Ryan Kushner is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week he contributes a campaign journal documenting his life out on the trail.
Thirty years old and living again with my parents: Is it possible to be both a stereotype and simultaneously aware of it? Another category you could easily put me into: The Enthusiasm Gap. Maybe there are other film editors out there who left Hollywood to sleep again in a single bed under a Frank Zappa poster and share a bathroom with their parents, but I haven't heard of them. I have been a full-time volunteer (they have a name for my kind: "Super Vol") in the Obama office in the East End of Pittsburgh for the last month. I'm certainly no homebody and my wanderlust has carried my far and wide in my years, but this has been, without question, one of the most adventurous and unexpected experiences of my lifetime.
I remember reading in David McCullough's "1776" how it was simple farmers, with no training or substantive education that became the armies of the North and South, battling for the future of the country. Likewise, whereas the rag-tag bunch in my office used to be craftsmen, laborers or professionals, we are now uniform and united in purpose to defend our country. We are the Obama Army for Change. In the Obama Army, there is a definite hierarchy and strict accountability. I report to the person that covers my neighborhood (formerly a professional oil painter). He answers to the city director, and her to the state director, and so on. Despite being a volunteer army, this is an organized and highly motivated war machine. This isn't quite the North versus the South, but pretty damn close to it.
Though it is not always apparent from my place in this massive organization, I have the definite sense that everything we do is calculated and ingested by some sort of mother brain. Being a liberal and a young upstart, I always question things--especially my superiors. Over the last month I have stopped this habit precipitously. My first days were full of questions about why we were doing some things and not others, and if we could do be doing some things more efficiently. But, by and by, the mother brain has earned my respect. Now as I am out on the hilly, often depressed streets of Pittsburgh, I hardly ever think: "What the hell am I doing here?! Is this really necessary?" Instead, I take comfort knowing that my time is not taken for granted; my superiors use me efficiently and intelligently. To me, that matters more than you know.
Despite growing up here, my month in the Obama Army has shown me parts of my city I never knew existed. To be frank, mostly that's because these are areas that there is no reason to go to. These are the neighborhoods that, when I was in High School, I wouldn't even drive through. I remember one night as a young driver when I lost my course and ended up right where the Obama office is now, in East Liberty. I blew through every red light in my panic to escape. But, this is a war that is fought block-by-block, knock-by-knock, voter-by-voter, and if I am given a map and a list of people, I go. What has been amazing to me is that I do so fearlessly. Working for Obama gives me this aura of confidence and invincibility. I'm a man on a mission, delivering the salvation of our nation. Sketchy stairway? Abandoned house? I go and knock. Poor, depressing, eerily quiet? I go and knock. Rabid dogs barking and pawing at the door? I go and knock.
This all bring me to my point: Why in the world would I quit my work, move into my childhood home and trudge through the worst Pittsburgh has to offer? I have no choice: I'm pissed off. Maybe Michelle Obama can't say it, but I can: I am, currently, embarrassed to be an American. I have spent seven plus years in amazement of the blatantly selfish, completely unscientific and totally inept governance of the Republicans and their elected leader. I have seen every facet of the country become infected by their ideological miscalculations. But, it doesn't have to be this way. I was on a trip in Australia last year and the relationship people had with their government stunned me. They give them taxes and in exchange they expect services. I want that. I want to be proud of my country, as previous generations were. I want to want to serve. That is why I'm here, doing this. Ask the hundreds of thousands of people all over their country, busting their hides, neglecting their families, giving up their free time, and you'll get a similar answer. We are fired up. The other side: they are just holding on. That is the "Enthusiasm Gap".
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