Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Unglamorous Work of Canvassing in Ohio

I wrote a diary entry at The Daily Kos that made the Recommended List (if you know what that is). I spent today canvassing in Butler County for Obama. You can read it with comments by going to the Daily Kos itself.

Here's the text:

In nearly 90 degree heat, fifteen of us met in front of the local Panera to build on Obama's landmark speech Thursday night, not even pausing to take snipes at what's-her-head governor of Alaska who announced her candidacy literally 20 minutes up the road in Dayton.

I live in Butler County, the suburbs north of Cincinnati. Bush beat Kerry handily last time by over 120,000 votes. It's our mission to reduce the gap. Kerry lost to Bush by a mere 7 votes per precinct in Ohio. We intend to find them, register them and get them to the polls.

During the primary season in February, the Obama Honk 'n Wave in West Chester, my town (called "White Chester" by the cynical) attracted drivers who flipped off Obama fans, shouted obscenities at the poster-bearing families, and one angry driver hurled an empty beer bottle from the passenger side window at a nine year old girl. Needless to say, it takes some courage to support Obama out here. But today intrepid ex-Republicans, formerly inactive Democrats and re-energized diehard party faithful gathered to knock on doors anyway.

Here's a glimpse of how it's going, what we'll keep doing until the election and how you can help us win Ohio!
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In nearly 90 degree heat, fifteen of us met in front of the local Panera to build on Obama's landmark speech Thursday night, not even pausing to take snipes at what's-her-head governor of Alaska who announced her candidacy literally 20 minutes up the road in Dayton. I live in Butler County, the suburbs north of Cincinnati. Bush beat Kerry handily last time by over 120,000 votes. It's our mission to reduce the gap. Kerry lost to Bush by a mere 7 votes per precinct in Ohio. We intend to find them, register them and get them to the polls. During the primary season in February, the Obama Honk 'n Wave in West Chester, my town (called "White Chester" by the cynical) attracted drivers who flipped off Obama fans, shouted obscenities at the poster-bearing families, and one angry driver hurled an empty beer bottle from the passenger side window at a nine year old girl. Needless to say, it takes some courage to support Obama out here. But today intrepid ex-Republicans, formerly inactive Democrats and re-energized diehard party faithful gathered to knock on doors anyway. Here's a glimpse of how it's going, what we'll keep doing until the election and how you can help us win Ohio!

Today we focused on apartments.

When you're used to living in a nice house on a nice street with neighbors who are all Americans, it's something of an adjustment to be reminded that not everyone in Ohio is as well off. Butler County is home to one of the wealthiest and most successful school districts in the state (including the Lakota West High School Firebirds who raised one million dollars to travel to Pasadena to participate in the 2008 Rose Parade). There's money here. There's prestige. There's a feeling of "inconvenience" due to higher gas prices, not outrage. Most people think life under Bush has been fine, good enough.

But not in the apartments.

My canvasing partner and I met all kinds of immigrants, some who wouldn't open the door for fear they would get in trouble. Sheriff Jones has gained national attention for his tough (read: cruel) treatment of illegals. In fact, I've been told that above the jail cell for illegals, a sign hangs that says, "Welcome to your new home in America."

So at the apartments, it was no surprise to notice some skittishness when what appeared to be government representatives came knocking on their doors. Evenso, one Bosnian man opened his door to us and four little kids squirreled their way under his legs and around his ankles while his wife hung over the edge of the door frame (not able to speak English) just to see us. He was so excited that we had come! Asked us to come in, but then admitted that he can't yet vote. He asked how he could help the campaign nonetheless. Told us in his not-yet-perfected English that he wants more than anything to see Obama elected. So happy we had come by. What a thrill to see his enthusiasm!

We met a white woman (forties) who had the opposite reaction to us. She seemed skittish at first, clearly didn't have much money, her apartment was dark, poorly furnished, she herself unkempt and in need of dental attention. She immediately asked us, while rubbing her face with one hand, if Obama thought it was okay to "kill babies." After all, she couldn't vote for anyone who would kill babies. My partner and I explained Obama's positions to her, helping her to understand that if elected, his social programs would help to 'save' babies and to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

She proceeded to tell us that Obama is a Muslim and when we countered that lie, she immediately went to the Rev. Wright connection! It was so odd to think that she could both believe he was Muslim but also have a dangerous Christian pastor!

The power of this meme was brought home to me again tonight when my son's girlfriend called (she's 20) and asked me if I knew for sure that Obama had never been Muslim because she was sure she had read it somewhere. To her credit, she already plans to vote for Obama anyway, but was certain that he had at one time been Muslim. Sigh.

In any event, we left the "worried about abortion" voter a flyer and wished her well. As I left I couldn't help but feel angry that the Republican party had scared her away from the Democrats when clearly they could care less about her real life situation and needs. She is nothing to them, yet feels loyal to them out of fear. Disgusted me.

Every person we met under thirty happily told us that Obama was the candidate for him or her. At one home, a young lady in her white t-shirt and grey sweats leaned forward quickly and whispered to us, "Psst. Yes, I'm all in. Go Obama." She gave two thumbs up and then quickly "whooshed" the door closed.

Whispering support for Obama is common in Butler County. It's as if they all know that to say they are voting Democratic in this election is to invite ridicule and scorn from neighbors and friends. I ran into it again and again when I canvased for the primary. My neighbors would pull me into the house to tell me they were voting Obama. They didn't want to be "overheard."

Even among the canvassers, a post-canvas discussion revealed that several of them could not put bumper stickers on their cars because of the dangers to them at their places of work! An elaborate discussion of how to turn a bumper sticker into a magnet that can be removed ensued.

I stood, stunned. We've had our Obama yard sign taped to our front door for months! We've got bumper stickers on all three vehicles. When I canvassed my own neighborhood, I uncovered other "hidden" Obama fans and since that time, we've seen a couple more yard signs go up. There is such relief when someone can openly admit support for Obama because there is at least one other supporter on the street.

My partner and I enjoyed our trip to the apartments a lot. We handed out all our voter registration cards. A couple of very happy new Americans asked for them and showed such eagerness to vote for the first time as Americans for Obama.

Still, it's tedious, hot work. Most people aren't home when you go knocking, frequently the names don't match the addresses or the addresses don't match what you see on the street! It seems like the people who are home, are either all set for Obama or don't even want to talk. The McCain fans treat us more like Jehovah's Witnesses than local political activists. You can't help but wonder if it's worth it. Does knocking on doors really change how people vote, does it really get them out to the polls on November 4?

But then all I have to do is remember 2004: Ohio needs those seven votes per precinct. How else are we going to get them?

Confession: I was one of those errant votes last time. I voted for Bush even though I was undecided right until I went into that voting booth. At the last minute, I just didn't have the guts to cast my first democratic vote in two decades for Senator Kerry. He still felt remote from me, all my friends were Republicans, and while I was less happy with Bush than I had ever been, Kerry was an unknown to me.

If someone had knocked on my door, maybe that weekend before, maybe had helped me over some of my hurdles to understand why I should trust Kerry and not fear him, I very likely would have voted differently.


So this is my penance. I will canvas every week on Saturdays in my community until election day. I hope I find at least seven people like me last election - needing that gentle, informational push to make the right choice. That's my goal!

If you don't live in Ohio, please call us! Get on Barack Obama's site and start dialing. We really need you.

Ohio for Obama/Biden 08!

2 comments:

Colleen said...

Ahhhh, music to my ears. I love hearing people admit the error of their ways in voting for Bush. ;-D And just for that I'll share with you the news that I'm officially backing the Obama/Biden ticket. I've been firmly planted in no man's land and do have still have reservations. But the V.P. choices were my dealbreaker. Biden, I feel good about. Palin? Not if I can help it.

Toby said...

Julie - your blog rocks! Way to take on the tough issues. I loved your piece on Obama and on Palin. Your work door to door in Cincy is admirable. I also noted in your profile that you like a lot of rock music and theology. If you get a chance, check out my blog at faith4tomorrow@blogspot.com and my website at www.booksandbridges.com I do a lot of work/writing looking at connections between secular rock and Judeo-Christian spirituality. Anyway, keep up the great work on the political front. Go Barak!