- climbed aboard cautiously, placing their pillows and blankets carefully around themselves, looking crisp and fresh and ready for adventure.
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Our driver climbed aboard, with the well-heeled trucker gut and squinty eyes from years of driving trucks. He had been a trucker, he told one of my busmates, but after having several strokes, he had to leave the union. He was also diabetic, which made his penchant for donuts and coffee each morning a bit confounding.
"The bathroom," Jerry announced, "is like an outhouse. So don't use it unless it's an emergency. An' if you do have to use it, put the lid down. That'll help keep the smell down for the people in the back."
Five rows from the back of the bus, I observed those around me looking uncomfortably at one another. To my left, I later learned, I had Kate, a New York transplant; and Jo, a retired grandmother of four ("with one on the way!") knitting furiously when she wasn't typing on her laptop; and Anne, a vegetarian lawyer who liked to stay up late. In front of me were Mike and Julian, a gay couple who wisely brought a bottle of wetwipes. As Jerry finished his speech about the bathroom etiquette, Mike piped up "Hey Jerry, who are you going to vote for?"
Jerry made a face and said "Let's just not get into that."
The rest of the trip consisted of countless lines: lines to get off the bus, lines to get into the one ladies' restroom in Sonora, Texas, lines to get on the bus, lines to check in at the hotel, lines at McDonald's. But despite the tedium, there was no denying that we were supporters aligned. There was always something to listen to, a point of view that hadn't been considered or a nugget of breaking Obama campaign news to lift our morale.
Walking through the neighborhoods of Albuquerque, I found that most of the doors I knocked on were either enthusiastically Democratic or apologetically Republican. One woman, a Republican from Texas, followed me all the way from her porch to the street talking to me about why she had never voted for a Democrat other than Pete Laney.
To call the trip inspiring doesn't do it justice, and objective words fail me. We knocked on 6000 doors in less than 48 hours, and covered turf that spanned across the city. By the time the sun was setting on the mountains as we left Albuquerque yesterday, I felt what Katharine Lee Bates must have felt when she was composing "America the Beautiful." The brotherhood was inescapable, ensconced in the glow of the purple mountain majesties.
As for Jerry, he delivered a busload of pushy Democrats safely back to Austin early this morning. I went to say goodbye to him, and in the half-asleep euphoria I was in, asked him if we'd changed his mind. Jerry smiled and said "You got me thinking about it."
"Thinking about it? What's left to think about?"
Jerry nodded and said "Alright."
"It's not alright until we shake!" I said, and we shook hands.
I don't know where an old truck driver with low blood sugar fits in on Gallup polls, but I do know where Democrats can make a difference. It's in their critical mass; their willingness to displace themselves and sleep on top of one another; their lack of showers but surplus of goodwill. Lobbyists can't raise that kind of value, nor can ActBlue. No amount of mail pieces or media buys would have ever convinced Jerry to cast his vote for Obama.
But I like to think that the Killer V's -- that's V for Volunteers -- did.
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