Sunday, 26 October 2008
For those of you who don’t know, I am at the moment in a small town in Pennsylvania called Bloomsburg, campaigning for Obama. I’ve been here for 5 days and will be for the next 9 until the election has taken place. I am feeling quite exhausted, and know there is a hell of a lot more work to be done. Since I arrived I have been working from 9am till midnight each day, except for yesterday, Sunday, when I gave myself the evening off after canvassing in the pouring rain all day, feet soaked and hands a little numb.
I lucked out with my accommodation. I am being put up by lovely Doug and Sue, happy to share their house with a stranger for 2 weeks for the sake of the greater good.. Sue’s a teacher at the university and Doug’s a baker… he makes the best bread I’ve tasted in my life (brown whole weat with walnuts and cranberries in it).. The house is 5 mins walk from the office and Dug’s bread for breakfast is the yummiest stuff ever, and just about the most nutritious food this town has to offer!
There are five devoted members of the Obama Bloomsburg office, of which I am now one. Charlotte (my little sis) is based in another town at the moment where her organizational skills are in greater need. Charlotte’s friends Muffy and Catherine have been here for 3 weeks already, and have been working closely with the other two, Jeremy and Sam. J and S are both recently out of college.. Jeremy wears glasses, has thick curly black hair, and hasn’t shaved in weeks (not sure whether this is his look or because he simply hasn’t had time – I mean, he forgets to eat he is so Obama obsessed – it wouldn’t surprise me..) He sways from side to side when standing up... the maternal side of me comes out with Jeremy – I do wish he’d give himself a proper meal one of these days, and maybe more than 5 hrs sleep at some point before the election… but it’s not going to happen. Sam is just as intensely focused on the mission and just about the most deadpan person I have ever come across in my life… I can’t wait to see them both drunk on election night… I suspect the best of their characters won’t quite squeeze through the thick skin that lines their ‘Obama must win before anything else’ phsyche until then. They are both sweet and intelligent boys though, this is for sure.
Since arriving in the office on Tuesday night, I have been assigned several different jobs so far. I was worried I’d be stuck in the office all day everyday as my sister had warned me might be the case… As I’m English there was a worry that any voter contact might be misinterpreted as condescending or cocky – well… so far its been quite the opposite. My very English accent has so far only been a positive asset, and many people seem humbled even that I have come ‘all the way from England’ to help them make a decision that will count towards the future of their country.
I spent three days last week at the campus of the university here with Sam. We based ourselves outside the food hall with posters and flyers, approaching students with roughly the following script:
(With big smile) “ Hello! Can I grab you for two seconds?”
Mixed reactions to this bit… If they are a die hard McCain fan, seeing our badges and posters, they usually look terrified, avoid eye contact at all costs, put their hand up and veer away from me mumbling “no,” “I don’t want to talk to you,” or proudly announcing “I’m a republican!’ or worse “I hate liberals!” or “I’m voting for a president not a ringleader!”… Of the few steadfast republicans I’ve actually managed to engage with in conversation, even fewer seem to have any idea why they are republicans; a couple of reasons I’ve been given are “because that’s what I am,” “I’m pro life!” or, referring to Obama, “He’s gonna take away my gun…” “He’s a radical,” or “He’s a socialist!”
However, I’m glad to say that these people are definitely in the minority. The Obama team here, and indeed thousands of teams all across the country, have done an amazing job of informing, educating, and motivating hundreds of thousands of students in America to a)become aware of the fact that their world lies beyond the small town they live in and that they can, and must, play a part in it, b) register to vote. The stage we are at now is c) think about who they will vote for, and next week they will, d)(touch wood) vote for Obama.
Because this movement has come from a Democratic initiative, these students are mostly inspired by the democratic voice, the voice of Obama, and I do believe for the first time since the 60’s that the youth are starting to think ‘outside the box,’ and realize that their country really does need CHANGE!
So, if they are not Republican, and are not running late for class, on the whole I have had a positive response: “I’m already voting for him!” is regular, to which I respond with a genuine smile and ensure that they know exactly where their polling station is, giving them posters and stickers to take with them.
There are plenty who have registered (because Sam and Jeremy have bugged them enough over the last 6 weeks to do so – good job), but haven’t given much thought at all as to who they will choose, and I suspect are not actually planning on doing so, only to queue for 2-3 hours on election day when they could be lying in bed watching Frasier or playing Grand Theft Auto. This is where I come in…
“Please do vote – its very important… you’re country is about to go in either one direction, or another, and the whole world in watching you... this is a moment in history!” They look quite goggle eyed at this point… Once engaged, I go in for the kill… “I’m English but have lived in New York for 7 years. I love America, I love Americans, but when I go home it upsets me that people rarely have positive things to say about you guys… Bush has given you a bad rep, which you don’t deserve, and I think you need someone who can change things, and I think the only man who can do this is Obama … I don’t know if you know what’s going on in the middle east at the moment, but the Iraq war was/ is a disaster, and you don’t need another one of these…" if they’re interested I divulge the different foreign policies that McCain and Obama have on Iran, and compare the situation to two kids fighting in a playground… “do you separate them, put them in two separate rooms and never let them speak to each other again, or do you sit them down, make them talk, and see if they can come to a resolution?..." I go on to tell them about Obama’s plan to make their education more affordable ($4000 credit a year in return for 100hrs public service), and how health care will be within their means – “I know you don’t need to worry about this now, but once you’re out of college you will, and believe me, at the moment it’s not cheap!”
It’s just about the best feeling in the world when one of them walks away looking enlightened, saying thank you, and that they think they’ll vote for Obama.
If you haven’t already realized, Obama has slightly become my god over the past few days… if I was supportive of him before, I am now mildly obsessed… the more I learn about him and his policies, and the more I compare him to McCain and his policies, and the more people I speak to, the more I realize that the future of this country lies on him being elected. Most inspirational are the people I am working with. Jeremy and Sam, both 23 and recently out of college, have done nothing for the last two months but live, sleep, and work this campaign. They have no social life what-so-ever, and are focused only on doing everything in their power to ensure Obama is elected president… they are relentless… it is exhausting… but the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever been part of in my life!
This weekend I knocked on about 200 doors in the three towns nearest the office. Trapsing around these strange streets (especially in the pouring rain when I did start to question my sanity) I remind myself I am just one of thousands and thousands of others doing exactly the same thing all across the country as part of this mammoth operation that will hopefully get Obama into the Whitehouse. It was quite terrifying at first, walking up to the door of a total stranger, especially with all their bloody Halloween garb they have hanging outside their doors… I mean my god! They really do take it very seriously this whole Halloween thing over here! Pumpkins, stuffed scarecrows, witches, spiders, ghouls, white wispy cotton stuff hanging from pegs, ghosts, all adorn each and every house much more than Christmas decorations do most of ours in England. That and the American flags – EVERYWHERE…( amazing how many people are so patriotic and yet are not registered to vote! ) so yes.. anyway, you can imagine some of these doors are quite intimidating to say the least!
Again, however, the rewards are substantial. Walking away having swayed someone in the right direction is a great feeling. Ronda Macey lives in a dilapidated little house and answered the door with three toddlers at her feet, a baby in her arms, and two young teens behind her. As I introduced myself as a campaigner for Obama, she immediately cut me off – “I ain’t voting for that man!”… I gently asked her why, she said “I ain’t voting for nobody… all politicians are liars and none of them can help me…” I asked her if she knew about Obama’s plans for education and for health care… her eyes lit up and she let me tell her his benefits… she took my flyers with an appreciative smile and thanked me for my time. I’m going to watch her… might even offer to look after her children on the 4th while she goes to the polling station…
Other than this canvassing business, which I must say takes its toll, I’ve been busy inputting crucial data into the system and making phone calls to potential out of sate volunteers… which brings me to you lot in NYC… if you are at all enticed to come here to PA, do your bit for the campaign and help with the essential canvassing next weekend, please get in touch asap! I promise you you won’t regret it, and we need all the help we can possibly get.
Must go to sleep now… big day tomorrow… lots of love to you all xxx Jax