Over the past two days, my wife and I took time out of our busy lives to walk through the neighborhoods of our traditionally conservative town and go door to door talking to people about Obama. We were roughly following the script given to us by our Obama field operative, but we also encouraged dialog whenever someone had questions, was leaning in one direction or another, or just was willing to engage in discussion. We had a list, street by street, of registered Independents and Democrats who were thought to be undecided. And off we went.
Being a good TPM and general net junkie, I had lots of answers for people, of course, and could relate to people of just about any persuasion, except for the woman who told me she was voting McCain-Palin because Palin was a "mom." There was no further opening for discussion with this woman, who we had encountered smoking a cigarette on her front stoop. We left with a sinking feeling about this woman, who, thankfully, was not typical of the people we met.
In many ways, this was a very enriching experience, though we did smell more dog poop than I ever hope to encounter for the rest of my life, and we were greeted by barks and howls at just about every house. My wife was even bitten by a large, friendly-looking dog, but fortunately her reflexes were quick enough to extract her hand without damage, and we left the dog, and the house, alone. Oh, and I also stubbed my toe while looking up into a tree, but sturdy shoes prevented serious injury. (Insert ironic smiley face here)
I'm not trying to say that canvassing is dangerous or really unpleasant, but there we were traipsing through some downtrodden neighborhoods at times, and, well, the manicured lawns and flower gardens of the more "uptown" neighborhoods gave way to brown grass rubbed raw by the constant passing of canine feet and various types of junk and garbage that had been piled here and there.
Some houses were nicely taken care of, to be sure, but there were many where the people clearly had little time or inclination to worry about what the neighbors thought, and one in particular that actually creeped us out something fierce, with garbage, dog shit and flies everywhere. Though we bravely approached the door, we were thankful that nobody appeared to be home, not even the mysterious resident of a tent hiding under a tarp in the stinky front yard, complete with an orange extension cord running from the house.
The people we did meet, however, were varied and wonderful. We met a few adamant McCain supporters who would not even speak to us, but we also met people like the 93-year-old woman who was gracious and engaging, and praised us for doing what we were doing for Obama, even though she was going to vote for McCain because, "he knows what he's doing... you'll see." Still, she complimented my wife's sweater and told us stories of growing up in Misery (Missouri) under poorer-than-poor conditions.
We met lots of strong Obama supporters, too. Some who came right out and told us; others who sort of played coy, but ultimately admitted that Obama was the way they were going. We always felt a little thrill when we met these people, and would do a little inward happy dance.
We also met a few Hillary supporters, and in one case we were able to point them away from McCain and toward Rolling Stone. In fact, the Rolling Stone article about McCain proved to be an ace in the hole. Nobody, of any age, puckered their lips at the mention of Rolling Stone, and everyone we told about the article expressed sincere interest in reading it. We took that as a victory.
The other Hillary supporter was a guy who told us that when Obama didn't choose Hillary to be his running mate, he sealed the deal and lost this guy's vote. He wasn't interested in hearing that the policy differences between Obama and Hillary were negligible, while the difference between Hillary and McCain was of titanic proportions. He said, "I don't think this country is ready for a black president." I asked him, "Are you ready for a black president?" He answered, "Oh, it's not me. I'm fine with it, but this country isn't." Reminding him who was leading in the polls didn't seem to help, and he showed a clear interest in shutting the door and closing off any further discussion. We wished him a good day and move on.
One woman told us that she really liked Obama, but wasn't going to vote for him. "Why not," we both asked. "Because of his position on abortion," she said earnestly. "We just can't vote for him because of that. But we really like him, otherwise." Then there was the young man who answered the door in a "Got Jesus?" T-shirt. We thought we might be in trouble with him, but he surprised us. "I'm disabled, and on assistance from HUD," he told us. "I know that Obama cares about people like me, so I'm voting for him."
Overall, we loved meeting young people, because they were almost all for Obama. One man we met watering his sidewalk garden told us that not only was he for Obama, but his son was out canvassing in Montana, where he was going to school.
We met many people who were still undecided, and we had our best moments with them. Besides the Rolling Stone article, we were able to discuss Iraq and how Obama had been right about it all along, how McCain was right out in front for the war, what a disaster it was and how much safer we'd be with the guy who got it right the first time -- Obama -- than with Mr. "Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran." We talked about the economy and Republican free market trickle down bullshit and how the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have mores' versus the rest of us has widened dramatically under Bush, sometimes quoting numbers like one percent or half of one percent having like ninety percent of the wealth. Where's that at? We were talking to regular people, and they understood exactly what we were saying, because they feel it in their lives. I don't think any undecided voter we talked to was leaning toward McCain after we left.
The other group we encountered, and this was a large one, consisted of people who simply didn't think it mattered whether they voted or not. To them, it was all the same. Obama, McCain -- no appreciable difference. Even if they liked Obama, they didn't think electing him would change anything. Having had similar feelings often during the past few decades, I was able to relate to their apathy and feelings of disenfranchisement, but also to encourage them to consider the importance of this election and the remarkable gifts that Obama has already displayed -- his temperament, his ability to inspire, his obvious wisdom in matters that matter, and his incredible worldwide popularity. Sometimes we had to explain why it matters that the world likes us, but most people got that with little prodding. Still, I was never sure if we were successful at convincing the disenfranchised and the cynics that it mattered. That it really mattered. And, to be honest, ours is a very conservative area of Oregon, but Oregon will go for Obama. I have no doubt about it, despite the sadly intractable population here. In the truly battleground states, it would have mattered somewhat more, and maybe we would have been able to tell them so.
We always told people, "You will see lots of negative ads and attacks on Obama over the next few weeks. They will probably be lies and distortions." And people would nod and say, "I know. There's a lot of that," as if to say that it doesn't mean anything to them. They seemed to recognize who was the adult in the race and who was the child. I can't say that's true of everyone, but I'm encouraged to think that the negative spin and the lies and attacks are a turn-off, and Obama's consistency gives them confidence.
We met people on the street and talked to them randomly, and we found more Obama supporters than we had expected. So, even while McCain-Palin signs are springing up all over town, and Obama signs are being stolen regularly, so that you don't see many around, we know that there are people who feel as we do, and who are going to vote for the change we need.
Finally, we stopped at a house early in the day and a young man answered. The name on our list was for a woman, so we asked him first about his voting decisions. "I can't vote," he told us, with a bit of sadness. "I'm a felon." He was actually the second person we met in the two days who could not vote for that reason. They didn't seem like career criminals, and we both felt somewhat sad for them, because they clearly wanted to vote. But the young man told us that the lady of the house was at work and would be back later. We told him we'd try to return.
At the end of the day, our feet getting tired from walking and standing, we decided to return to that house and see if the young lady was back from work. She was. She was undecided, but leaning a little toward Obama. Rolling Stone. Obama is great. Check it out.
The woman smiled and said, "I think it's really cool that you came by here to talk to me and tell me about this. I'm really glad you did. I'll read the article in Rolling Stone, and I think I'll be voting for Obama."
And a rewarding experience for both of us -- highly recommended.
Last thoughts: I found that our best connection with people was understanding what was important to them. Sometimes it started with petting their dog or admiring their garden, but in the end, we asked them what mattered to them, and we could generally empathize. We found common ground with almost everyone, of every age. The economy and Iraq were clearly the two major issues, but there were others. Is Obama patriotic? Yes, he is. Is he too inexperienced? Not as we see it. (I always talk about the wisdom and clarity of The Audacity of Hope, Obama's clear understanding of Iraq when, apparently, his opponent was clueless and eager to go to war.) I found it surprisingly easy to connect with people, to listen to them, to care about their issues, and to tell them how and why I supported Barak Obama. Nothing else was required. Just honesty and a little mutual recognition that we're all in this together.
I have since learned, courtesy of my friends at TPM, that in Oregon, and in other states, felons who have served their time CAN vote. I have notified our state's Democratic leaders of this fact and asked them to be sure that field organizers and volunteers know that to be true and are armed with voter registration forms. I plan on revisiting those homes where I encountered people who believed their right to vote was forever prohibited by law.
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