Sunday, April 6, 2008

Working the Neighborhoods

Canvassing for
Obama in the
Philly Burbs

[While a week or so old, this piece gives a good picture of what to expect working the campaign. For those inspired to volunteer to work Eastern PA or Western PA, even if for a weekend, with our independent project, post a reply below, and we'll pass it on.]

By Speck Tater

We all know the suburbs are going to be critical. Job one is to register as many new voters as possible and reregister even more Independents. Today I set out to an area in Montgomery County called Willow Grove. Since the news cycle with Wright and Resko dominating the headlines I had a feeling of trepidation. Would people slam the door in my face? Spout hateful slurs? Say Obama was doomed?!? The answer is below the fold...

Speck Tater's diary:

No. I was amazed by the response from people I chatted up in a lower to middle-class, very white suburb. My canvassing roster consisted of 52 homes and apartments known to contain a precious commodity, registered independents. As is typical more than half the people were not home, but the people that were home were overwhelmingly supporters of Obama – close to 80%! Take a walk with me.

It was a beautiful day to canvass, close to 60 degrees and intermittently sunny. I was alone as Mr. Tater had to work and I arrived after the other volunteers (the few that showed up) had set out. Home base was a Starbucks staffed by a twenty-something paid Obama staffer. She apologized for the "office," which was actually a plus for me since I’m a caricature of an Obama supporter (latte-drinking, Saab driving, compulsive recycling, academic libruhl). The staffer had no literature to distribute, no swag to pass out and not enough volunteers to knock on doors. It was pretty discouraging. I gave her the contact information for our Central Jersey co-Chair and promised the cavalry would come (I hope!). I took my map, contact list, registration forms and Grande Peppermint Mocha with light whip and extra sprinkles and set out.

My little chunk of PA was modest - marked by homes screaming pride-of-ownership and others in poor repair with front yards and porches strewn with fading toys and lawn art that had seen better days. With my heart in my throat I knocked on the first door. A woman answered and was delighted to see me. "Obama!" she said with a smile. She was a registered Dem, but her husband was an Indie who loved Obama too, but had yet to change his registration. She took the form and promised he would complete it as I had instructed.

At a duplex I encountered the neighbor of the Indie man I sought. He informed me that his friend, my target, was away, but would probably vote for Obama. I asked if the man might be home soon and whether I could leave a registration form with him. He then volunteered that his neighbor would be away for quite a while. He is serving in Iraq. We had an interesting conversation about the war concluding with agreement that the soldiers needed to come home.

The only African-American people I encountered were both enthusiastic Obama supporters and former Indies. They had already changed their registrations and promised to vote in the primary. A few houses later I met a lovely plump lady who answered the door only to say "Wait right here, I have something on the stove." When she retuned from her kitchen she told me that she was thoroughly undecided between Clinton and Obama. We spent about 15 minutes talking about what it would mean to be a woman and not stand behind the first woman to have a real shot at the Presidency. I shared with her the path I took and how I came to believe that at this moment in time, Barack Obama’s promise of unity and competent, transparent government was more important to me. His judgment about the war, his vision and character all helped me make my decision. She smiled, took the registration form and thanked me. I think she connected with what I had to say.

The next house with people home also contained Obama supporters! Another mixed marriage with the husband a Dem with whom I spoke married to an Indie who was not home but he also took the form for her to complete. He told me that he hoped that with Obama as President the world would see us differently, better. I encountered a spate of houses with no one home, then I spotted a man out back of a house sanding a cabinet door. I checked my list and learned that he was my Indie alright. I called out to him and he called back, "Obama, huh?" He then told no need to change his affiliation as he already had and Obama had his vote. He thanked me for volunteering and expressed a wish to help the campaign. I told him how to go about volunteering. This entire exchange took place over a picket fence while he smoothed the inside edges of his cabinet door, maple I think.

But all was not perfect. After persistent knocking I unearthed an Indie not friendly to the good Senator Obama. I soon wished I had knocked less. He told me that he was "not prejudiced but that no black man should run the country." I thanked him for his time and wished him well. He went on to say that really bad things were going to come out in the next week about Obama and reiterated that he was not prejudiced. Again I wished him well. He yelled out, "Are you paid?" I responded that I was a volunteer. He thought about that for a minute as I started to walk away. Then he added, "Good luck anyway, really." I thanked him.

The door to one of my last houses was answered by a harried 50ish woman. She told me that the Indie I sought was her daughter who was frantically packing to go back to school. She went back inside to ask her daughter if she had a minute for me, but her daughter declined as her ride was on the way. Her mom smiled at me and said, "I guess you know I’m a Republican from your sheet there. I just want to say that it is so important for people to be involved like you are. Even though we don’t agree I appreciate your visit."

So that was a glimpse of my day knocking on doors. I did not share with you all the Obama supporter encounters, but as I said before, almost everybody I actually talked to supported him. The response was remarkably positive and only one person seemed influenced by right-wing radio or breathless news reports condemning Obama and his associates. I learned today from my tiny sample that we can take PA. Yes we can. But right now there are not enough boots on the ground. If you can travel to PA, please do. If you live in PA, please get involved. If Obama wins Pennsylvania this thing will be over and we can turn our energy towards the general.

Please volunteer, make calls and donate. PA is there for the taking.

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