Thursday, October 30, 2008

My experience BaRACKing the vote

I know my month-long absence means nobody will be reading this, but - I'm back, nonetheless.

Gentle Reader, trust me when I say you've been better for my absence, because I have been pathologically obsessed with the election and the polls. It's not pretty, though I know I'm not alone. The other night we had dinner with my friend Megan, and at one point I heard myself saying "I feel so much better after talking to you because you're WAY crazier than I am."

In the past few days I attempted to channel my anxiety into something other than obscene amounts of cable news-watching and internet poll-checking, by knocking on doors for the Obama campaign. These folks are crazy-organized, let me tell you. You get your list of people, with their polling place and ballot type, and a map. You get literature and talking points and a phone number to call for anyone whose absentee ballot went missing, or who has a problem with their voter registration. So off I went.

Both times, I was assigned to some hard-knock parts of my neighborhood. These were some of the lowest-income areas of a low-income part of town. And it says something in Seattle when you can spend four hours knocking on doors, and only talk to one white person. I also only talked to two undecided people, and no McCain voters. So really I spent my time making sure people knew how to vote. And boy, was that satisfying.

I encountered a number of people who had questions about where to vote, or who hadn't received their absentee ballot, so I was (hopefully) able to help them actually vote. I met so many first-time voters, including many recently naturalized citizens. They were so excited, some of them invited me in so they could run through what they needed to do and make sure they understood. I met a family of east African women, all voting for the first time, who proudly reported that they'd already mailed in their ballots, and then they erupted into a happy kind of dance, cheering "Obama, Obama, Obama!"

At one point I caught a woman who was heading to her car, and she looked wary when I approached her. I explained my purpose, and she affirmed that everyone in her house knew what to do and that they were all voting Obama/Gregoire. As I walked away, she pulled up next alongside me in her car. "You know, I'm from Africa," she said, "and recently I was back home for a visit. And in Africa, they are all watching us. The world is watching what we do in this election. It is terribly important, because our choice will affect the whole world."

I don't know what it would be like to do get-out-the-vote work in Georgia, or Indiana. Maybe different, maybe not. But here, it was so inspiring. Not only to see all these people inspired to vote, excited about casting their first vote, determined to vote for change. But even just to get deeper into this neighborhood that I've called home for nearly 15 years, to walk down a block that intimidates me a little bit because I stand out so much, and to meet these people who are my neighbors, so different from me and from each other in many ways, but all holding firm to the belief that our vote can make a difference to the world.

A PS re: Obama and Africa - a relevant Doonsbury...