Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Romance of Campaigning

Because of the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot last night, I don't think I remembered to tell you what I was going to do today. Let's catch up with a snippet from my Obama blog, Outpost Tucson:

Oh, drat, their site is down again.

Well, anyway.

I wrote recently that being shy (and adverse to confrontation, although I didn't mention that), I'm not up for making phone calls and going door to door for Barack Obama, or for anyone else. I figured my only contributions to the cause would therefore be the little bits of money I managed to donate before my unemployment made it impossible, plus any blogging I'm inspired to do on the subject.

But on Monday afternoon, I got a call from a volunteer, asking me to volunteer. When I told her I wasn't comfortable with making phone calls or ringing doorbells (the latter activity is called "walking and talking," or a "walk and talk," apparently), she suggested I could do office work. "Can you do data entry?"

I told her that as an accountant, half of my professional life involves data entry. (As much as accounting processes should be automated by now, you'd be surprised how much raw typing is involved sometimes, or copy-pasting.)

"Are you familiar with Excel?"

I think I laughed. She immediately said, "That's probably a stupid question, isn't it?"

Anyway, bottom line is, I agreed to come in and do data entry from 1 PM to 4 PM on Tuesday through Friday of this week. I didn't commit beyond that, in case lightning strikes and I get a job.

So today I found my way to an odd little discontinuous stretch of 1st St. behind Speedway. I had been a little surprised that there even was an Obama HQ in Tucson, since it's John McCain's constituency and the new statewide Obama office in Phoenix was just announced in email last week, with no mention of a Tucson one. When I actually arrived at the place, though, all was revealed. It was the Pima County Democratic Headquarters. There were so many campaign signs on the wall outside for so many different races that I looked them over three times before I found the Obama one. It was buried in something like the third row down, the smallest sign.

The table I worked at, in a room with many campaign signs.

Inside, though, it quickly became clear that much of the activity was centered on getting Obama elected. I found myself speaking to several people and being gradually conducted counterclockwise around an entire rectangle of rooms with tables, a few cubicles and a couple actual offices. I filled in a form, and they hoped to put me to work updating lists of volunteers. One problem: they didn't have a computer available for me to use.

No problem. I drove home and brought back mine.

I ended up working until just after 5 PM, sharing a folding table with several other volunteers doing similar work. One of them joked that we were a table of Old White Women (which in my mind, I immediately abbreviated as OWW). I refrained from mentioning that I'm not even close to 60 years old. I'm not sure I got as much work done as I should have, because of a very minor learning curve, a few technical issues, and (mostly) because we were enjoying each other's company a little too much. I'll do better tomorrow.

The guy in charge was smart and funny and appreciative. He said that the retro shirt I was wearing reminded him of Good 'N' Plenty. From now on, that's my Good 'N' Plenty shirt. He said something about some people not wanting to do volunteer work once they learn it's "not glamorous. It's appreciated, but not glamorous." Once people find out it's not about getting to meet George Clooney, he said, they don't want to do it.

I said that it might not be glamorous, but there's a certain romantic idealism to it. I mentioned my childhood friend Joel, who was working for Eugene McCarthy's election back when we were in sixth grade. I didn't give details, but here in the blog I'll tell you that I never thought I could get involved in social or political causes the way Joel did and and still does. But I admired him for doing in, and still do. The coordinator said that McCarthy came to Tucson in the 1980s for a poetry festival.

I see Rose Mofford, and Janet Napolitano, and...!

In the front of the HQ are books and framed photos. The photos are of past and present Democratic presidents and governors and so on. Three of them are of JFK: a portrait, an enlarged photo of him with two men I don't recognize, and a 1960 campaign poster. I don't want to call the area with the campaign poster a shrine, but in a secular way it almost is, at least for me. As a lifelong democrat who actually remembers the day JFK was shot, I was impressed to be working in a room decked out with vintage Kennedy stuff, and nearly 50 years of party history.

Drat. I messed up with the flash.

It's probably facile to compare JFK with Barack Obama, but I'm going to do it anyway. In 1960, Kennedy had to deal with mistrust on the part of some people because he was *gasp* a Roman Catholic. Obama is carrying a similar burden several times over, as a black man with a mixed parentage that I think was still illegal in some places in 1960. If that's not enough, xenophobic idiots get all aflutter about his Muslim-sounding middle name, and accuse him of being secretly part of the one religion it's socially acceptable to hate, at least in some quarters. Throw in an anti-intellectual charge of elitism and other spurious claims, and you have an effective bit of what John calls "hate porn."

I bet these guys were inspired by their candidate too.

But if Obama has an exaggerated version of Kennedy's challenge as a member of a mistrusted minority, he also has some of Kennedy's strengths. He's smart and articulate and funny, with great rhetorical skills. He has relative youth, charisma, and a rare combination of optimism, idealism and pragmatism. Like Kennedy, Obama inspires others to do for their country, to believe they can do more than they ever thought they could accomplish. From what I saw today, I'm just one of millions of people who are inspired and enthusiastic and accomplishing things after decades of depression and disappointment and cynicism.

Will it all translate to a win in November, or fall before the constant onslaught of lies and hate porn, and all come to nothing? Can we overcome both open and hidden bigotry, ignorance and greed, honest disagreement, voter fraud, deliberate falsehood and reckless disregard for the truth? If he's elected, can we expect policies to be made and laws enacted that start to make things better than they are now?

Okay, so it's not a certainty. Far from it.

But yes we can.


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