Sunday, October 5, 2008
with some vaguely urgent sense of purpose i went to northeast illadelphia to canvass for obama. of course, the fact that volunteers would receive priority tickets to a free springsteen concert helped. over 100 volunteers from nyc came. most of those i spoke with came from the BK and despite appearances, were surprisingly lacking in cynicism. i guess that's to be expected from a crowd that probably got up at 6am to drive or take the train down.
the neighborhood we canvassed was white (maybe there was one potentially hispanic person) and working class. many were senior citizens living on social security and several homes were multi-generational. most of the people we tried weren't home, but those with whom we spoke were largely well-informed and thoughtful.
well, let me correct myself. the day begain inauspiciously as one elderly couple told us they were undecided. the woman said outright, "we're christians and we don't trust that obama because he is a muslim." ask las latinas, but apparently i blanched at her comment. my brain froze for a moment and i tried to recover with a weak "well you know he and his family go to church every week--" "no no, that church, you saw that church. i don't believe it." so i tried an alternate angle, "well, you know senator biden is a churchgoing catholic and has been for a long time." she seemed to soften a little at the mention of biden. i pressed further, "i just don't think senator biden would trust someone he didn't think was honest and jeopardize his country if he really thought senator obama was dangerous." she also told me that she thought we were worse off than we were 8 years ago, but president clinton was horrible and ruined this country with his moral failures.
the undecided voters we spoke with vehemently agreed that bush was horrible for this country and things needed to change. some were unemployed, some were employed but didn't have health insurance, and all were very angry at the bailout. they didn't see how either candidate could fulfill any of their promises considering the government would fall deeper into debt. several of those we spoke with had voted for hillary in the primaries. the logic went something like this: 1) yes, i voted for hillary. 2) yes, i see that obama and hillary's policies are virtually identical. 3) yes, i like joe biden. 4) i just don't know if i can vote for obama.
i didn't follow the logic between 3 and 4, but the fact that mccain is a "maverick," whatever the hell that means at this point, and that they couldn't trust a black man and possible secret muslim meant they were left in a quandry. most everyone expressed deep cynicism at all of the presidents they had seen over the years who had promised them everything and delivered virtually nothing of direct impact. yet everyone adamantly told us that they vote in every election and they were certainly going to vote in this one.
one 19-year-old guy who lived with his parents (according to our spy sheet) answered the door holding his very young daughter. we asked him what he thought about the election and he said, "well, both candidates have their faults. i don't like that mccain doesn't want to give universal healthcare because, y'know, my daughter doesn't have any health insurance right now. but i don't want obama to take away people's guns."
as if the two were of equal merit! what do i know. i'm just a quasi-socialist and possibly elitist canadian. we told him that senator obama wants smarter regulations on guns so they won't be so readily available to everyone, but he had no interest in banning them. that seemed to placate him a little, but we left without any definitive conclusions.
thankfully, we asked one obama supporter (finally!) what contributed to his decision and he said "well, i don't think this country can go on with two wars in afghanistan and iraq. and you know, john mccain is quite old and has health problems and this palin just isn't smart enough." his answer was much more nuanced than that, but i just appreciated that a middle-aged person openly admitted his misgivings about mccain's age and at least one person was suspicious about palin's qualifications.
las latinas and i wanted to hug him.
the day ended on a high note. bruce springsteen gave a free concert in support of obama and voter registration. thanks to my superior tickets, i was probably closer to him than i ever will be. he played an acoustic set of about 8 or 9 songs, including "thunder road," "the ghost of tom joad," and of course, "the rising." he gave a heartfelt speech in the middle of the set about how we tried this four years ago and failed, but we were still going to try again because the country was on a dangerous course. there is something very unironic about my appreciation for bruce. he manages to exude authenticity with his aviator shades, flannel shirt and torn jeans despite his fame and wealth.
ed rendell and bob casey spoke before the concert and rendell issued an ominous but probably accurate warning that this campaign was going to get extremely ugly. sure enough, palin is accusing obama outright of cavorting with terrorists, albeit domestic ones.
so what now? i am pretty worried. the "othering" of obama is easy to do because his background is so exotic. i gave my dad a translated copy of "dreams of my father" and he said to me, "you know, i read the whole thing and i appreciated what he was saying, but i think he should have talked about his mother more. this is not going to help people relate to him much."
las latinas and i repeatedly emphasized to everyone that the democrats have always supported the middle class and these swing voters must not forget history. i just hope that this small handful of people who are going to decide all of our fates make the right choice.