As the presidential campaigns hurl toward Election Day, the Huffington Post's OffTheBus project asked campaign volunteers to send in reports on the ground game being waged across the country in the form of journal entries detailing their behind-the-scenes experiences and insights.
We have yet to receive dispatches from the McCain-Palin camp. So far, our campaign "grassroots correspondents" are some of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers -- no one has an accurate figure -- who felt compelled to slide off the couch and start licking stamps, stuffing envelopes, dialing phones, inputting data, working events, and canvassing for the Obama-Biden campaign.
Here are their stories, told in their words -- an insider's look into Obama's already legendary national ground campaigning network.
Enthusiasm Factor: "Our local office is constantly buzzing"
The buzz has been with Sen. Obama from the start of this campaign. He has garnered so much excitement among his fiercely loyal volunteers that they agree to working long hours at boring tedious tasks. The campaign honchos have also given the all-important job of GOTV canvassing and phone calls to these volunteers and their commitment has been a major reason why Obama has been successful during the hard-fought primary against better known candidates. It most certainly will be the secret to his success should he become the next U.S. president.
"Living in a primarily Republican suburb in a primarily Democratic county in the swing state of Pennsylvania provides me with an oftentimes confusing, sometimes annoying, but always interesting...I'm finding that there are surprises around every corner, but that in the end, this state (or at least my corner of it) will likely swing in Obama's direction. The reason? Enthusiasm. Our local campaign office is constantly buzzing with activity; a dozen people or more making calls, handing out yard signs, helping to fill out absentee ballots.... By contrast, the McCain office down the street rarely has more than one or two volunteers wandering listlessly through their empty rooms. It almost makes me feel sorry for them. As a first-time campaign volunteer, I enjoy the hustle and bustle of the office and the youthful exuberance I see there. I don't mind admitting that I've been feeling quite proud of myself lately...
"Journal: Northeast Pennsylvania's Enthusiasm Factor" by Lori Jewett
"We arrived at the makeshift Reno Obama staging area early on Saturday morning. The main office is located downtown but the local person said that so many Californians were flooding them every weekend that they had to move their staging operation to a warehouse of a supporter to accommodate the massive crowd of volunteers that showed up. There was easily over 1,000 of us!"
--"Hundreds of fellow Californians Invade Nevada" by Eric Edenfield
"I had joined the Obama efforts and for a week I worked with the kids who are leading the crusade to elect the first African-American president and save the country and "take back the White House" as they say. And, I certainly don't mean 'kids' in any sort of derogatory way, but as an older guy from the 60s and 70s and to me people in their twenties and even early thirties are kids. But these are kids I was inspired by, led by and whom I worked side by side with. Surrounded by young people who were very much involved and on top of the presidential campaign, being paid bottom wages, I had joined them to share their sweat, pain and pleasure in working our butts off for Barack Obama."
-- "Runnin" With The Obama Kids," by Frank Gormlie
Super Vols: Backbone of Obama's Army for Change
The term 'Super Vols' is shorthand for 'Super Volunteers' first coined at Howard Dean's campaign in 1999 and from there, it stuck with the fresh faced Dems who are now running various campaigns around the country. These are the volunteers who spend most evenings and weekends at various Obama campaign headquarters around the country. They're fired up and ready to take the beach for Sen. Obama's presidential race...even if they have to step on a few landmines along the way.
"Thirty years old and living again with my parents...I've been a fulltime volunteer (they have a name for my kind: "Super Vol") in the Obama office in East End of Pittsburgh for the last month...[We are a] rag-tag bunch in my office [some] 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...Despite being a volunteer army this is an organized and highly motivated war machine... Working for Obama gives me this aura of confidence and invincibility. I am a man on a mission...and this is a war fought block-by-block, knock-by-knock, voter-by-vote....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."
-- "Riding the Enthusiasm Gap Home To Pittsburgh," by Ryan Kushner
"I made a personal commitment to give at least twenty hours a week to the Obama campaign serving in whatever capacity they need. At the moment, I've been made a team leader for my district in East Orlando. In order to effectively lead the team, I've been on the phones myself and I've been visiting the neighborhoods knocking on doors to get a sense of what's happening here so I can better advise the team... There is one more week to register and big pushes are underway at University of Central Florida. and Valencia Community College. These two schools represent seventy thousand potential voters and this area, East Orlando, is the key to winning Orange County. One of our organizers tells us on Wednesday from twelve o'clock to two o'clock open and that there will be a special announcement. I take several sheets of phone contacts home to make calls from the house..."
-- "Something Old, Something New," by Jerry Waxman
"Last weekend, an Obama staffer called and said I could attend an upcoming Obama event in Indianapolis with 'VIP' tickets. [Lasker has been volunteering for the past year at the local Obama campaign office] I felt my volunteer efforts had been rewarded with special seating, the way volunteers are rewarded at other Obama events. Obama's speech was inspirational...It was clear we were witnessing history, a presidential candidate at a level not seen in a generation. I forgot the mud and the rain, [the special VIP seats landed Lasker in the mud and rain for 90 minutes] and remembered again why I was supporting Obama for president...Was it the campaign staff or the venue staff that chose to put a crowd into an uncovered sandy area while it was raining? Who decided to limit the exit to one puddle-covered path? And, who took my red, white and blue umbrella from the umbrella pile?"
-- "Obama Volunteer Rewarded With 'VIP Seating' In Mud," by Chuck Lasker
"Outside Nevada volunteers for the most part, who made up a huge part of the audience were happy for the photo op, but saddened by the ground organizers who used them as props. They, myself included, went to Nevada to knock on doors, make voter contact and increase Obama's chances of winning the swing state, not to spend five hours of a Saturday morning standing around in the cold doing nothing. It was clear, by the numbers present, that the crowd would have been embarrassingly small had we not attended."
-- "Justin Timberlake : He's Got His Vote In A Box," by Wendy Carrillo
Guns & Roses Canvassing: "I'll handle this Babe"
From the CNN audience response inserts during the televised debates, it's clear that Sen. Obama relates better to women than to men. He's successfully picked up most of Sen. Hillary Clinton's female primary supporters but, as the volunteers are chronicling, there are often the complicated influences of husbands and boyfriends partial to the McCain-Palin ticket.
"On Saturday morning, we packed our boys into the car with enticing treats and entertainment to go canvassing in Indiana. The day went great...[But] near the end of the day, we hit a house where we were supposed to talk with a young woman on our list....[she answered the door and the Hammonds introduced themselves as volunteers for the Obama campaign] the woman smiled and that's the last we saw of her. At that point, her husband, boyfriend or whatever, placed himself between us, pushed her back and announced, "I'll handle this babe."
We had just met T-shirt guy...He quickly commented on the apparent fact that "we weren't from around here"...and explained to us about Obama and his dealings with Farrakhan, Ayers, Rezco, and how we simply don't know enough about the man we were working to elect...[he added] Muslim, radical, un-American." We listened politely...We didn't try to correct. I was standing in the middle of a country lane in Indiana with my wife and our 8-year-old at my side and didn't want to have him see what it's like when a racist has all of his excuses stripped away and all that's left is his anger."
-- "I"ll Handle This Babe," by Kristian Hammond
"Lots of people are not home. There are also Arab families, Indian, African American and Asian families living here. There are very few actual white people. However, in the middle of one block there was a picture-perfect "biker family" that saw me coming. They were not on my list but I just had to comment on the big Harley in their driveway and the 79 Corvette (needing much restoration) and how much I admired their vehicles. I asked what it was that they liked about McCain. The answer was frightening: "He's one tough guy-you guys are pussies." I responded that we Democrats also buy Corvettes and motorcycles and moved on."
-- "Something Old, Something New," by Jerry Waxman
"On a gorgeous October Sunday in New York City, I volunteered for the Barack Obama campaign phone bank to phone registered voters in Pennsylvania...I had two lovely elderly ladies, both undecided who did leave me with great hope. The first lady (age 72) said she was leaning toward Obama [but] her husband doesn't want Obama because, "He'll take away his hunting gun." I explained that Mr. Obama would do no such thing and that the only thing he wants is to make sure that AK-47s and illegal arms don't fall into the hands of disturbed individuals or criminals. Law abiding citizens with legal permits will not be disarmed. I even volunteered to give her my phone number to call, even at 3:00 a.m., if ever Mr. Obama comes to take their gun away. We spoke for another 15 minutes...we laughed quite a bit and as we said goodbye, she thanked me for the call and said that she felt much better about Sen. Obama."
-- "Fear and Loathing At The Phonebank," by Tania Arias
Hearts-to-Heartaches: Single Moms & The Chicago Machine
Volunteer canvassing is the heart of the Obama strategy. Some volunteers see more than a little similarity between Sen. Obama's presidential campaign and its grassroots appeal. There is reference for some to Obama's days as a Chicago community organizer, the intimacy of the grassroots effort influencing the tenor of the work.
"Laura and I decided to canvas in [Scranton] Pennsylvania...She's 68 and has had two knee replacements.... I am 65 and several months past chemotherapy. I am a tax lawyer [originally from Chicago area]... We were about done, and Laura went up a hill to get the last house. She didn't come and didn't come. I was wondering how to call the police, when she wafted down the hill. "I do not know how these people survive. Those people I was talking to in that house up there, that man needs a liver transplant, he's been laid off and he has no insurance. They think they will lose their house. And they can't decide to vote for Obama. I do not understand it." Driving back to Connecticut on Sunday, Laura and I agreed our canvassing had been fun, in spite of the heartaches. What I liked about it was that canvassing was individual to individual. It had heart. But canvassing was more than just heart ..."
-- "The Audacity Of A Nationwide 'Chicago Machine,'" by Martha Miller
"After a long full day of mind-numbing work, I drove over to meet my young(er) volunteer colleagues to join them in calling potential voters [at the Democratic Campaign office in Scotch Plains, NJ].. .. Many just didn't pick up their phones...Blanca, one of the voters who was willing to talk, shared her deep feelings about how confused she was...She's Hispanic and I felt my heart so often as I heard a slight change in her voice revealing an edge of fear I'd stop listening to her when she revealed this fact, that she'd voted Republican all her life. Blanca told me of her worries about keeping her home, keeping her three jobs, having enough money for gas, enough for heat, clearly expressing her complete and overwhelming confusion about all the ads she hears and sees. Her "choice would have been Hillary," she said in frustration. "What do you think about Obama?" she asked. One really good source of who he was, is, and will be is his book The Audacity of Hope and I went on to tell her all that I had learned of him, his upbringing, his efforts to get a good education and his work with people just like us on the south side of Chicago. We shared our ideas, our feelings. Imagine that, two women talking about feelings! Blanca told me repeatedly how glad she was I called and that "you just pushed me over." "I think I might be able to vote for him now."
-- "Single Moms and Me Talking About Obama," by Deb Davison
Otherness: Racism, Patriotism, Xenophobia
The issues of racism, patriotism, and xenophobia have reared their ugly heads throughout the 2008 campaign. Our OTB chroniclers share their concern for a country tipping on the edge. Here's what they heard from voters -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- and why Barack Obama still has a big hill to climb before he or any person of color can ascend to the nation's top job in Washington.
"I had driven well over an hour from my home in New Jersey to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to canvass for Obama. Perhaps the most revealing conversation occurred not while going door to door, but over breakfast at a Perkins restaurant, with the personable young woman waiting on my friend Beth and me. Shelly was in her 30's, energetic and attractive...[We] asked who was she voting for in November? Her face clouded over, and she said, "I don't really like either of them. I don't like McCain, but I don't like your guy either." What we didn't realize until much later, was that this was the first of many times she couldn't bring herself to say Obama's name! There it was again, this inability to say his name. Did she not remember it? Could she not pronounce it? Was it because it's a foreign, Muslim-sounding name? Was it racism? Or was it dismissive, as in McCain's "...that one..."I guess we'll never know in Shelly's case."
-- "Otherness in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania," by Sara Lazarus
"Over the past two days, my wife and I took time out of our busy lives to walk through the neighborhoods of our traditionally conservative town and go door to door talking to people about Obama...We met lots of strong Obama supporters...We also met a few Hillary supporters, and in one case we were able to point them away from McCain and toward Rolling Stone. In fact, the Rolling Stone article about McCain proved to be an ace in the hole...The other Hillary supporter was a guy who told us that when Obama didn't choose Hillary to be his running mate, he sealed the deal and lost this guy's vote. He wasn't interested in hearing that the policy differences between Obama and Hillary were negligible, while the difference between Hillary and McCain was of titanic proportions. He said, "I don't think this country is ready for a black president." I asked him, "Are you ready for a black president?" He answered, "Oh, it's not me. I'm fine with it, but this country isn't." Reminding him who was leading in the polls didn't seem to help, and he showed a clear interest in shutting the door and closing off any further discussion."
-- "Swaying Undecided's Door to Door in Oregon," by Rusel DeMaria
Echo Chamber & Jehovah Witnesses: Obama's Neighbor to Neighbor Strategy
From likeminded quiet supporters discovered in familiar places to knocking on strangers doors who have no intention of ever spending time with an Obama volunteer, our OTB journalists and committed Dems find surprises and disappointments. However, none seem ready to bail out of the campaign before the last GOTV list is culled and the last Independent undecided voter is contacted. It's a strategy that seems to be working in their favor.
"My girlfriend, Alison, and I tried to the Obama "Neighbor to Neighbor" approach of speaking to your neighbors before and after the Vice Presidential debate whenever an opening came up at the gym, or outside in front of our apartment in the large complex we live in. It felt like an echo chamber, much like work, and I counted six visible Obama signs peering from windows, not counting our own of course...The deadline for voter registration here in Virginia was Monday, October 6th so my [volunteer] colleagues and I spent a large portion of the day distributing registration forms, providing the registrars phone number if needed, and/or directing people the few blocks down to city hall. I work in a public library and on days like this I actually feel as if I'm making a difference, albeit a small one, but a difference nonetheless."
-- "Coattail Effect Making Impact In Virginia," by Dennis J. Seese
"I went canvassing for Barack Obama in Northern Virginia, an affluent suburb of Washington D.C. Being coaxed into canvassing after I originally volunteered for data entry, I set off for this canvassing expedition, to historic Old Town Alexandria Virginia... But I knew this canvassing activity wasn't my favorite, because when people were home, some of them were down-right rude. One lady said, "We're all set, we are voting for McCain (insert snide tone)." Another said she was eating dinner and slammed the door on us, at which point I said to Utta [canvassing partner], "Look, I could understand that behavior if we were--and no offense meant--Jehovah Witnesses, who are known to knock on your door at the most inopportune time in order to convert you, but we are just citizens volunteering for a cause that could save their country...boy those adamant right-wingers got under my skin...All in all, I guess we were successful as we did seem to influence a couple of undecided voters, which as I said, our young staffer told us was the goal."
-- "I"d Rather Do Data Entry," by Paula B. Mays"
New Rules.2008: "Dog biscuits help"
When it comes to walking the blighted streets of America's post-Industrialized cities, it can be a daunting deal-breaker for most, but not our OTB Obama volunteers -- Jerry Waxman and Ryan Kushner -- have developed their own 'New Rules.2008' which will, no doubt, wiggle their way into the grassroots campaign notebooks of political operatives and party leaders responsible for the next presidential campaign.
1. Wear comfortable shoes.
2. Don't waste time with non-supporters. If they are undecided ask them what issues are important to them and leave some literature.
3. Do not argue. Even if you win, you lose. Be cordial at all times
4. Carry a pocketful of dog biscuits. It's a way of winning over people if their dog likes you.
5. Compliment the yard, flowers, garden.
6. If the neighborhood is sketchy, park in front of a church.
Mother Brain: Best Ground Game Wins
Organization and Get-Out-The-Vote are all that matters in these last few weeks before the general campaign ends on November 4. The Obama campaign has had to fight for every vote during the toughest primary in recent decades and consequently, possesses a larger footprint throughout the country and most especially, in the key eleven swing states than the Republican challengers. Our OTB contributors in the battleground states give a clear picture of just why Senator Obama may become President Obama. Here's a quick compilation of the volunteer's take on the best ground game going in 2008 and why they're still working hard for the Obama-Biden ticket.
"Our reception at the Lake County [Indiana] campaign headquarters was exciting. They had enthusiasm plus snacks, stickers and a clear mission for the day. It wasn't just a vision; it was a vision driving in an incredibly focused effort."
"There is no better way to directly help influence a campaign than canvassing door to door or phone banking. These activities allow even the lowest ranking member of a campaign to have a profound effect on the outcome - to make a difference. It's even possible to make calls directly from home as a member of Obama's National Phone Team. It's not easy work; it takes persistence and an ability to never take things personally...I find that every day I'm able to campaign is a very nice day indeed."
-- James Camner
"My neighborhood team leader, who's been volunteering for Obama since 2007, keeps talking about how all this organization is not just to get Obama elected but it's for after the election, too..."
-- Danielle Auber
"Being a liberal and a young upstart, I always questioned things - especially my superiors. Over the last month I have stopped this habit...By and by, the Mother Brain has earned my respect. 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."
-- Ryan Kushner
"On that Saturday 10,000 households in Scranton were canvassed for Obama and another 5,000 canvassed on Sunday. I realized that we did just what the "Chicago Machine" would do. I had seen it often enough in my youth: the Ward Boss, the Precinct Captains, and the Block Captains...caring and knowledge of the individual affairs of each citizen goes with the system...The audacity of it: to build a nationwide machine based on the Chicago Machine. Now nobody groan - the Chicago Machine WORKS. We have seen the birth of a huge, wonderful Machine, the new Dem Machine, which will carry us all forward into an Age of Mutuality."
Read more of the journals posted in full here as campaign volunteers across the country send them in.
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Byline: John Achoukian, Madama Ambi, Tania I. Arias, Norma Armon, Linda Armstrong, Andrea Basche, Patricia Berrini, Michele Brown, Wendy Carrillo, Chris Chalfant, Jerry Chandler, Tina Congdon, Vicki Crain, Jessica Craven, Barbara Cravero, Laura Cronyn, Rod Davis, Kaitlin DeCero, Denise Dennis, Sarah DiAngelo, Timothy Dolan, Joan Easley, Carol Evenson, Martha Fishkin, Mike Galluzzo, Leticia Garcia, Keith Gargus, Lisa Gee, Darren Gonzalez, Shoshana Hershkowitz, Charley James, Michael Jee, Lori Jewett, Susan Kelley-Stamerra, B. Kozan, Janie Manchester, John W.S. Marvin, Lisa McClaskey, Susan McIntyre, Jim McKay, Linda McLane, Eric Meza, Sarah Moglewer, Ty Morton, Lynnae Mosley, Carrie Opara, Logan Perkes, Isom Philips, Julie Pierce, Michael Plunkett, Dick Richardson, RachaelRoberts, Gillian Rosheuvel, Karen Sellars, Laruen Shannon, Lisa Sheridan, Nicholas Simons, Stephen Smarsh, Robert W Strauss, Rosemary Sova, Genevieve Vega, Jean Vickers, James Watson, Dorothy White, Jane Wylen