Friday, October 31, 2008
A Volunteer Speaks Once More
Canvassing. I never really knew what it meant.
Okay, I knew what it meant, but I'd never really thought about what it entailed until this year's election. I knew people did it, knocking on my door during my dinner-prep time just as the pasta was done or a baked good was finally to its golden-edged perfection and desperately needed to be removed from the oven. So annoying. This year, I am one of those annoyances.
This, I hope, will be my last election-topic post. I am frankly sick of the whole subject. I can't wait for it all to be over, and I wish the vote had been last Tuesday. I'm sick of writing about it- I'm sure you're sick of reading about it. But, I thought election time would be incomplete without a little taste, for those of you readers who haven't taken the plunge, of how it feels to be a canvasser. Canvasser? Is that a word? One who canvasses.
After showing up at HQ and attending a quick class which explained some of my thirty or so questions, I was assigned a canvassing buddy. My term, not theirs. Barry. Barry the professional canvasser. Chatty, friendly and super-quick on the issues. Good ol' Barry.
We were assigned a few neighborhoods in west St. Louis County; neighborhoods I knew would not be leaning, shall I say, the Obama way. I've sold real estate there. I know which way that wind is blowing, and it's not to the left.
Barry, as I said, had done this before. He knew the ropes, and zipped from house to house on the side of the street to which he was assigned. I, on the other hand, could barely figure out the paperwork for the first half hour. Once I did, I was cooking. I bravely knocked at the doors (Barry did NOT) of even the houses with McCain/Palin signs out front. At those houses, I explained that I had seen their campaign sign in the yard but was knocking anyway because of the large number of split voting homes we'd discovered in our canvassing efforts. It was a line I'd stolen from the head of the canvassers back at HQ, and it was a good one. It struck total panic in the eyes of those still willing to talk to me. Yes, I knocked and I smiled, explaining that I was an Obama volunteer just trying to update our records: Is Mary at home?
This is the thing: at last Saturday's point in the campaign, the canvassing effort was trying to identify whether registered voters we had been unable to reach over the phone were leaning one way or another. Eighty percent of the voters left on our lists, the ones they had been unable to reach, were between the ages of 18 and 26. College-aged. The kids who had just moved out on their own and hadn't yet changed their addresses. The little bird flying from the nest and voting for just the first or second time in a Presidential election. Still fresh birds!
I had a few doors slammed in my face. I had a couple of shirtless male door answerers. I had a few who were downright rude, one birthday party (which they re-titled a "McCain Party" when I showed up), one twenty-something who said that voting wasn't really his "thing-" Barry and I were all over that one- and a few who actually wanted to talk about Obama's plans for the country. The one I'll never forget, however, was a woman on King's Ridge. Gorgeous house, well dressed, really didn't want to answer the door. Looked seriously put out. She made me wish I'd worn better than jeans and my grey hoodie. She looked me up and down, I swear, and upon hearing I was a volunteer for Obama, closed the door halfway before even answering my question. According to my clipboard, there were three kids at her address. All college or young-adult aged.
I asked politely before she could close the door all the way: "Are Mary, Amy or Bill at home?"
Okay, smile and go on. "We're out today to gather information. Would you have any idea if they are planning to support Barack Obama in the upcoming election?"
She sneered. I haven't seen an actual sneer in a long time, probably because my daughter is off at college. It's a very interested facial contortion- it looks as if it takes some effort, and it's not attractive. It was strange to realize that, because of the name tag I was wearing, she REALLY DIDN'T LIKE ME.
"No," she said, sneer intact. "We vote straight Republican."
In a flash, she'd made me realize: this lady didn't have a clue how her kids were going to vote. And she was SCARED.
Her kids were off at college! For all I knew, they could be off at Berkeley! Brown! Hotbeds of- horrors- Liberal Activism! Kids have a way of deciding what they really are in college. Isn't that one of the reasons we send them away, for better or for worse? I was a registered Republican when I was eighteen, and look what happened to me- canvassing in a grey hoodie for a Democrat. For all she knew, her kids could be out canvassing, too. For Obama. I have to admit, despite the sneer, I felt a little sorry for her.
I smiled and marked "McCain" on my clipboard. I thanked her, said goodbye and listened to the big thump of the door closing in my face. Hey, at least she'd answered it, right?
I can't help but think that it's the 18-26 year olds who own this election. For one side or the other, we canvassers have talked to everyone else. I have hope! I think we can rock that vote, if we can just get them there! If only 18-26 year olds took the time to read the blog of their middle-aged moms.
So, I'm calling my daughter. I'm telling her to vote, and to take her friends with her. I'll tell her to do her part, to tell everyone she sees to vote, and she'll sigh heavily and think about the math test she has today or the mixer she has tonight. She'll say "Okay, Mom," and she'll move on to another subject. But, she will vote, and, come Wednesday morning, her world just might be more hopeful.
I'm sure the sneering lady is calling her kids, too.
I'm very nervous about election day. And for some reason, I can't stop thinking about the mom on King's Ridge. I wonder what she'll do if my candidate wins. I'm sure her nervousness, despite appearances, at least matches mine.
I wonder how she'll feel on Wednesday morning?