Ellen Leary is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.
Having spent parts of the past week calling from the Obama campaign office in Bethesda, MD, I decided it was time to put my foot where my mouth was (as opposed to putting my foot in my mouth).
I finally decided to canvass. When I went in to the phone bank Friday, I signed up as well for the Sunday canvass into VA. You never know where they will be sending you...it's one of those "trust" things. But I do know they're selecting the locations brilliantly. My issue was the weather: it was slated to rain on Saturday and be delightful on Sunday. So Sunday it was.
While signing in I ran into my friend "Adrian." Adrian, a 29 year old attorney practicing Homeland Security law, comes in and phone banks evenings after work. We've sat side-by-side in the packed room before, and appreciate each others humor. We were seated together again Friday night. Between calls, I asked him about his canvassing experiences. He said he just goes on weekends directly to the Leesburg VA office, picks up a partner there, and goes out. We decided to do it together the following day, despite the rain. As he astutely pointed out, there's so little time left, and perhaps our presence in the inclement weather could be parlayed into chat about getting out on Election Day, despite the weather on that day.
I had missed the Obama rally in Leesburg 3 days prior to our canvass. Not that I didn't get sufficient advance notice by text message. But I've been to Leesburg a number of times, and know the layout of the town. It was easy to envision the traffic nightmare... Leesburg has a current population of 38,500. An estimated 30,000 folks from all over the area ended up attending the rally. Sitting in traffic is not my thing. I couldn't even get my brain around the idea of what the parking would be like.
So we set out to canvass early Saturday. But on Saturday, 3 days after the rally, and after what seemed like 40 days and 40 nights of bone-day weather, it didn't just rain. We had a deluge in Leesburg of Noah-esque proportions.
Having picked up our canvass packet at the Leesburg office, we sat out under ominous but still rain-free skies. Our "turf" was in the historic part of Leesburg. For those of you who didn't see any photos of Obama's rally there, the older part of Leesburg, a town steeped in Revolutionary and Civil War history, is a warren of narrow-one way, sometimes 2 way streets with the historical building right up against the uneven sidewalks. Limited on-street parking. Treacherous walking when slick with rain. Many stoops, steps and stairs, often exposed and equally slick.
Besides the historical homes and historical homes-turned into apartments, the "turf" also included new townhouse cul-de-sacs, older two-story row apartment buildings, newer 3-story apartment buildings, a modern co-op building, upscale single family 1980's development streets, and shotgun housing. All within walking distance of each other, if not directly across the street from each other. An architectural, multi-century, and economic blend worth noting.
We decided to hoof it, since our entire canvass was within walking distance. Immediately after we stepped out of the car, the skies opened up. I took an umbrella, which was wrecked from the wind within ½ hour of our 4 hour canvass, but at least kept me half dry, and the clipboard somewhat covered. Adrian looked like he had just emerged from a swimming pool within 5 minutes. The truly weird thing about the rain was it seemed to let up when we were under a porch or portico, or upstairs inside in an apartment building. Only to re-deluge when we were back in the open. Spooky. Happy Halloween.
The first door we knocked on, a second floor walk-up apartment in a historical house, was answered by a bald woman who had, we found out, recently completed chemotherapy. Not only an avid Obama supporter, but her son, also at the same address and also a supporter, volunteers at the Leesburg Obama office we had just come from. It was the beginning of an interesting and successful canvass: out of 48 doors we knocked on, we had 18 contacts (the rest were left literature.) Only one "don't come back". Two "haven't decided yet". The balance of the contacts were all solid Obama.
No doubt part of this was the bounce in the community from his visit 3 days earlier. In a town the size of Leesburg, a 30,000 person crowd is overwhelming. But some of it, we both acknowledged, was the sheer strangeness of these two utterly drenched, bedraggled foot soldiers braving the sheeting rain.
A new townhouse cul-de-sac. Every one slightly different architecture, painted different (no beige) colors, each 5'X5' mini-front yard unique and personal, and carefully tended. Some McCain signs. Lots of Obama signs. (We saw McCain signs regularly being surrounded on either side by multiple Obama signs, like the Injuns circling the wagons.) Knocking on one door (with an Obama sign), we spoke to the man about volunteering for the campaign in the closing days. Taking in out drenched-ness, he agreed to volunteer.
In the same cul-de-sac, we knocked on another door on our list. This one listed as a persuasion rather than a sporadic voter. Cutsy Halloween decorations in the yard indicated small children at home. Somewhat aloof, he indeed had a few kids clinging to his legs.
"Hi, we're from the Obama campaign, and we'd like to know if you've made up your mind in the Presidential race."
"Well, I never decide who I'm voting for until the day of the election."
"Oh, are there any questions you have about Mr. Obama's positions that we can help you with this close to the Election?" (Has he been living under a rock?)
"No, I just never make up my mind. And be sure to stay out of the rain." (Yes, knock on no more doors, you crazy Obama people.)
A 2-story apartment row house. An oriental woman answers the door, a few mixed-race children with her. Her face lights up.
"How great that you're out here doing this today! Both me and my husband love Obama!" More gushing. Sincere gushing.
A 3rd floor apartment (with open-to-the-outside stairs.) As we are about to give up and are stuffing literature into the crack, a man opens the door, naked except for a somewhat loosely-wrapped comforter around him.
"whadd'ya want, huh?"
He turned out to be our other undecided. No surprise there.
One of the shotgun houses, with great exterior yard decorations. An Obama sign. A "welcome to the nuthouse" sign, a doormat stating "thanks for swimming by" (how appropriate), a single row of corn growing against the garage, a full construction site of Tonka trucks re-organizing a huge pile of woodchips next to a recently-cut giant tree stump. Tina, it turns out works in the Public Defenders office.
"Do you have any time to volunteer?"
"I gotta take care of the kids. It's so much work. But do you think they could use me from 4-5 every day after work until the election?"
"No doubt, here's the address, thanks for your help."
In the new co-op complex, resplendent with open decking and open decking steps treacherously covered with a fresh bloom of rain-induced mold, we encountered a man and asked him where a particular unit was, since apparently the builder didn't understand the normally consecutive order of the alphabet.
"Excuse me, we're with the Obama campaign, can you help us locate Unit B?"
"Oh, I live upstairs from them in Unit L. Let's step out of the rain." (He scurries under a second floor deck overhang. Adrian and I, too wet to care, stay standing in the downpour. He must have thought we were nuts. He peeks through some landscaping into the parking lot.)
"They're not here right now, both cars are gone. Unit B is right over there. Am I on you list?"
I consult the sodden list.
"No, we're not slated to visit Unit L. Are you planning on voting for Obama?"
"Of course. I haven't been so excited about an election ever!"
"Wonderful. Thanks for your vote! Be sure to get all your friends and coworkers out to vote for him as well. Talk to any Republicans and help us win them over!"
"Sure will, stay dry." (What???)
Then there was Minh, in the upscale development. Expensive set-back houses with vast expanses of front lawns. The mailman was about, delivering the mail door-to-door adorned with a waterproof plastic pith-helmet. Many houses had no house numbers on them. We trudged on in the rain. Finally we passed a home with at least 50 plastic pink flamingos in the front yard, plus an American flag , plus a house number, and we reoriented ourselves. (Adrian: "They must be transplants from Florida". Ellen: "Their neighbors must either love or hate them. How fun.")
Across the street, Minh's house also had a number, and a huge semicircular driveway and 2 story portico. Having passed a seemingly equal number of Obama and McCain signs in the neighborhood, it looked like a toss-up. She came to the door in University of Georgia sweats. A perfect opening.
"Hi we're from the Obama campaign, and we're looking for your daughter? Does she go to U Georgia?" (A 24 year old female was indicated on our list. Minh was more my age.)
"Oh yes, she did her undergraduate work there. And she's in graduate school there right now. And she was on the soccer team there. They have such great programs there. And our whole family is voting for Obama. And my friends are as well. And you both look so miserable and wet!"
(Lets her small dog out which immediately jumps up on both of us, adding to our misery.)
"Actually, once you're wet, you're wet, so it doesn't matter anymore. Do you have any time to volunteer?"
"I really don't" (Perhaps thinking about being wet and having other people's dogs jump on you.) "But thanks so much for doing this."
As we walk down the semicircular drive, filling in the pulpy paperwork, Minh reappears at her door with 2 umbrellas.
"Please take these. Please, please, you must take these!"
"It's OK, the wind will only ruin them, and we're already wet."
"No, you must take them, please!"
"No, it's OK. And thanks again for your vote."
After four hours and 48 knocks, we went back to the campaign office and did our tallying. Adrian was so wet he couldn't sit down, both for fear of drenching the chairs, and concerned that if he began to cool down his legs would begin to shake. (He is as tough as nails, never complained once, and is extraordinarily polite. But he was also driving, and I surely didn't want him to be shaking.)
We met and chatted with the cancer-survivor's volunteer. Ate some caterer-donated greek/carribean food, best of the campaign so far, while standing up. And headed home.
Adrian, home to DC, for shower and change, then into the Bethesda phone bank to make calls.
Me, to go home and wrap and elevate my right ankle, the repository of 11 titanium screws thanks to a fracture last year. (It tends to look like there's a horizontal nerf football in there when it rains like that.)
When he dropped me off at my home in Bethesda, we agreed to do it again next weekend.
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