Thursday, November 8, 2012

Four Electoral Votes

We were racing against the clock.

With an hour and fifteen minutes before the close of elections in Merrimack County, New Hampshire, we took to the cars and the streets.  We abandoned our staging location, grabbed walk packets and lists of sporadic voters and charged out into the dark for our final Get Out the Vote effort!

We tore down dark rural roads scanning mailbox numbers. When we reached a house on our list, the older woman accompanying me would zoom in to the driveway and I would hurdle out of the car and up to the door.  “We are just making sure everyone has voted.  And offering rides for those who haven’t.  Have you voted sir?”

For the last two and a half months, I suspended my life as a teacher, trading it for life on the campaign trail.  I moved up to New Hampshire and set up as a full-time, unpaid fellow with Organizing for America – President Obama’s grassroots campaign.

Four years ago I volunteered on Barak Obama’s campaign, but in a more limited capacity.  I was still in college. I canvassed and phone banked on holidays and during the final weeks of the election – on evenings in between paper writing. 

But this election, with no hard commitments, I wanted to do more.  Why? Simply put: I believe in the president.   But I also have a deep conviction that, as an American --  as a citizen of a country where I have the power to be involved in the political process and the possibility to effect change -- I have an obligation to participate.

And so, I traded lesson plans for walk packets.  For two months my life took on a new routine: hours of driving around rural New Hampshire, walking up drive ways and into trailer parks to talk to voters, then back to our office for yet more hours sitting on the floor making phone calls to more potential voters.

I canvassed the house of a 75-year-old Irish priest who invited me into discuss politics in the rectory, and I knocked on the door of a 19-year-old girl who had never considered voting before we talked.  I traipsed up a long driveway to a dilapidated mobile home and spoke with a grizzled, beer-bellied man with no shirt who politely refused to share his political leanings.

It wasn’t easy.   There were days when I canvassed for six hours alone, in the rain – going from silent home to silent home, leaving behind a wake of literature.  There were nights when I made 250 phone calls.  I would be cursed at, lied to, hung up on – not just by Republicans, but also by Democrats fed-up with the political season.  We would spend hours prepping canvassing packets and then be told that our targets had switched and we had to scrap our work and start afresh. 

But there were also the volunteers who worked with us week after week  -- as the leaves changed colors and then fell, as the air went from crisp to biting.  There was the sixteen-year-old high school girl who was a powerhouse on the phones, who admitted that her grades were slipping as a result of being at our office for so many hours a week, and who in the same sentence brushed that concern aside with a simple “This is more important.”  There was the 84-year-old British woman who had been a nurse in Boston and spoke bluntly about watching women die on the operating table from back-alley abortions in a time before Roe v. Wade.  She and an older gentleman would sit near the windows and, between phone calls to voters, reminisce about life under FDR.

For two months I listened to stories – from men, women, old and young.  I listened to worries, concerns, hopes, fears and dreams.

In the end, all of our hours of canvassing and phone calls came down to one day – November 6th 2012. 

It came down to how many people we could encourage to vote.  It was a numbers game.  But it was also, on the ground, an individual game.  We arranged rides to the polls for elderly people.  We followed up with others to ensure that they registered at the right polling location.  These were men and women that I had grown to know over two months, whose doors I had knocked on, whose stories I had listened to.

Each vote was a story.

A week before the election one of my volunteers canvassed the house of a man with a minor criminal record.  A town clerk told him that he could not vote because of this record. Checking, we found that New Hampshire law disenfranchises only those still serving time or those convicted of voting fraud.  We returned to his house to tell him so.  At 6:30 am on Election Day he called my boss to thank her and say that he was off to the polls to vote for the President.

During that last hour of the election, as we sped along the back-roads of rural New Hampshire looking for final potential voters who had yet to make it to the polls, we swapped stories in the car.   The older woman with whom I was driving told me that she became politically active at a young age.  When she was fifteen, she proceeded to tell me, Dr. Martin Luther King came to Boston.  Skipping school, she wore her Catholic school uniform and joined in the parade. As they marched down the streets of Boston, older men began ushering her to the front, until she was, in the end, walking hand in hand with Dr. King.

Hours later we, all the staff in the Concord office, crowded into an unheated room in our office to watch as the polls come in,.  We fretted as we refreshed our internet browsers incessantly.  Around 10 pm, they called NH for the President. 

The election was still to be called. But we in New Hampshire, with our four precious electoral votes, we had done what we set out to do.  There was champagne, hugs, tears and a little dancing.  

And then, finally, we went home to sleep.

President Obama has another four years to help move America forward.

The campaign is over and I am heading back to the classroom.  I miss students, I miss teaching.  But for all the worry, stress, frustrations and pure exhaustion of the last two months I would not have had it any other way.  It has been my privilege and my honor as a young woman, and a young American, to work for my President.

There is still work to do. 

But I can now return to the classroom knowing that I have a President who has my back and has the back of my students. 

1 comment:

  1. Jess, I have tears trickling down my cheek. Your imagery is powerful, your words are potent, your passion is palpable. Love, Kim