Every election, it comes down to who and how many actually make it to the polls. It is a huge operation to get out the vote on the weekend before the election day. There is no doubt in everyone's mind that Obama's operation has been a marvel ever since the primary. Some credit it to his time as a community organizer, others to his inspiring message. Whatever the reason, the organization and the level of dedication from both paid staff and volunteers have been unmatched.
In New Hanover County, the entire county has been divided into neighborhood groups. There are staging locations in each of these neighborhoods, which are satellite locations away from the headquarters and closer to the volunteers. They are buzzing with volunteers. At Allie Nardella's house, the crew captain of the Masonboro precincts of New Hanover County, the volunteers come and go.
The operation is so huge that she has, in addition to her husband, Jim, her son and daughter-in-law and her daughter helping her out with printing the packets, training the volunteers, and sending them on their way. James and his wife Jena flew in from Nashville, TN, where they cast absentee ballots. Jalene flew in from California after casting her absentee ballot. All three felt that they could make a bigger impact helping the campaign in North Carolina where the battle is fierce.
Allie also doubles as the comfort captain for the volunteers, which means that she provides food and water for all the volunteers as they come in. For today, she has cooked a vat of vegetable soup. She proudly showed me the pot. "This is a U.S. Navy issued pot." She continued, "there were 9 of us, so my father had this one from the Navy, the only one big enough to cook enough food for all of us." The ladle she uses has "U.S. Navy" imprinted on it.
As the volunteers come in, she offers them soup, bread, juice, water, cookies, brownies, and even wine as the day winds down. As soon as the volunteers come with their packets completed, the packets are then handed to data captains and entered into a database. As of 8:00 pm on Sunday night, Allie is busy tallying up the numbers and getting them in to the headquarters.
In her own words, "Little did I know what I got myself into!" She made big eyes, and she gestures with her hands, "It was like, ok, maybe I will get my feet wet. And then this huge wave came and swallowed me in! Now, look at how much I am doing! I am doing exactly what the campaign was hoping its volunteers would do. Get their feet wet, and then really jump into the water."
In the background, Jim was urging everyone to go "work." "OK, Yuna," he said. "Are you ok going out by yourself? Here is a packet." This is while I am still talking to his wife. In the background, another volunteer, Jim Nesbit, came in from a canvass already. Jim N. asked Allie, "Do you have another packet? I am ready to go again." Allie was happy to oblige and handed him a packet for an apartment complex.
I was paired with a first-time volunteer. We had the job of finding the places that volunteers could not find the day before. We had a packet made from three different packets. So at 12:30 pm, Tina and I set out to find these impossible addresses. We went into the boondocks, swampland, mosquito heaven, you name it, we did it, in order to find these voters. Some were not home, some have already voted, and others plan to vote on election day. There were a couple of McCain supporters too.
Some were just astounded that we were out there. Tina had to trudge through some thick vegetation in order to find a house. One time we had to drive up and down the same street to find a house behind a large fence. It turns out that we had to go way down the street in order to find the entrance through the fence. When we found them, they were happy to see us. "Keep up the good work," is what I heard again and again.
By the time we found all but 3 homes, it was already dark. We could not see the house numbers, and it was getting dangerous for us to slow down to reaad them on a very busy road. So we went back to Allie's. It was 5:30 pm. Wow. Allie gave us warm soup and some bread. Yummmm.
That is how the weekend went. Busy. Busy. Busy. And boy, do Obama volunteers work hard! And all of this on top of the paid staff members who work 16-18 hour days. There is no telling what Obama will be able to inspire the nation to do when and if he is in the White House. I am looking forward to it.