Angry Youth! Blog

April 20, 2008

Obama has already changed politics-a volunteer narrative

Filed under: Election — Tags: — mikeyc252 @ 7:55 pm

Grassroots-you may have heard the term this election cycle, but what does it mean? A grassroots campaign is built around small individual donations and volunteering. Sen. Obama has a strong grassroots campaign based on nearly a million and a half donors and a national network of volunteers. For the past few weeks I have been working with the Obama Marion County Township Team.

My first event was going door-to-door, or “canvassing.” Canvassing is more than just knocking on random doors. The Marion County leaders Michael and Charles get targeted voters, ideally undecided, from the Democratic National Committee. I arrived on a chilly April morning at Indy Park to get started. I parked my car and quickly stereotyped the figures huddled under the pavilion.

Michael and Charles were two recent out-of-state college grads fooling with their iPhones. Jeff was a heavy older man with a Bluetooth on his ear and cigarettes in his pocket. A black mom soon arrived with 4 kids, all decked out in Obama wear. The mom would canvass with her kids, I would go with Jeff and the leaders would stay here.

We got a packet of a script, addresses and literature and headed to Jeff’s truck. That was the first maternal rule I broke-getting into a car with someone I barely knew. As we talked in his car, he explained why he supports Sen. Obama. Like many others, he was inspired by his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. Though he’s a lifelong Republican he is committed to getting Sen. Obama into office.

After twenty minutes of driving around we finally reached the apartment complex. Time to roll. It was a hassle holding all the papers but I trucked over to the first apartment. There goes the next maternal rule-always go with a buddy.

The experience was slightly depressing. The apartment complex had a steep turnover rate, so half the addresses were wrong. It’s inhabitants appeared to be lower class, most spoke English with an accent. No matter what their ethnicity, most were apathetic. I asked one disinterested lady if she bought gas. “I’m not interested.”

I’m around news and politics several hours a day and this indifference was foreign to me. Even before I started religiously following the election I was still mildly interested in the cool black dude running for President.

That was my first experience. The next weekend I showed up to canvas again. About 20 people were there and the grill was fired up. I was paired with a middle-aged mom named Elizabeth. Like Jeff, she’s impressed by Sen. Obama’s personal speeches and honesty. She had never canvassed before but told me she regularly watches Meet the Press, which explains why she could easily reference the current state of Obama’s campaign. Another rule broken-my mom instructed me to go with one other kid and two adults.

We were assigned to a small subdivision of smaller, identical houses. Like the Saturday before the majority weren’t home or answering. It was 11, were people really this lethargic? We encountered four Obama supporters, four undecided and three non-supporters out of 30 doors knocked on. Surprisingly I didn’t meet a single Hillary supporter. One of homeowners eloquently stated that “I don’t believe in Barack Obama…whatsoever.”

You can usually predict someone’s response by their house. Lots of kid toys usually meant they were friendly. An elaborate garden commonly belonged to a Obama supporter. A crowded garage and a Punisher sticker on their truck signaled a McCain supporter. Sometimes we purposely marked on untargeted houses because they seemed liberal. I was disappointed the Yaris-owning mom was apolitical.

No matter where you canvass, someone will tell you you’re soliciting. This time it was a grouchy mom playing baseball with her son. I told her we were volunteering for Obama’s campaign, not selling something. “There’s a sign that says no soliciting!” Luckily her house wasn’t targeted anyway, her temper matches very nicely with McCain’s.

We got done quickly and headed back to camp. I was finally able to snag some Obama swag: some buttons, stickers and a yard sign. I encourage people to give money to the Obama campaign but there’s really no reason to pay $4 for a button when they’re this easily accessible. I put the yard sign by our driveway but my dad insisted the bumper stay clean.

I recently read an online account of a Clinton volunteer. The Pennsylvania campaign office was disorganized and restricted by the national HQ. He spend most of his time phone banking; the majority of the volunteers were female college students and moms. Every facet of the Clinton campaign depends on the former First Lady being portrayed in a certain way.

That is why Sen. Obama will succeed. There were numerous demographics at our events. Instead of reading from a script over the phone, we went door to door explaining why we support Sen. Obama. Michael and Charles are free to organize however they want. Political activism has entered the mainstream.

The Obama campaign depends on ultra-local networking and volunteering, while the McCain and Clinton campaign depend on the media and lobbyists. Some call Obama’s pledge to change politics “just talk.” But he already has.

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