04/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Job of Convincing: Organizing for America's Pledge Canvassing

The nationwide canvassing event to obtain pledge signatures in support of Obama's plans lasted only a few hours, but a group of Bay Area volunteers pledged to do much more.

On March 21, a group of eight volunteers watched the YouTube training video from Organizing for America in the living room of a San Carlos volunteer. Afterward, participant Alex Kujushev made an impromptu speech about the importance of engaging neighbors in conversation and treating the day's work as the beginning of his own commitment to continue talking to others well after signatures were turned in.


"I never voted for a Democrat until Obama," Kujushev said to the small gathering. "It's important to talk to our fellow citizens, and it's a moment of our country's revival. I don't think I can do it in 45 minutes; I want to do it over the next few days, weeks, months...I want to knock on doors after dinner. We have to change minds. We have to change hearts."

The hostess, Linda Bailey, agreed with Kujushev's sentiments. "[Obama] is trying to build a foundation here. It's not just one bubble after another. There's a huge possibility for change." Bailey paused briefly and explained, "I get a little teary-eyed."

In her San Carlos home were volunteers both young and old, veterans and newcomers. Brent Turner, a Half Moon Bay resident, works with a group called Election Reform Activists for Obama. As one of the most experienced Obama volunteers present, he gave the others a little pep talk before they dispersed to get signatures.

"Say hello, be gracious, give information. It's really a pleasant ask," Turner said. To ask others to support the president's agenda may be pleasant, but a couple of the canvassers got off to a difficult start, and were literally climbing uphill from Bailey's house.

Of the first ten houses they went to, Mr. Lau and Jim Welton got only one signature. "We should have a sign that says we're not asking for money," Lau said. One woman said she was giving her baby a bath and couldn't talk; another woman said she didn't always agree with Obama's direction - but hopes that he succeeds.

This canvassing project was a new on-the-ground experience for both Welton and Lau. Neither had ever participated in door-to-door campaigning and found the task difficult at first, but felt strongly about getting involved.

"I'm a retired computer programmer, so this is new for me. I usually sit in front of a machine," Welton said. Lau was an electronic technician before being laid off in January. He hasn't found a job yet, but has confidence in the president: "I believe in his words. What he says, I reflect in myself, and that's what inspired me to come out today."

The one common passion among all the volunteers was a commitment to a smart energy plan that would promote renewable energy and address climate change.

Linda Bailey said, "I think this is the most important thing that needs to happen right now. Everyone needs to get involved in getting this energy plan through. It's what needs to happen in the world right now today. Not just in the U.S. but in the world. It's a new direction." Bailey's husband Ken registered as a Republican years ago but "never bothered changing parties. It was just fun to be Republican in a Democratic area." But now he's made the decision to resign and become an independent. Although he may not have always been as enthusiastic as his wife Linda about Obama's plans, he said, "I feel it is really necessary."


At 2:00pm when the organized event was officially over, Linda Bailey counted a total of 69 signatures from their small group. Brent Turner and his son obtained the most pledges outside of Hillsdale Shopping Mall (where Macy's was having a sale).

"The American people are going to make the difference," Bailey said. "[Obama] can't do it alone. He's got to have a lot of public support, and it's so different and so new. And people are slow to change."

At least after Saturday, eight more citizens have now started a long-term goal to get their fellow Americans on board.