Gabriela Lazzaro is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.
Last Saturday I went to Allentown, PA with a group of 23 others from New York Latinos for Obama. Since NY's pretty much in the bag for Obama, we were assigned the next closest city with a large Latino population. Allentown also happens to be the third largest city in PA. The first time I went was during the primaries and I was so surprised at the Dominican and Puerto Rican flags hanging from the doors, and the bachata music playing in the background. Allentown is home to an estimated 60,000 Latinos. I was partnered up with Michelle, another canvasser and we were off with our clipboards and Obama brochures.
What I realized last Saturday was that we were canvassing door to door in the homes of the forgotten people of this election season, the poor. When people did answer their doors, we found one of two extremes...either they were so excited for Obama and couldn't help but be vocal about it, or they were indifferent to the entire election and seemed to be completely detached from it. We heard several things, "He's a liar and he's just another politician." "What's the difference? No one ever does anything for us" said a grandmother. Another woman holding her two-week old baby, didn't seem to know the difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, and kept asking, "Which one is Obama again?" Having lived and breathed every minuscule news update of this election since January, it humbled me to remember that's not the reality for everyone.
Michelle and I couldn't believe it...but we managed to convince them to talk to us for a few minutes anyway and we had some of the most profound conversations I've ever had. We told them our stories. I told them how I was raised in Dominican Republic and have just recently applied for my US citizenship. How I am moved enough by this campaign to get off my cozy bed at 7am on a Saturday and spend my day canvassing in PA. How Obama has been running his campaign based on individual donations so that he can be accountable to the people. How in my personal life, I know government investments in early childhood education and affordable healthcare will make a tangible difference in my day to day life, and how it could make a difference for them too. These people didn't have to give us the time of day, yet they stood there and talked to us, and I saw their faces and their demeanor change. Perhaps they could at least sense it wasn't bullshit. We left them with some brochures and feeling like we had at least opened a window of possibility that the next time they flipped the channel and saw some political news on, they may stop and listen. I couldn't help but feel like we were talking about the same thing this campaign has been about from the beginning...hope.
No one mentions the poor in debates when everyone is counting how many times the candidates said "middle class". It seems these people can so easily end up being too disillusioned and disenfranchised to even bother to hear a politician speak, or to dare to believe that perhaps they may be coming from a place of truth and justice and not simply lying in order to win an election.
The audacious belief that a President could lead a country into implementing measures and policies that may help the poor, give them better access to an education, healthcare and an opportunity to get ahead in their life is something so many people stopped even hoping for so long ago. I think the most powerful impact this campaign has had has been expanding the electorate, and empowering people by getting them interested, and asking them to demand accountability from their elected officials. My U.S. citizenship application will take another 10 months or so to process, so I won't have the joy of casting that ballot this time around. For the moment, I'll be happy to go back to Allentown in two weeks and keep knocking on doors.
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