I spent the weekend canvassing in Pittsburgh. I was part of an LGBT posse from NYC. We drove (a long way). Our charge was twofold. First, we would canvass in a very poor African American neighborhood. Pro-Obama but historically very low turnout. I guess you have to feel like you matter before you can believe that your vote matters. After an afternoon of canvassing, we would then head to an event at local gay club. We understood that the Pittsburgh LGBT community had been fiercely behind Hillary and that our work there would be about persuasion.
I made an assumption about which of these tasks would be hard.
I was wrong.
My friend Sylvia and I teamed up to cover a five block area of The Hill District in Pittsburgh. It was a rough neighborhood. Shades drawn, doors double and triple locked. I saw a window shattered by a bullet. I'd never been that close to a bullet hole before.
We knocked on 88 doors. We met 22 members of the neighborhood. We saw lots of Obama signs. Many of these folks seemed to understand the importance of the election and the historic nature of Obama's candidacy. We found that particularly true with the older folks we met. We wanted to believe that they would walk down the street to that church to vote on November 4. I've been struggling about how and where to spend Election Day. I found myself thinking that watching folks walk into that church might be just the right place to be.
With no time to decompress, we moved right into part two of our day -- the LGBT event at a gay club. I wouldn't say that any of us were arrogant as we moved through the club but I believe each of us assumed that, unlike the afternoon, we'd have the home field advantage.
I began the evening talking with a kindred spirit -- a real leader in the Pittsburgh LGBT community. He helped me to understand the issues facing the community, the fierce support for Hillary, his own fierce support for Hillary. He also gave a heads up. We'd find McCain supporters and we'd find folks who did not plan to vote.
My first conversation was with a straight woman. She loves Hillary and now just adores Sarah Palin. I knew this conversation would be tougher than any I had had that afternoon.
"Do you think Sarah Palin is as qualified as Hillary to be that close to the Oval Office?" Even this Palin-ite hesitated. So I threw her my best stuff. "I love Hillary too -- and I hate the thought of the first woman to be that close to the White House to be someone that is NOT Hillary on so many levels. If we are going to have a female president in our lifetime, it should a qualified one." I should have just said "It should be Hillary." But I didn't. And without a single word -- not a single word -- the woman stared at me in this mean sort of way and literally spun on her heel, turned her back on me and walked away.
I took a deep breath and introduced myself to someone who had been pointed out to me as an undecided voter. She may have been undecided about some things but after 5 minutes with her, it was clear that she had long ago made a decision about race.
"I don't trust Obama. You know what I mean?" She continued. "He is a smooth talker. I worry about that. So many of them are imbeciles. You know what I'm saying?"
She continued to talk but after that, her voice sounded like the adults in the Peanuts cartoons. I was reeling.
Each of us had a story to tell on the ride home. The gay doctor who told Amy as a point of contrast that he liked babies. Amy assured him that she liked babies too. Another gay man was drinking the redistribution of wealth kool aid. A cross dresser told me that she'd vote when we finally had qualified candidates. When pressed, she said that she was as qualified as any of the candidates because she ran a successful business. While I thought it was unlikely that America was ready for a cross-dressing President, she might in fact be more qualified than at least one of the four campaign principals (do I have to mention her name?).
Did I really assume that all LGBT people would walk in lock step? Did I really assume I would feel unsafe in The Hill District? I felt a bit like an imbecile.
I was way off the mark. We need to work our community. More of us need to be out there, pushing as hard as we can. The length of this campaign is now measured but its impact will be measured in decades.
You know what I'm saying?