CEM is thrilled to bring you these blog posts from our intern Christina Arrison, who is currently in Indiana working with the Obama campaign. Enjoy!
Obama won the contest in Guam yesterday by seven votes, which was really the only thing keeping me going at 1:30 am last night after two hours of putting tiny stickers that reminded voters to bring their photo IDs to the polls onto a seemingly endless stack of doorhangers. The campaign staff and I kept reminding each other about those seven voters, thinking about how the balance of the election could hang on just one sticker, one person remembering her ID who wouldn’t have otherwise, and how maybe that one vote will push us over the edge. Working in the field operation of a campaign requires that mentality, the firm belief that every vote matters. Some people think a campaign comes down to a good debate performance or a savvy piece of election mail; I think it comes down to a 1" by 2" white sticker.
Today I got a chance to put some of those stickers into action by going out and knocking doors. A lot of my work on the primaries so far has been the behind-the-scenes organization of the canvasses, so I really relish any opportunity to get out and talk to voters. Canvassing is one of the most exhausting things that I’ve ever done. It’s physically tiring to be out in the hot sun walking all day, but more than that it can be emotionally draining to talk to people about a candidate I’m so passionate about and be greeted with apathy or anger. It’s obviously not a personal attack on me, but after the all-night sticker marathon I’m not thinking logically today. Thankfully those people are few and far between, but I do still have the urge to go out right now and wake up the 24 year old I talked to today who said that he never votes because "change will still happen whether I vote or not." I tried to convince him otherwise but to no avail. I’m comforted, though, by the thought of two other young men I talked to today, both of whom said that they’ve never thought that voting mattered but that this time they feel inspired to cast a ballot.
It is a very intimate experience to go to the homes of so many strangers. Canvassing has taken me into neighborhoods of all kinds that I usually wouldn’t have a reason to visit. It’s given me lots of food for thought. Why is there, for example, an inverse relationship between the number of items on a house that say "Welcome" and how welcoming the owner is? Why are the front doors in the so-called "bad" neighborhoods always unlocked and wide open, while in the "safe" areas there is always at least one deadbolt fastened?
The issue of race
Knocking on doors also shines a bright spotlight onto the issue of race in this country. Race has obviously played a large role in the campaign in terms of the possibility that we could soon elect our first black president, but it also concretely affects canvassers who cross over racial boundaries to go door-to-door in neighborhoods that are in many cases still very segregated. Last week two of our canvassers, both young black men, were followed around by police in the mostly white neighborhood where they were working. When the pair was done knocking, the police car tailed them the whole way across the city back to our headquarters. Two middle-aged women from one of our unions were in a similar area today when they knocked on the apartment door of an off-duty police officer who told them they were illegally trespassing in the complex (which was not true) and that if he got one complaint from a neighbor he would arrest them right then and there. As a white woman I experience a different side of things – my blood still boils when I think of the woman in Ohio who told me she wasn’t going to support Obama because she didn’t think that America was ready for a black president. She leaned in confidingly and added, "But I suppose he’s not all black. His mother was white."
Still, all of the negative and difficult experiences are far outweighed by positive stories that make me really believe that change is possible. Our team has had thousands and thousands of conversations with voters here in Indianapolis, and stories like the ones above are the exception, not the rule. All of the canvassers I’ve talked to see the chance to go into unfamiliar neighborhoods and talk to people they would otherwise probably not interact with much as an amazing opportunity to build unity, not as an uncomfortable or futile task. Our volunteers have boundless energy – the two women who were threatened by the police officer today came back to headquarters, got another packet, and went back out to knock more doors. And every time the press does another story about the "insurmountable" racial divide in the electorate, I just remember standing in Ohio with an African American coworker of mine as the union volunteers were getting ready to canvass. Most of the canvassers were middle-aged, white and male, many of them current or former meatpackers – definitely not your typical Obama demographic. She turned to me, laughed, and said, "Just look at all these white guys working their butts off to elect a black guy president. Who would have thought?"
Tomorrow’s the biggest day of the campaign, so I’d better go get some sleep. In Indiana the polls are open for an extremely restrictive amount of time – 6am to 6pm. That means that most of the voter turnout canvassing has to be done tomorrow because on Tuesday there won’t be enough time to catch people after work before the polls close. More on that to follow tomorrow.
– Christina Arrison