The Streets of Colorado

Last Sunday, a cold, dreary fall day in this part of Colorado, I went out canvassing to find out who’s going to vote for Obama. I arrived at the local HQ (a storefront in a strip mall near a Costco) around noon. A guy explained to me at length what I was supposed to do, over my increasing nervousness.

“Do I have to do this alone?” I asked. “I was told someone would be with me.” I didn’t feel confident about knocking on doors by myself. Having spent so much of my life overseas, most recently the last 17 years in Italy, I know that many standard American cultural cues pass me by completely unnoticed. And everyone’s armed in this part of the country (yes, including the liberals) – I didn’t want to miss something that might imply: “Get off my lawn before I blow a hole in you with my 12-gauge.”

Eric, the man who’d been training me, instantly agreed to go with me. On the way we chatted about more personal things and I learned, with no great surprise, that he, too, had been a Sun employee. He got laid off in July, calculated that he had enough money to retire early, and decided to devote his time to campaigning for Obama.

We had pre-printed sheets of paper with names, addresses, and (usually) political leanings for each of the people we were supposed to visit. These were organized by street and side of street (odds and evens), including a map showing the location of the targeted houses.

“Why are we going door to door instead of just calling?” I asked.

Eric’s an engineer, so he has studied the numbers behind his activities.

“This is more effective than calling. Studies show that, for every 14 doors you knock on, you persuade one voter. It takes 200 calls to do the same. This is a swing state, and Jefferson County has traditionally voted Republican. 200 votes could make all the difference here.”

“That’s a lot of doors,” I gulped.

We knocked on 34 doors in about 90 minutes that day. The people we had come to see were all listed as Democrats or undecided. We weren’t expected to call on any Republicans; the thought is that it’s too late in the game to persuade them. Now it’s mostly about making sure that people have their mail-in ballots and know what to do with them, or know where they can go for early voting (which starts Oct 20th in Colorado).

Many of the people on our list had already received their mail-in ballots, and some of those had already sent them in. Three or four refused our polite request to tell us for whom they’d voted. There are still people who feel strongly that this is a private matter, but Eric suspected that they had all voted for McCain and didn’t want to tell us that.

On the other hand, four or five told us they definitely had or would vote for Obama, and one said that her husband would also do so in spite of being a life-long Republican (they were both young).

We did the first street together, with me hanging anxiously behind, not liking the idea of disturbing people on a Sunday, though most took it well. At some places, someone was clearly home but did not answer the door.

Eric pointed out clues to the likely voting habits of the households we visited. A Subaru in the driveway indicated a liberal. On the other hand, 95% of the houses we visited or passed had four-wheel drive vehicles and/or trucks, so those aren’t necessarily a sign of conservatism. Every house seemed to have multiple dogs as well.

One house where I was just as glad no one answered had a jeep in the driveway hand-painted in camouflage, with various aggressive bumper stickers including one that said “Fuck Iraq” – an ambiguous statement at best.

We split the next street, one of us doing odds, the other evens. Eric was trapped for quite a while with a man who wanted to complain about the price of diesel fuel – the only canvasee who had shown much desire for conversation.

Then, frozen to the bone, we went back to the office. Happily, it’s supposed to be sunny and warm when I go out canvassing tomorrow.

On the Phone for Obama

I spent an instructive couple of hours this evening making phone calls on behalf of the Obama campaign. Yes, I am one of those annoying people who interrupts your dinner to ask who you’ll be voting for. (I’m in Colorado, one of the few states where the answer actually matters.)

I’ve had a fear of cold-calling ever since a short-lived, traumatic (and rather funny) attempt at phone sales during my college years, but this wasn’t so bad. Somehow I got the nice people list to call: all women over 60 (some well over), all of them polite. Although the two times I got (presumably) their husbands on the line first, they were rather abrupt.

For the few who were willing to say that they are undecided, I offered to try to answer any questions or concerns they might have, but no one took me up on that. The only woman I spoke to at any length said: “I’m just not sure. He seems so young, though that’s not an issue.” She wasn’t really happy with McCain or Obama, and is disgusted with the recent behavior of both: “They’re fighting like a couple of high schoolers.” I could only glumly agree with that.

“We’re in a rut, and I’m not sure there’s anyone in the whole history of the country who can get us out of it,” she continued. And she wasn’t just talking about the economy.

I empathize, truly I do. You haven’t heard much about Obama from me before, because I would have preferred Hillary. I like her experience and I like her balls, and I would love to see the ultimate glass ceiling  broken.

But John McCain won no points from me for selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate. In fact, that move utterly canceled the respect I used to have for him. He thinks I’d vote for Palin simply because she lacks a penis? The utter cynicism of that shows just how little respect he and the Republican party actually have for women. Palin is the polar opposite of Hillary in everything except her chromosomes, and, most worrisome, lacks almost any useful experience. By reason of her sheer lack of competence, the idea of her being McCain’s faltering heartbeat away from the presidency is frightening.

Her religious and social beliefs scare the proverbial bejesus out of me. Bristol Palin is pregnant at 17 as a direct result of her parents’ conservative ideology. You can’t stop teenagers having sex, but, if you’re a sensible and caring parent, you can at least provide them with the knowledge and birth control to prevent them getting pregnant. The failure of abstinence-only sex “education” is starkly illustrated in Palin’s own family, and I’m disgusted (though not surprised) that no one is even mentioning this as an issue. Family privacy be damned: Palin would try to impose this on every teenager in America. We have every right to discuss this – loudly.

Sarah Palin has propelled me hard into the Obama camp, and is the main reason I expect to spend quite a bit of time campaigning for him. But there are things I definitely like about Obama, too. For one, he’s a third-culture kid. Like me, he has a multicultural family and has experienced other countries and cultures by living in them. McCain’s experience of other countries, at least during his young and impressionable years, was of going to war and then being a prisoner of war in Vietnam. I don’t have a window into either man’s psyche, but human intuition tells me which one is likely to have a broader, more nuanced view of the world outside US borders.

And that’s something we desperately need now. The world is too small and too tightly interwoven nowadays for US exceptionalism to be the answer to every international question. We have to think about our role as world citizens, not just American citizens. And I think Barack Obama is far better equipped to do that than John McCain.