Saturday, April 12, 2008


I got a call form the Obama organization yesterday asking me to do some canvassing today. If you know me, you know that I am not a big door-to-door guy, but in an attempt to overcome myself, I didn't immediately say no. The woman I was talking to--Cindy, I believe--informed me this was a voter registration drive. I volunteered on this basis. For some reason, I'd rather be not be in a position where I am trying to persuade someone I don't know to agree with me. Or at least I don't want to argue with people. I especially don't want to be out trying to convince HRC supporters that BHO is the better alternative. I believe so, but my belief is based on a very nebulous "He makes me feel something no other politician has made me feel (I think they call it hope)." Not really a reason for any HRC supporter to switch sides. But voter reg I can do. They wanted me for three hours, but said I could do it for as long as I wanted--after about an hour, hour-and-a-half, I am done with door-to-door.

So, I showed up at 10 am and there was a decent crowd there milling about. There was a line at a main desk, so I got in line figuring it was some sort of check-in. Apparently not, as when I got the front and gave them my name they kind of just looked at me and told me to find a seat and things would start soon. As I began milling about, an older African American guy came in and said he was there to volunteer. He asked if he could get a lawn sign. The woman behind the counter told him he had to buy them. He reacted as I reacted four years ago when I had to buy a Kerry sign, with a "Wait a minute, I have to pay to advertise for the candidate?" As he was talking to her, some college-age kids came in and walked into the back room, obviously organizers. One of them walks over to the African American guy and reaches right in front of him to hand the woman behind the counter a cup of coffee, interrupting the conversation, then walked away. It was rude. The black guy gave him a look that said, well I guess it could have said a lot of things, but to me it said, "What the fuck? Did you just act like I'm not here?" I found it an amazing interaction. We're there to canvass for the first African-American in American history with a realistic chance to capture a major party nomination, there's one black face in the room and he was just treated like it was 1960 and we were in Selma.

That disturbing incident aside, the main organizer dude, Matt Kessler, showed up and we began the orientation. I know the guy's name is Matt Kessler because he was wearing his backstage pass from the Obama rally. This makes him a dork, but I let it pass because I was the only one wearing an Obama shirt, so I guess I am a dork too. Matt informs us that we'll be going door-to-door to get people to sign up to vote for Obama. In his schpeel, he mentions that if you run into Independents or Greens, we should encourage them to re-register Dem so they can vote Obama. He mentioned that he, himself, was an Independent until January, when he registered Dem so he could vote for Obama. Although it wasn't said, Matt made it clear that we were there to register voters for Obama and the Dmeocratic party was not that important. I have something of a problem with this, as I am a Democrat first and foremost. I support Obama because he's a Dem. If he was a Republican (and that accusation has been made), I would not be voting for him.

That aside, they eventually started passing out packets. They were handing them around the room and the woman who was passing them out deliberately skipped past the African-American gentleman. She handed one to the woman standing next to him, moved right past him, and handed a packet to the two 16 year-olds standing on the other side of him. The look on his face said "unbelievable" and I head him say under his breath "forget about it." Watching his body language you could see he was struggling with whether to stay or go. As he stayed, another woman (who was wearing leopard ears on a headband despite being an overweight 40 year-old white woman, not a Japanese teenager) noticed that the black man did not get a packet and called out "We need more packets." I had not gotten a packet either, so I walked over the black man and said, "Looks like we're in the same boat." He gave me a look that I interpreted as saying "You will never be in the boat I am in right now." So, one of the organizers got more packets and called out, "Who needs these?" The African-American guy said, "I do" at the same time I said, "We didn't get them." The organizer, with multiple packets in his hand, walks past the black guy, hands me a packet, turns and walks away. I was shocked. I think leopard-ears was shocked. The African-American guy got the message and walked out. I was tempted to go after him and try to find out what the hell was going on. I regret that I didn't. Leopard ears did get up and ran after him. When she came back, she said that he had said that he left because he as "discouraged." I'm not sure how much of his interactions she had witnessed that day, but she seemed to think that it was his failing.

I should have just walked then and there, but I didn't. I thought maybe that this guy was some sort of troublemaker or problem and the campaign organizers had decided the only way to deal with him was to treat him like he didn't exist. It is the only explanation that made any sense. As I tried to figure out what the hell just happened. If there was any kind of explanation other than the obvious, that he was some sort of problem guy was the only thing I could come up with. Not the way I would have dealt with him, but I wanted to give the organizers the benefit of the doubt. I couldn't have just witnessed three different Obama organizers treat the only black man in the room like he didn't exist, right? I didn't just see that.

I started to walk to my car to drive to my route, but I turned and went back in. I wanted to ask someone what the explanation was. I wanted to know that I did not just witness that. I stood to wait for the main organizer guy (not Matt, a different guy) I chickened out. What was he going to say to me? He wasn't going to give me a straight answer either way. Not sure there was an explanation any way.

As I drove over to the Whit where I was supposed to canvass a couple of other things occurred to me. A lot of people where noticing that there were only 5 or so voter registration cards in their packets, despite the fact that we each had around 100 names. It dawned on me that I wasn't really being sent out to do voter registration, this was just a straight up Obama canvass. That 90% of the people on my list were already registered Dems confirmed this for me. It also occurred to me that I no longer had very many good reasons for someone to support Obama. I know he shouldn't be judged by people who represent him that he has probably never met, but I wasn't feeling too terribly good about the Obama campaign right then. Plus, as I mentioned before, I hate going door-to-door.

So I bailed on my route. Actually, I drove in circles around the neighborhood a few times thinking it over before I bailed, but the fact that no one ever took my name or have any idea who they gave that particular packet to helped. I don't think it'll be too great of a loss to them. To make myself feel better guilt-wise I called my sister and got her a voter registration card since she recently moved.

I'm trying not to be over-dramatic about this, but I think my vote is back up for grabs. My support of Obama was always based more on personality and rhetoric than policy. That is tarnished now. He still has the advantage of not being Hillary, but I am definitely persuadable now.


lexdexter said...

so if your reason for supporting Obama has to do with how he "makes you feel" - mine too, i'm not dissing - should you really forgo your support if his representatives don't make you feel that way?

sorry i didn't return your invitation, btw. we probably would've guilted each other into actually doing the door-to-doors.

dave3544 said...

I know it makes little sense, but there we are. It was a bizarrely off-putting morning.

Jen said...

I have gotten calls from the Obama campaign, but have not gone canvassing for anything so I'm impressed that you went. But to have witnessed the despicable irony and the misleading tasks - well that just sucks, how disappointing. I have no data, but I "hope" that situation is not prevalent all over the country. Probably is, though, huh?

Wes said...

Seems like you should contact the campaign and ask for that explanation before taking action. Maybe stop by the office again and talk to someone.

Anonymous said...

Okay-I have my issues with Obama, just like any good marxist would but do you think that the hilary camp would have been any different with this guy? Maybe your issue is that you are upset that organizers campaigning for a candidate of color are being hypocritical but what are the chances that the women are making the coffee, buying the sodas, scheduling the meetings, and making the damn signs for the Hilary campaign? Obama and his group have their problems but voting for Hil is only another set of problems and hypocritial nonesense (i.e. obama is "elitist" - okay Wesleyan, Yale, New York, First Lady) so go with your guts and then when the time is right, organize to push these bastards to the left of where they're comfortable.