11/23/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Philly Community Organizers Rally Voters for Obama, Taking Nothing for Granted in Blue Pa.

In the final weeks of the presidential campaign, John McCain has baffled analysts by choosing Pennsylvania as one of the states in which he wants to concentrate resources and time. The candidate seems to believe he can win here, even though the state has gone Democratic in every presidential election for the past twenty years. Last week, both Cindy McCain and Sarah Palin campaigned in different parts of the state, and on Tuesday, McCain addressed rallies in Bensalem, outside Philadelphia, and in the state capital, Harrisburg. McCain is pinning his hopes on the increasingly slim odds that he will win over the Pennsylvanians who gave Hillary Clinton a whopping victory over Obama in the state's April primary. Given the facts, it is either a bold or cynical move but not likely a winning strategy. The voters he is courting, of course, are Democrats, and McCain is not Hillary Clinton --- an icon of the Democratic party. On the contrary, he is tied through the GOP and his long voting record in the senate to the very unpopular incumbent president and to the discredited policies of trickle-down and deregulation that are behind the spiraling global economic catastrophe that has exploded in the months since the Clinton-Obama showdown here. Clinton's already hardpressed "white working class" supporters are staring down the barrel of a deep Republican-made recession that tops the news every night.

gen/43709/original.jpgDespite McCain's efforts, Obama's lead has grown steadily in the Keystone state. The most-recent polling puts Obama between eight and thirteen points ahead of McCain. What's more, this year, Democrats have gained a 6 to 1 edge over Republicans in numbers of registered voters.

Obama's extensive "Pennsylvania for Change" ground game has grassroots organizations buzzing in neighborhoods across the state, and heavily Democratic and African-American Philadelphia is mobilized to bring massive numbers of voters to the polls on Election Day. On Saturday, community organizers in Philadelphia's 52nd ward held a rally in the parking lot of a shopping center across from the Wachovia Bank. The busy shopping center is part of an empowerment zone, an initiative of the Clinton administration. It stands as a visible and lucrative symbol of the Democrats' support for American cities, support sadly lacking from Washington in the past eight years. The morning was brisk with a nip in the air, reminding everyone that November is just around the corner. Approximately 200 people, including community activists, committee people and block captains, gathered together to make sure everyone in the neighborhood was planning on going to the polls to vote for Obama in two short weeks.

"We need to let people know they have to get out, and to get their families and friends out," said ward leader Steve Jones. "We can't take anything for granted. You've got to keep people motivated. Obama was here, in the neighborhood, last week and we've got to keep it going. If people don't come out to vote, we can't win."

Lucinda Hudson, 58, has been a community organizer in Philadelphia since 1977, when Obama was still in high school. President of the ward's Parkside Association, Hudson helped organize the neighborhood rally. The Parkside Association, Hudson explained, offers a full range of services to individuals, families and whole communities in need. The organization offers housing and loan counseling to protect people from predatory lenders. It also works to find houses for low-to-moderate income first-time home owners. Under Hudson's leadership, the association offers a job bank that, in addition to matching employees with employers, teaches job seekers how to dress, interview and search for jobs on the internet.

"I support Obama because he speaks to me," Hudson said. "I'm originally from North Carolina and when I was growing up in the 1960s, there weren't many educational opportunities open to me. I trained myself. I never dreamed I'd live to see this [Obama's candidacy]... and North Carolina has come so far."

Philadelphia mayor, Michael Nutter, who had spoken to get out the vote (GOTV) volunteers at the Obama Center City headquarters the night before, spoke at the rally, too. "Senator Obama has run a tremendous campaign," Nutter said, "but on Election Day, he has only one vote. So we know what our mission is, we know what our goal is. We know what we can do for him --- vote."

Nutter pointed to two little girls standing in the front row, Ashelle Henderson, six, and her sister, Amor, who will celebrate her eighth birthday on Election Day. "It's about these two young ladies and their future," the mayor said. "You, your friends, neighbors and relatives owe it to them and to yourselves to vote. Don't get excited, distracted or over-confident --- just vote. Folks that don't vote are folks that don't count and they get counted out."

The crowd listened to Nutter with rapt attention and, feeding off their energy, he drew on lessons from history. "Think about how people stood in lines in the 40s, 50s and 60s so we could vote. There was a time when women couldn't vote. There were times when there was a poll tax and literacy tests so black people couldn't vote in the South," he said. "Don't worry about what folks in Ohio or Florida or Michigan are doing. Worry about your own house, about the war, about a job --- and think about the next vice president!"

Councilman-at-large, Bill Greenlee, addressed the crowd next. Greenlee is from the 15th ward, a diverse area that ranges from the cosmopolitan Art Museum area to inner city North Philadelphia with a white working class neighborhood in the middle. "The 15th ward will go for Obama," Greenlee said. "Obama knows what makes cities work. He understands that with jobs, creating jobs, you can make the city stronger, so we look forward to his leadership."

I've phone banked Greenlee's ward when I've volunteered, and on more than one occasion spoke with women who were white working-class senior citizens, who told me they were voting for Obama because they are afraid McCain will put social security in the hands of Wall Street. One woman told me she'd switched from McCain to Obama for that reason specifically. People are paying attention.

"Pennsylvania happens right here in Philadelphia," community organizer Ray Bailey told the crowd. "Barack can't win Pennsylvania without Philadelphia, so we're recruiting more canvassers in the community. We can't celebrate now. We need to finish the race."

State representative, Louise Williams, was also on hand to address the rally and she presented a larger picture. "In Philadelphia, we all love Obama --- but in the nation, it's going to be a close race," she said. "So we can't relax, don't let anything deter you. If the lines are long, don't give them anything to cause a problem about. Nothing is going to prevent us from voting for Obama. Barack is the man, so let's get it on."

Williams told me she believes Obama will have a "great effect" on all the people of America. "He's the only one who can pull us out of this situation we're in. He's going to change the outsourcing of jobs, offer a quality health care program, make a difference in education --- and promote peace to our nation and the world. America will never be the same. I hope everyone exercises their right to vote."