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Monday, November 24th, 2014


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Experiences on the Campaign Trail

I usually commute between Maryland and New York City, but I’ve spent the last month volunteering for Obama in Pennsylvania, because the Keystone State’s 21 electoral votes will be decisive in this presidential election. Many of the swing voters live in Philly’s inner suburbs—where I am now.

Today—Tuesday, November 4—we elect the next president. Until last Saturday, the Obama campaign focused on identifying supporters and persuading undecided voters. But for the last four days of the campaign, we’re putting all our efforts into Get Out the Vote (GOTV) to make sure our supporters get to the polls. Before this weekend, we had a dozen core volunteers. Now we have hundreds. We’ve been calling people for months, asking for a few hours of their time. For GOTV, we’ve also combined forces with Patrick Murphy’s congressional campaign. Murphy personally campaigned for Obama in the New Hampshire primary, and, as the only Iraq War veteran in Congress, he plugged Obama’s national security credentials by endorsing Obama for president in August 2007.

I’ve done most of my canvassing in Levittown, a predominantly white, suburban planned community. Black families have historically had a tough time in Levittown. Though things have changed, it’s hard to tell which way Levittown will turn in this election—where one of the chief unknowns is whether the majority of voters will pull a lever for a black man. Most folks are welcoming, but the other day I knocked on a door and a woman shouted from inside her house, “I don’t want a Muslim!” Yesterday, as I dropped literature, a man driving past hollered, “Ayers is a terrorist and Obama is too!”

McCain is pouring money into Pennsylvania, pulling staff out of other states and shipping them here. With McCain closing in on Obama’s lead, political organizations like Move On, as well as both official campaigns, are showering Levittown with canvassers and phone calls. Some people snap at me, “You’re the fourth one this month!” even if the local Obama headquarters hasn’t sent a canvasser there since July. Sometimes we worry that we’re harassing voters. While studies have confirmed that face-to-face conversation is the most effective way to raise voter turnout, some findings suggest that canvassing may be less fruitful if other campaigns canvass the same turf and saturate voters. Yet, whenever I knock on doors, I meet people who haven’t talked with anyone from the Obama camp and are happy to speak to me.

I also canvass lower-income, mostly black apartment complexes in Morrisville. Fewer people answer the door, but the contacts I make are more rewarding. Lots of people want to volunteer for the campaign. No one ever yells at me for interrupting their afternoon nap.
Two days ago, I approached a woman sitting on her balcony. “Do you know where your polling place is?”

 “Can you get me registered?” she asked.

I had to tell her that voter registration in Pennsylvania ended on October 6. So many people I meet want to register to vote but don’t know how.

When I’m not canvassing or working at the campaign office, I check the polls obsessively—even though I distrust them. Last night on FiveThirtyEight.com, I was thrilled to see that McCain’s probability of winning had dropped to 1.9%.

I have little time or space here to detail the myriad reasons why I’m campaigning for Obama. Full disclosure: I have always voted Democratic, because the Democrats—despite their manifold foibles—are historically more effective at fighting poverty and social injustice and at helping the whole economic system, rather than granting tax cuts and other benefits to corporations and wealthy individuals and expecting the riches to trickle down. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work in theory or in practice: researchers have consistently found lower growth rates in nations that grant a larger portion of the national income to the top earners, while nations that give larger shares to low- and middle-income earners have higher growth rates. Corporate executives don’t lose their work ethic when they pay higher taxes, and slashing public services hurts the rich as well as the poor.

In the current crisis, it is more urgent than ever to put a Democrat in the White House. I urge readers to vote for the candidate who is more likely to crack down on carbon emissions, provide health coverage for the uninsured, get us out of Iraq responsibly, repair the Bush administration’s butchery the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and mend our nation’s image in the eyes of the world. 

Lisa Montanarelli is a freelance writer based in New York City. Visit her at www.LisaNY.com. She recently revised and updated The First Year–Hepatitis C (Marlowe 2007)).

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