Saturday, 8 November 2008

Campaign Obama. 07.11.08

Dear Friends,

Wow. I am still buzzing. Aaaaaagh!! Even though Obama losing was never really an option, the magnitude of the fact that he won only hit us all properly once it happened. The USA has a black president. WOWWWWWW!!!! AND – he is AMAZING!!! I truly believe the world is a better place now. I am feeling so elated!! I wonder how long this natural high is going to last!

So, let me tell you how the last few days campaigning was. Over the weekend volunteers from all over the place pitched up to help us knock on doors. One woman came from Manhattan with her two sons, 8 and 12 years old. They were so sweet and eager to help; they knew they were helping to change the world; Obama was their hero and they would do anything to help him win.

On Sunday we had to place door hangers on each and every door of each and every Obama supporter in our vicinity. The hangers gave information on voting as well as the address of the corresponding polling station for that house. In the morning I was behind a table in the office making sure our volunteers were given the correct door hangers for their particular turfs. Then I was sent out to do it myself as we ran out of volunteers and skipping one door was not an option. For every door we didn’t reach, a possible vote for Obama could be lost, purely because that person didn’t know where to go.

The first shift of canvassing that I did happened to be with Doug, my host who makes delicious bread and who is also writing a novel, I found out. We were a good team and figured out a good system. He drove while I jumped out and did about 5 doors at a time. I think he got a little bored of just being in the car the whole time and so along the long streets he would get out too and do the evens while I did the odds.. we’d then meet back at the car, and onto the next street.

By the end of the afternoon I was literally running from one door to another, trying to reach them all before it got dark. It didn’t work… The last 40 or so doors I reached (out of about 200 all together, all scattered around the place) were in the pitch dark, lining the quiet streets of Berwick, a gridded, quite dreary town about 15 mins drive from Bloomsburg. It was so dark I couldn’t see the numbers on the doors properly until I got right up close to them and shone my phone on them. It was exhausting, but once finished I felt good… mission accomplished! We were in the office that night till 2am, compiling the packages to give to the canvassers the following day.

On Monday Sam and I spent the whole day on campus. We got a huge white board, wrote on the top “I’m voting for Change because…” and had all the students write their different reasons why they were voting for Obama with sharpie pens. We were there till about 8pm, and there wasn’t a white bit of space left by the end of the day. Among the reasons were “we deserve better health care,” “we need to restore our image in the world,” “Sarah Palin is scary,” and “He’s cute and smart.” It was the first time we stayed on campus after dark, and because students weren’t rushing from one class to another, they were more relaxed and actually able to hang out and chat to us. One of them approached me and thanked me for all the hard work me and Sam had been doing: “You’ve been out here all day! You must be tired… can I buy you a coffee?” He sweetly bought me a caramel macchiato – it was delicious.

Another boy who I recognized came up to me and had some questions. I’d spoken to him about five days before. He was tall and skinny with dark hair and searching eyes. His name was Alex. His whole family were Republicans, and the first time I spoke to him he told me he was leaning towards McCain. I’d told him about my views on the Obama foreign policy compared to the Bush/ McCain one, which he’d found really interesting, but was still worried about a few issues. “I don’t know… I just feel safer with McCain… I mean, I’m worried about this ‘change’ that Obama wants to make… he wants to change our country… and we don’t really know him, and people say he’s a socialist and stuff… and what about him being related to terrorists?...” It was clear he’d been brain washed by all the propaganda of the McCain campaign, which from the flyers I saw set out to instill fear into people as their only means of getting their vote. As calmly as I could I sat down with Alex and we went over everything. I probably talked to him for about half an hour. He wasn’t stupid.. it was like he knew deep down that all these things he’d been told about Obama weren’t true but he needed to hear it from someone. A lot of kids that came from Republican families didn’t know anything about either of the candidate’s policies, didn’t know why they were republicans.. they just were and that was that… and they didn’t want to learn… not this one. Alex told me he’d sleep on it and decide in the morning. I crossed my fingers.

There were a few steadfast McCainites I managed to converse with and I have to say that a few things that came out of their mouths, particularly when discussing Iran, were quite terrifying. One boy said “ I think we should just bomb the fuck out of it,” and another said, in a tone far too relaxed for the point he was making, “Yeah, we need to get rid of Iran…” The ignorance and obstinacy was infuriating, but I managed to keep my cool, just.

Election Day. Sam and I had assembled an army of about 15 Obamarite students who would help us all day. Our mission: To get as many kids as possible to get in line at the campus polling station, and not let them leave! Each volunteer was assigned a different floor in each of the various campus ‘dorms’ (a building containing roughly 700 apartments each) to storm, and throughout the day our troops went knocking on all their doors to urge them to go and vote! Safe in the knowledge that the majority would vote for Obama, we did not discriminate between Obamas and McCains. We couldn’t waste any time trying to figure out who they would vote for. They just had to get to the polling station!

I was stationed outside the polling line from 7am until 8pm. My job was to urge the students not to leave the line for any reason. At the beginning of the day, between 7am and 8:30am, the queue wasn’t longer than about 50 people at a time. Even then, students would arrive, peer in through the door, and mumble something about coming back later before I’d jump in front of them, big smile, and exclaim, “ The line is only going to get longer! I wouldn’t leave now if I were you!” “Really?!” they’d say, “Ah man! Ok.. if you say so…” And it did get longer… 50 people soon turned into 100, 150, 200… we had to open up another big room next door so that the queue could overflow into it. It was amazing. All the work that Sam and I had done over the last two weeks (for him 2 months) was finally showing its results. More and more and more students flooded in, almost double the number that had queued in 2004. Several times I found myself frantically re-arranging 20 students at a time in order to make another bend in the line so that they could all fit in the room; “ if you guys can just move this way, yup… great, and you come behind this guy here, and you here, and yes, you here.. exactly.. there you go,” and the snake would wiggle its way round and I would feel like a steward at Stanstead airport on the 27th January dealing with impatient holiday makers.

There were three professors all on board as well. They spent the entire day inside the queuing room, doing everything in their power to keep the students happy. Boxes and boxes of Dominos pizza arrived throughout the day, as well as coca cola, People and Us magazines, and even a stereo to play music… ANYTHING to keep them happy! Still, many attempted to leave, and for every one that did, I did everything in my power to make them stay. In my head, their vote would determine the results of the entire election;

“There is nothing more important than voting today! Skip class! Your professor will let you off!” - We had a sheet on which they wrote down their names and that of their professor, whom we would call and explain their reason for missing class – “ this is the future of your country! Don’t you want to be part of history in the making?! Please don’t leave! You’ll regret it!”

I felt as if I was in a battleground. And on top of it all there were three McCain supporters standing outside who did nothing but bitch about me all day. I decided to try and kill them with kindness; went up to them, smiled and introduced myself. One of them replied with; “Hi, I’m Nancy, and I am a native American, where are you from?” “ I’m from England, but have lived in America for seven years, and I still pay taxes here… Is that good enough for you?” That shut her up. They were ruthless I have to say… bit of a shame… there needn’t have been any hostility... guess they were just plain angry.

I saw many familiar faces walking in and out of the polling station all day. I saw many whom I’d bugged and bugged, and felt satisfied in the knowledge that had I not bugged them they might not be there. I saw Alex walking out. My face must have given me away instantly… I was dying to know who he’d voted for and was praying it wasn’t McCain. He clocked me, smiled, and told me he’d voted for Obama. I’d been so stressed out all day, and when he told me that I just leapt on him! I gave him a huge hug and told him he’d just made my day, in fact my whole two weeks, in Bloomsburg!

At the University, out of 1971 votes (record number on campus by far!) we got 1370 for Obama. Columbia County, the one we were responsible for, and a notoriously republican area, lost to McCain, but marginally, and by 7% less than in 2004.

Obama won Pennsylvania overall by more votes than any Democratic candidate has since 1964.

Watching the results come through on a big screen back at Headquarters, we all cheered when Pennsylvania was called, and again when Ohio was called, and there were hugs and kisses all round when Obama reached 270 votes. We cracked open some champagne and were all glued to the screen watching the people cheering all around the world. The crowd in Chicago was astounding… I don’t think they stopped for a full ten minutes. I had goosepimples all over my body while the enormity of what had just happened slowly sunk in. We all just kept looking at each other, exclaiming “Oh my God!!! This is amazing!! Aaagh!!!!” Then we heard shouts and screams coming from outside, and saw about three or four hundred students from campus rushing down the road towards us, every one of them ecstatic! Sam put on his “For Voting Info come here” sign that stuck high and clear out of a rucksack that he wore on his back, and we went out and joined the celebrations. The students mauled Sam, and I got several hugs as well, from students thanking us for all “everything we’d done for them.” Familiar faces were wild with huge smiles, and every eye I caught shone with joy and excitement. I couldn’t stop smiling either… There are few times in my life I can remember feeling that euphoric. As I said before, we never let ourselves consider Obama losing, but I don’t think any of us really dared to imagine how great it would feel once he’d won, either.

The students paraded back up the road to their campus dorms and back in the office we eagerly awaited our hero’s speech, which, I’m sure you will all agree, was out of this world amazing. I know our grandchildren will be You Tubing it in 100 years from now. He was strong, determined and so in control! He looked so handsome and didn’t look down once as he addressed his country. Every girl around the world went a little weak at the knees as he called Michelle ‘the love of his life’ and I think any man that doesn’t admit to having just a slight man-crush on the guy is lying.

What Obama’s campaign achieved is mind-boggling. His policies made more sense than anyone else’s, and his character of course shone beyond any other candidate’s in years, but his campaign strategy was ingenious, and without it I’m not sure he would have managed the landslide victory that he had. He inspired more volunteers than any other candidate has in history, and we knocked on more doors and made more phone calls than any other campaign has ever done. He ensured that millions of Americans who would never usually vote, were informed and educated enough to know about him, his values, and his policies. Last weekend, in Pennsylvania alone, Obama volunteers knocked on nearly 2 million doors (about 300 of those were mine)! The McCain Palin campaign, with their negative robocalls sent by the push of a button, simply couldn’t compete with the Obama grassroots plan.

Such is the power and popularity of Barack Obama that already, Americans I speak to feel a huge sense of relief, freedom, and pride that they have missed for eight long years. No longer when they travel will they sheepishly pretend to be Canadian, and they are hopeful that a new era is beginning… Obama has his work cut out for him, that’s for sure, but I think he’ll manage. Ok - I am in love with the guy so maybe my opinion is slightly tainted, but it’s pretty amazing that over night, literally over night, he has, already, changed the way Americans see their own country. I never imagined I’d say this, but I am jealous of Americans right now! Where is England’s Barack for god’s sake? Gordon and David just don’t quite match up somehow! Well I suppose I must remember Obama’s influence will spread far and wide. We will all be affected by him somehow, and for now that’s good enough for me!

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