Canvassing for the last time [ed. correction: in 2008!]

We did one more day of canvassing, this time in Bedford IN.  It was another gorgeous day (we saw a reading of 80 degrees on the way out in the afternoon!?) and Bedford, or the neighborhoods we were in anyway, is a pretty pleasant town.  Very few people were home, so it was mostly just sticking those doorknob flyers on the front doors saying “Vote today!” with information on the polling location.  Many of our first houses already had flyers, so we called back to the base to be sure there hadn’t been an error.  They told us to look more closely and we’d see that we had new flyers: they were exactly the same except ours said “Vote Today!” and the ones that were already there said “Vote Nov 4!”  So, there was obviously a lot of duplication of the effort.

There was one very disturbing incident.  Three dudes were coming out of a house and starting to get into a pickup truck.  One said, “you guys votin’?” in a way that seemed probably mocking.

Me: “yeah, we’re canvassing.”

Dude: “for who?”  Me: “Obama.”  Dude: “Good deal…”

Me: “have you voted yet?”

Dude: “I can’t vote, I’m a convicted felon.”

Then as they got in the truck one of them said the N-word very loudly.  We sort of half froze and muttered to each other, did he say that?

Kind of creepy on a deserted street, especially in the context of the convicted felon comment.

Otherwise, though, Bedford was lovely, no complaints…!

Can’t believe this is almost over!!

p.s.  From what I understand, convicted felons can in fact vote in Indiana, so he was just making excuses.

Canvassing in Southern Indiana: college towns are for wimps

My mantra this weekend was “college towns are for wimps.”  Steve and I were going canvassing in Bedford, about 20 minutes south of Bloomington.  When we got to the home base 15 minutes late, though, all the downtown Bedford packets were gone, so it was either semi-rural Bedford, with a lot of driving in between stops (and possibly scary dogs on the loose, that went through my mind, anyway), or the downtown of another town a bit further south, so we chose the latter.

This place felt very economically depressed.  It was Sunday, so that may have been part of it, but it also felt semi-abandoned, with a lot of empty houses.  We were amazed to discover, when we started to get hungry for lunch, that there seemed to be no restaurants of any sort in town — when we asked someone where to go, he mentioned a McDonald’s and Arby’s on the highway and a Subway several miles back towards Bloomington.  (We ended up getting Fishwiches at McD’s at 1:45 or so — they tasted really good by then.)

Steve and I canvass according to whiffleball rules: you keep batting until you make contact, i.e. speak to a human being.  There were a LOT of not-homes or, in some cases, a quickly raised blind and then not a peep.  So you could sometimes ring the bell for 6 houses in a row before you finally got your contact with an actual voter.  We decided that part of the reason the information in our packets often seemed to be way out of date was likely that no one may have canvassed for a Presidential candidate here for decades.

Best line of the day was at one of the first houses.  A lady in her 80s was chatting by her front door with a younger man.  When we asked for the name on our list, she cheerfully informed us, “oh, she’s probably in jail — she’s a felon.”  She went on to explain, “she married my grandson a long time ago.  The whole family loathed and despised her.  When they got divorced, our hearts rejoiced.  You know why she’s on your list?   Every time she goes to a dentist or something, she puts down THIS address right here.  I’m sure she’s in jail.”

When we’d first approached and asked if she were an Obama supporter, she said “that dirty old man?” which we found really confusing.   She did turn out to be for Obama.

Most disheartening exchange of the day was a guy who said “I am voting, but not in the Presidential race.”  He said “if that’s the best America has to offer, we’re in trouble” and went on to explain, “I’ve heard a lot of things, like that Obama’s a Muslim and that he might put the country under Muslim law.  Now, it may not be true, but….”   I felt I had to say, “you know, that really is not true, he’s not a Muslim, that’s just an invention people are spreading to raise suspicions about him” (even if in saying that I felt as if I was at some level buying into his logic that Muslim= bad; didn’t feel I had the luxury of making a more nuanced point).  He kind of nodded and said something like, “maybe so, but there’s a lot of it out there.”

Difficult to know how to interpret this.  Was he really saying, “yes, it may be lies, but hey, it’s out there?”  Perhaps he meant to be saying something more like, “well, you say it’s lies, but I’m not sure.”  Anyway, it was depressing, though I chose to take an optimistic view that this guy would have been a sure Republican vote in any other year.

There were actually more Obama signs and enthusiastic Obama supporters than I expected.  More Obama than McCain signs for sure.

We’re going to Bedford itself on Tuesday for one final shift.  Really would like to help (in our tiny way) to push Indiana blue.

Canvassing for Obama again

I went canvassing with our friend Steve on Sunday afternoon.  About half of the names on our list were in this huge, bleak development of apartment units southwest of town.  A lot of “Not Homes” although sometimes we could hear someone there, and one “Refused” (a guy who slammed the door in our face).  But there were two gratifying encounters.  One was a self-described 33 year old mother of three who has never voted before and is gung-ho for Obama (although is also planning to vote for our incumbent Republican governor Mitch Daniels — there’s a lot of this, apparently).  She was really fired up and told us about how she convinced her mother that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to vote for another rich Republican born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  “Obama was born with nothing, so he knows what that’s like.”  She was happy to learn about early voting, so we felt we’d accomplished something, albeit minor (the Obama people are very eager to get people to vote early in order to reduce lines on Nov. 4).

The other memorable one was deep into the depressing complex.  This shirtless dude entirely covered with tattoos and with peeling skin on his back answered the door and got his wife, also extensively tattood in what seemed an especially unsystematic/piecemeal way.  She said she’d never voted before but had registered this time, and is going to vote for Obama.  She said she was really glad we’d come by, because she didn’t know where or how to vote.  It came out that she had no idea what Democrat or Republican means, basically did not have any sense of what a political party is.  I got the feeling that she was worried that the process of trying to vote might be somehow embarrassing or difficult (I actually wish we’d explained the process in more detail).  Steve did a great job of trying to explain the party system concisely and sort of nudging her towards voting the Democratic ticket, although she too seemed inclined to vote for My Man Mitch (she had no sense that there’d be anything strange in doing so).  We left her with a handful of campaign leaflets.  Steve mentioned afterwards that she’d made a reference, which I’d missed, about “not caring what religion” Obama is, so she’d clearly gotten some of the emails claiming he’s a Muslim.

We got canvassed the other day, and I had this visceral sense of how that experience of chatting with a stranger who’s come to your door about the election does make it seem that much more concrete and not in a realm of media abstraction, even for someone like me who is thinking and talking about it all the time.

Here’s one way to do some canvassing, start here at the Obama/Biden site.

Canvassing for Obama

The whole family went canvassing Saturday on a semi-rural stretch south of town.  Sarah had been assigned this cluster of 30 or so residences in this area and handed a google map with the addresses highlighted.  These were people whom the campaign had reason to suspect of being undecided or wavering or persuadable.  We parked the minivan in the Laminated Tops store parking lot (closed on Sat.) and hauled the girls on the wagon.  We’d brought along coloring books and markers, and had stopped at Kroeger’s on the way for a bag of Tootsie Roll pops to dole out to the girls for good behavior bribe the girls.

Our first pass was in a little mini… not sure what to call it, a tiny subdivision?  Basically just a big driveway off the main road with 5 or 6 multifamily apartments.  My guess is that these places might rent for $500-600 a month, I’m not really sure.  Not fancy at all, with a touch of trailer-park feeling, but in a way, nice; one good thing about living here, if you want to go this way, is that you can have this kind of rural existence with a forest off your back yard and still be a 10-15 drive to town.

Anyway, the first name on our list turned out to have a big POW-MIA poster in the window, so we weren’t hopeful, and he didn’t really want to talk.  Wasn’t rude, but did not want to tell us anything about his political views (part of the task here is to mark down whether the person is leaning toward Obama or McCain, and what political issues matter most to them).

The next guy was a sleepy-faced 22 year old, maybe, with no shirt on.  He was friendly, especially when he saw Celie and Iris — he mentioned that he was a twin too.  He told us that he was probably leaning toward Obama because his sense was that Obama is “probably more for the working man.”  He is a construction worker and a member of the union; he sort of apologized for his appearance and mentioned that he had a shoulder injury and had slept in late because of the medication. He did not seem to know much about the election; when I said something about Biden, I wasn’t sure if he knew who I meant.  I mentioned a factoid about McCain planning to give the top 1% wealthiest members of the population an over $100,000 tax cut, and that seemed to make an impression.  Overall, talking to this guy felt useful if only to associate some friendly local faces with the Obama campaign (Celie and Iris probably helped).  Also, we left him with two voter registration forms which he seemed happy to have.

There was one other encounter like that – a nice mom type whose very friendly 3-year-old daughter was eager to invite Celie and Iris in to play in her bedroom.  I missed this conversation, but S. says that the woman explained that her husband is McCain all the way, much of her own family are Obama supporters, and she’s kind of wavering or in between.  We were excited to hear that she said she was turned off by the bitterness and rancor of the RNC.  Sarah’s strategy was to stress what Obama will do for the middle class and on economic issues and to point people towards the campaign website.  She commented that it suddenly felt very useful to self-identify as a Middle-Class Mom (probably better than an oil painter and hugelkultur practitioner, for this purpose).

We found it kind of surprising to witness how many people are truly undecided.  We talked with a friendly man who explained that he and his wife generally wait until the last week or so to decide.  I wasn’t sure if this indicated a basically personality-based approach to the decision — deciding which candidate they feel most personally comfortable about — or whether it was more a sign of a set of political beliefs that is truly squarely in the center, whatever that means.  Sarah was struck by how determining family seemed to be; many of the people we spoke to immediately made reference to what their husband or wife or siblings thought, and that really seemed to be the most important single factor.

A lot of people were not home and I can’t imagine this little stint was hugely meaningful, but it felt good to have put a bit of sweat equity into the campaign (dragging that wagon is hard work!)

I’d urge everyone to consider doing some canvassing.  Remember, there are people in your neighborhoods (or nearby) who may barely know who the candidates are, or know little beyond what their spouse told them, and people who will not bother registering if someone doesn’t physically hand them a form.  Just call the Obama campaign and say you can do some Neighbor-to-Neighbor canvassing.