Russ Smith recently penned an OpEd entitled "The Audacity of Defeat" (h/t Ben Smith) that provided a glimpse into what an Obama defeat might mean for America. I thought I'd take a stab at painting a picture of what victory might entail...
It's 7 am on October 31st, the phone rang at 3 am, it was a wrong number, you manage to squeak in 4 more hours of sleep before preparing to canvass in Pennsylvania, you feel anxious and exhausted. After 49 days of little sleep or food, you prepare for a day of knocking on doors. The polls remain promising, but the 7-point lead in the Gallup Tracking Poll has yet to give way to complacency. Knowing this won't be easy, you are adamant about working for every vote. Without hesitation you embark with your team of canvassers to the suburban areas of Bucks Country. Recalling your time spent there during the primaries, you hope that the Republicans you encountered who expressed interest in Senator Obama have been swayed to give him their votes.
Hearing reports of flawed voting machines and voter caging, your fears are quelled by the nonpartisan efforts that have successfully armed voters with information on their voting rights. If they felt uncomfortable with a voting machine, they could request a paper ballot, if they were somehow not on the rolls, they could request an affidavit. You felt even better knowing that a lot of your friends had gone to votepoke.org and called their Board of Elections weeks prior to the election to make sure that their names were on voter rolls.
A month and a half ago, every frantic Democratic would tell you that this scenario seemed highly implausible. Convinced that Sarah Palin had energized the Republican base, doubt gave way to reason and patience. You recall the days of frantic emails and phone calls from friends who demanded an answer, what does this mean?? Can we still win?!? Calm, you responded then, and continued to believe, that of course we could, so long as we kept our heads down and remained focused. You reminded them that narratives wouldn't determine this election, votes would, it was up to the grassroots to break through the noise. You urged them to turn off their TVs, and do what the McCain campaign would try not to do, make this an election about the issues.I walked the sidewalks of Bucks County recalling something that Caroline Kennedy had said when I heard her speak during the primaries.
This one story instilled a sense of resilience; I spent ample time on every person I talked to, quelling fears, answering questions, debating policies. I worked hard to gain support, never failing to leave with a smile; I thanked people for their time, and their votes, and approached each door with a sense of tempered hopefulness.
"If John F Kennedy had received one less vote in every precinct, he would have lost to Richard Nixon".
Determined to work towards an Obama victory, I refused to entertain the thought of a McCain Presidency. Convinced that his administration would likely rival the corruption of Richard Nixon or Warren G Harding, the belligerence of Andrew Johnson, and the policies of George W Bush...
I had done enough research to know that the Bradley Effect was a flawed myth, and after watching Senator McCain and Governor Palin stumble on the campaign trail, and through some of the most awkward interviews in political history, I knew that with enough work, victory was within our reach.
Democrats, Republicans and Independents were out in full force on Election Day, hundreds of thousands of Obama volunteers were knocking on doors, fielding calls, providing assistance to the elderly, and monitoring polls. The sense of urgency was palpable. College kids, myself included, skipped entire weeks of school to go door to door, insisting that this time would be different. They approached each door armed with facts and persistence knowing, that the country was counting on them to change it.
I spoke with an elderly man for 25 minutes, he was a registered Republican, and he was on the fence. Realizing my persistence, he acknowledged how thrilled he was to see so many young people involved, wrapping up the conversation he said "I'm rooting for you" to which I responded, "With all due respect, this isn't about me, please, don't root for me, vote for him".
Every day was comprised of different stories, of different encounters that I carried with me on Election Day. Every block, I thought of a different person I'd met, with each door, I felt an enormous weight of responsibility, we all did. On the night of November 4th I was in downtown Philadelphia among an anxious crowd of Obama supporters to watch the returns. Hundreds of Obama supporters sat on the edge of their seats, the results were coming in slowly. Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, New York, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia,-
"Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States"
A unanimous cry of victory sounded out around the country. People wandered out of their houses to shake hands and give hugs, to talk and to listen. On that night, slash and burn tactics were laid to rest, there was no talk of a Bradley Effect- ignorance was in the minority. Anchors, unsure of what to do with this moment, simply repeated "Only in America". Throughout the country heads shook in dismay, in amusement and in pride. Not because he won, but because we won. This election was about all of us, he just happened to be the candidate who realized that.McCain took the stage to apologize to the American people, for the campaign that he had run, for the calculating decisions he had made. He congratulated Senator Obama and used the opportunity to give those, particularly the reporters that he once described as"his base", who have increasingly come to voice their disappointment and dismay at his campaign's tactics, a chance to renew their faith in him.
"I'm proud to have been apart of this historic campaign, I concede to Senator Obama and wish him the best. His election signals a new generation of American leadership that we should all take pride in. I once said that I ran for President to inspire young people to serve a cause higher than themselves, Senator Obama has achieved this feat- this night is for them".
Tears streamed down my face as I thought back on the phenomenal adventure that we had just completed and looked forward to the new adventure that awaited. Yes, we had won that night, American ideals had won that night, but change required my involvement after that night and I was anxious to follow through on that commitment. I thought back on all the people I had met on the campaign trail, I wondered what their nights looked like.
I remembered the 92-year-old Republican woman who had cast her first Democratic ballot in the Wisconsin primary... the little kids who chased after me when I was canvassing in Maryland, eager to help; I could only imagine what this meant for their futures. I remembered the elderly man from Maryland who leaning over his cane instructed my friends and I to "get that man elected"... I remembered the remarkable friends I made along the way... I wondered what Faina was thinking in New Mexico, what Dan was thinking in Wisconsin, Jacob in Georgia, Lamont and Shelia in Ohio. The friends I'd met in New York who had all left their lives so that this night could be possible. I remembered the woman who sat in her rocking chair in Northwestern Philadelphia, skeptical that she would be able to cast her ballot during the primaries, extremely ill, poverty stricken. When I left her stoop she all but whispered "Good luck to you....Good luck to us all" I wondered what this night meant to her.
After Invesco, my friends and I watched a rerun of the speech in the hotel lobby, a man in the corner, speaking to himself said "I marched for this..." causing my friend Matt and I to effusively thank him and spend the remainder of the night talking about how improbable our own friendship was, and how far our country had come.
I want this night to happen- we need this night to happen. So although I write this, with tempered optimism, I write it believing that envisioning this reality is the first step to achieving it. Turn off your TVs, get off the blogs, go knock on doors and write OpEds, call your friends and your family members be patient, but persistent, in your pursuit of their votes and their time. If you're unresolved as to whom to vote for, arm yourselves with information. Recognize that what's at stake is larger than any one of us.
There are 49 days left.... The country is counting on us, to change it.
Lets go win this.