Ellen Leary is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.
Names, locations, quotes, and phones numbers have been scrambled to protect the privacy of the citizens. The quotes are verbatim. Special thanks to my cubby neighbor Kathy Stuart, a volunteer like myself, for getting into the groove and sharing tidbits, laughs, and insights.
My life this weekend had a quality of disconnect. Kinda like Sarah's sentences, you know, um, you betcha.
I'm a phone bank volunteer for Obama's grassroots office in Bethesda, MD. Once cited as the brainiest city of its size in America, Bethesda is the home to mostly highly educated people with high incomes. And like most of Maryland, strongly Democratic. The office is packed with phone bank volunteers daily. The weekend canvasses in Virginia are huge.
The office itself is run by some very brainy, organized, funny and helpful folks. The kind you enjoy spending a few hours with every day. And the volunteers also are brainy, fun and enjoyable, which allows you to see your task as being fun as well. The disconnect was going from this setting to where I was calling into. High tech campaigning meets "Ode to Billy Joe," which I was humming all weekend.
I have had the good fortune to have seen much of America in person, while doing photography and film directing for multiple major corporations over many years. It has made me come to love the diversity of this country, both geographic and cultural. And although I know I don't suffer from "terminal kindness" like a few other people I know, I am certainly tolerant of folks whose positions differ from mine, which makes me an ideal person to call for the Obama campaign into areas considered potentially more hostile. I didn't consider it a difficult list. For me it was both entertaining and enlightening.
I was calling into extreme southwestern Virginia, right on Virginia's Tennessee/West Virginia borders. Or as Sarah would say, the "ree-al A-meer-i-cah." (Every time I hear the Vice Presidential GOP nominee pronounce the name of this great country it visually invokes not the view of the Great Plains from Pikes Peak, but meerkats.) Having been in this part of Virginia in the past, I recognized the names of the towns. And the accents.
Some people were rude. Some were outright hostile. Bigotry raised its ugly head from time to time. But the majority of the folks were polite, regardless of their political bent. It's the old treat-potential-hostility-with-politeness thing... lots of sirs and ma'ams. And lots of "have a nice days," or even more often, "have a bless'd day."
And then, being in the South, there was the curious phenomenon that most folk go by three names, or even more. I often used them all.
Like Hubert Ezekiel Elmore. Billy Isaac Hylton. Barbara Jean Cofferman Funkhouser. Rheda Rae Ball.
From towns and villages and intersections like Pilgrim's Knob. Wise. Pound. Jewel Ridge. Fancy Gap. Tazewell. Galax. Bland. Meadows of Dan. Rural Retreat. Mouth of Wilson. Narrows.
"Hello, is Roswell Beede home, please?
"Hello is this Roswell Wayne Beede? This is Ellen Leary calling from the Obama campaign for change"...and so on through the brief intro and questions.
Some of the responses to the polite campaign patter were priceless, such as...
"You've got the wrong number. Would you like to leave a message?"(Huh?)
"I'm a Republican. I'm a Christian. I love Jesus. Jesus loves me. I hate homosexuals.
Don't call me back. Have a bless'd day." (Okay, Ellen, cue in the bless'd day close for the duration of the weekend.)
"I'm undecided." (Much discussion on leaning one way or another.)
"I'm still undecided." (More discussion initiated by Lorene Mae.)
"Okay, I'll put you down as undecided, Lorene Mae... have a bless'd day, ma'am."
"No, don't hang up. You're a nice lady... I'm undecided...but...it's not Obama."
More folks: Letty Sluster Wine Sett. Roy Junior Benson. Elbert Wilson Creed. Johnny Jay Rowe.
More towns and intersections: Rowe. Cedar Bluff. Blue Field. Glade Spring. Cripple Creek. Swords Creek.
"I could never vote for a n*****!" Slam. (No chance for even a "have a nice day" there.)
"You know, I've been thinking about this a lot. And I'm gonna vote for that colored guy. But don't let my neighbors know if you call 'em". (A somewhat common response was the inability to utter Obama's name.)
"He's a Muslim!!!"
"No, ma'am, that not true, he's a Christian."
"No, you're wrong. And you're stupid. He's a Muslim. And he's stupid. And you must be a Muslim too!!!" (Right. Ellen bin Leary.)
"My son can't come to the phone. He can't walk and he can't talk."
"Oh, I'm very sorry to hear that."
"I don't need your sympathy. We're a good Christian family and we take care of our own. He was born that way."
"So he won't be voting?"
"I'm tellin' him to vote for John McCain."
More names: Michael Ray Justus the fifth. Hulda Maelee Vest. Malcom Marvin Brown the fourth. Gary Lee Honeker.
More snapshots: Honeker. Christianburg. Raven. Big Stone Gap. Pennington Gap. Piper Gap. Bristol. (I'm not making this up.)
"I'm voting for Mrs. Palin for President."
"Oh. I don't seem to have a box here to click on showing she's running for Presid..." (cuts me off)
"President. She's running for President. Sarah. Governor Sarah Palin is running for President."
"Don't you mean Vice President?"
Male child answers the phone. His mother grabs it away.
"I was looking for a John Bowling?"
"This is John Bowling."
"Actually I was looking for a male John Bowling. John James Bowling."
"That's my son"
"I have him registered to vote. Your son sounds like he's about 10. Perhaps I have the wrong number? Is this 276-388-7325?"
"And there is no adult John James Bowling there?"
"My brother is John James Bowling. He doesn't live here. He has an unlisted number and I don't have it."
"Oh. How do you talk to him?"
"I check in with my mother to see how he's doing."
"Well, thank you, and have a bless'd day."
Mother answers the phone and reluctantly allows her newly registered 18-year-old son to take the call. Bellows into the house: "Someone's callin' from Obama!"
"Are you planning on supporting Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain in the presidential election? This must be a big deal for you, your first election and all."
"Well... um... I... um, it's not something I... um (in a whisper) I'm supporting you guys but my ma is right here."
If I was canvassing rather than calling, I would have invited him to join us at the Chat 'n Chew so we could talk about volunteering.
I love this country. And in her diversity, all of her people.
Have a bless'd day.
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