Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes, We Did (or, How I Spent My Election Weekend)

So by now the Obama victory is old news, and I'm sure most people are tired of hearing about it. However, I'm not tired of talking about it yet and I'm anxious to share our canvassing experience, so consider yourself forewarned. It's no secret that Jason & I have been big Obama supporters this year. Our car is be-stickered. Our wardrobe is Obama'd. We've donated to the campaign almost a half-dozen times, and we've telemarketed phonebanked for Obama this fall. So when we heard the campaign was asking for California volunteers to go to Nevada over election weekend, we knew we had to make the trek. This is our story. *Law and Order theme music*

First, a quick sidebar about the drive. I am very much a greenery lover, but there is something about the desert that fascinates me, especially the dying towns scattered by the highways. I am kind of obsessed. J suggested I go for my phD in sociology so I can visit these godforsaken towns and figure out who lives there and what life is like. I dismissed that as crazy graduate student talk, but a nice idea nonetheless. We stopped at this truck stop on the way. I was especially drawn to it because I originally misread the sign and thought they had a "brain burger." Mmm, tastes like smarts.

So we get to Vegas and have some time to check into our hotel and relax before the "short training meeting." We were a few minutes later and were nervous that it would be embarrassing to walk into the room tardy. Um, we needn't have worried:

Hundreds and HUNDREDS of people were there. It was a zoo! Here's the awesome thing: there was another training meeting in this same location a few hours later. So this is just the turnout from one meeting in one location in one city in Nevada. AND these were just the California volunteers who needed training, so I'd guess there must have been thousands more who had already been trained, or who were native Nevadans, or who were going to be at other meetings in the state. The scope of the volunteer outreach was really amazing.

The atmosphere in the room was electric, there was a huge buzz and excitement. Of course with this many people the "short meeting" turned into (barely) controlled chaos, as the campaign leader was late, the Q&A dragged on, and the passing out of assignments was a logistical nightmare. By the time we were finished we were both kind of tired and cranky, as it was most definitely past our dinner time and we're both such Type A personalities, being subjected to disorganization is painful.
[At the training meeting. We're fuzzy with excitement!]

We had originally been told that we would be poll-watching. The short explanation of that is, poll-watchers record who has voted, and relay this information to the campaign HQ so that they can target their people who haven't yet voted, and call or visit them and encourage them to vote. Due to logistical difficulties we decided to canvass instead, which is kind of like tracting. We were assigned a field station to work out of, which turned out to be someone's garage. We were provided a neighborhood map and a list of addresses and names, mostly those of low-turnout democrats (who might need a nudge to get out and vote) or Obama-leaning independents. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to visit these folks, see if they'd voted yet, and if not, see if they were going to vote, if they knew where to vote, and if they needed a ride to the polls. Let the games begin.

Fortunately I had a former missionary with me, so after he got over the weirdness of tracting-yet-not-tracting, he was a total champ. I was more of a wuss and got psyched out by the HUGE dogs that were behind every single fence! Seriously, Vegas must be the dog capital of the world, because they were everywhere. And it didn't help that our first neighborhood was pretty run-down and a little scary.

However, here's the awesome part. Everyone was so nice. A lot of people weren't home, but those that we were able to talk to were so pleasant. And really, they probably weren't too happy to see us, since the Obama campaign has been stalking Nevada voters for months. [Really: starting at 6am election day, everyone on our lists got doorhangers with their voting information. We started knocking doors at 9, made another sweep mid-day, and a third sweep around 5pm. That's 4 visits in one day, not including the weeks of phone calls prior to the election.] So these people had good reason to be VERY tired of the election, and the Obama campaign specifically. But everyone seemed really happy, and excited about the election, and they cheered us on. So that was extremely motivating.

Of course there were a few bumps in the road: confusing street signs and maps. Gated communities (but we are sneaky and got into most of them.) Several very suspicious old people. Having to listen to a few overly smug liberals congratulate themselves on their general liberalness and awesomeness. [Another sidebar: it is a very weird position, being a liberal member of a very conservative church. It's often uncomfortable and sometimes downright frustrating, feeling like there's nowhere I can just be myself without walking on eggshells. I know we're not the only ones, but it often feels that way.]

So Tuesday was a very full day of canvassing. We did a total of five maps, which I estimate to be about 250-300 houses. We switched field stations mid-day, and canvassed until 6:30, which was pushing it, since polls closed at 7. The atmosphere at the second field station was pretty festive, since we'd started receiving early results from back east and there was some good news (once Pennsylvania came in we started feeling optimistic...and it only got better from there). We had chili and watched the returns with our newfound friends for awhile, but since I had to work bright and early Wednesday morning, we had to leave and drive back to LA.

We listened to NPR for as long as we could receive it, and fortunately were able to hear that it was called for Obama before radio silence set it. Although the ride back was long, and we were beyond tired, it was a jubilant exhaustion, knowing that history was made. We were especially excited to hear that Nevada went for Obama (and Clark County was up for him by almost 20%) because we felt like we had a personal stake in that outcome. I'm glad the election is over, but more than that, I'm glad that we were able to play a small part in such a defining event for our generation.