Thursday, November 06, 2008

A schmaltzy election story

Got back to London this morning and am still a bit jet lagged (is it the morning? the afternoon? why is it so drak and cold?)

I was going to try to mention all the people I went campaigning with over the last week, people of all ages and from all walks of life, veteran campaigners and those who had never done it before alike, a true cross-section of America. But they know who they are and what they and millions like them achieved on Tuesday. So here's just one schmaltzy story from an unforgettable election campaign:

The weekend before election day, there were quite literally queues of people who had come to volunteer for the campaign. On that day and for most of the week running up to the election, I was taking groups of people who were campaigning for the first time, and explaining about how to do it. Then we were going canvassing door to door, checking whether people had voted early and giving information about voting to those who hadn't, or who were out.

Each campaigning session lasted about two and a half to three hours, which is quite gruelling even for experienced campaigners, let alone first timers. But the response from the people we spoke to was really good, and the people I campaigned with were fired up and excited about making a difference.

About 3pm, we set off for our third session of the day. There were four of us, including one other Brit, one student called Kevin who had been out canvassing with us for the first time that morning, and an older gentleman called Melvin, who had just turned up at the office and announced that he wanted to 'volunteer for Obama'. We were canvassing apartment blocks in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina.

I explained what we'd be doing, and Melvin looked troubled. "Uh, uh," he said, shaking his head. "I ain't gonna talk to no strangers".

Not ideal for canvassing, but plenty of people are nervous when they hadn't done it before, so Melvin and Kevin went round and did a couple of blocks together, so he could get to see what it was like.

And sure enough, about an hour later, Melvin was knocking on doors and talking to people on his own...and he was great at it, strangers or no strangers. Over the course of three hours, we handed out information to more than 500 households, talked to over 100 people, and Melvin was a superstar - at one stage he did a whole apartment block in the time it took me to have a conversation with just one voter.

We got back to the campaign office, which was being run by organisers from the health workers' union. And as we handed over our tally sheets, I heard them say the words that you never want to hear just after finishing a three hour canvassing session:

"Hi guys, great to see you. We've just got one more little area to do - and just need one person to go and help finish it off. Any volunteers?"

By this time, it was completely dark, it had started to rain heavily, and we'd been going up and down stairs and driveways for hours and hours. Everyone's got their limit, and I'd just reached mine, and I was sure the others felt the same. I was just trying to come up with a suitable excuse when...

"Sure," said Melvin, "I'll go."

Off he went into the pouring rain with another activist, to go talk to a few more people and make sure they went and voted on Tuesday.

And that was the last we saw of him until the next day, when he arrived again at the campaign office to volunteer.


At 10:59 am , Blogger Matt Sellwood said...

Well done for your efforts, Dan! Seems like half of my Facebook friends list was in America this week. I held back because of the flying thing, otherwise I'd've been over there as well.

Any chance you could get some Labour vote-riggers (come on, you can tell else did you manage to get a 6,000 majority in that byelection last night!!) to fly over for a quick stint in the Minnesotta Senate recount?

Hope you're well,


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