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Friday, October 24, 2008

Early Voting and Volunteering for Change: Lets turn Florida Blue!

I early voted! It was easy, despite reports I have heard all week about long lines. The short line I encountered may have had something to do with the early hour (8AM) and the pouring rain. I couldn't find the poling place and walked about in the rain for some time looking for it. The sidewalks were flooded and the rain soaked through my hat, my windbreaker, my jeans and my sneakers. But it was worth it. Whoohooo! Go Obama!

Everybody in the polling place was in a good mood. Well, almost everybody. There was one middle aged white men who scowled at me steadily the whole time I was there. How sad! The 40 people sitting in the polling place (yes, thats right! We had chairs! Too cool!) were an even mixture of African American, Latino Americans, Asian American, and Euro-Americans. In fact it was the most diverse group of people I have ever seen in Volusia county.  Real democracy! I could not stop smiling. 

My chairmate, a well-dressed African American woman on her way to work, meanwhile was stressing about our numbers. She was afraid we would be there all day and she would be late for work. When we arrived we were all given the kind of numbers the butcher gives you and then directed into the polling room. They had a lovely neon LED sign displaying the number being served. We were given  #405 and #406 and the sign was calling for 99. She got very worried. Where are the 300 people who got here before us? And how did they manage to beat us there at 8:15?

Fortunately for her, the numbers were misleading. In ten minutes we were called. And the news just gets better! No computer ballots. No chad ballots. We colored in little bubbles next to our favorite candidates and propositions and deposited them into a big ballot eating machine guarded by one black man and one white man. I feel my ballot is safe. They thanked me for early voting about five times!

I voted against prop 2 which the anti-gay lobby got put on the ballot in their efforts to prevent gay folks from getting married. I am worried about that one. Why are straight people so insecure about their partnerships? Well, I guess if I was a straight man I might be afraid of lesbians. Men can't really compete in the bedroom, can they?........anywho......

After voting I decided to truck my sopping wet, overly ethusiastic self on over to the Obama campaign headquarters to volunteer. I was there so early they weren't open yet but the one intern that was there setting up kindly let me in anyway. He was nice and unassuming and explained the phonebanking to me. He was nothing like the racist white lady who had greeted me that last time I went to volunteer. Refreshing!

At 9 Am he handed me a cell phone and a ridiculously thick multi-page list of names and phone numbers. Three hours later, I had made it through 4 sheets of paper, had called over 70 people, talked to 15, left about 50 messages and tallied up many Obama voters. 

Many of the people on my list were elderly and cranky. They were fun! Nobody wanted to early vote and few had time to volunteer (the standard response to my suggestion that they early vote was  something along the lines of "I'm votin' on votin' day!") but a couple of people gave nice speeches about how great Obama is. They were very enthusiastic.  All but two said they were voting for Obama. Nobody said they were voting for McCain. One 83 year old lady said she was too old to vote (and no she did not want a ride to the polls) but we chatted about her ailing health for awhile before she realized she didn't know me.

There was one man who went off on a rant yelling in my ear that Obama was a liar and was gonna raise our taxes. That was one of my first calls, what a shocker. What do you say to someone like that? I started trying to explain Barack's tax plan to him but it quickly became obvious that engagement was of no interest to him. He called Obama a commie and hung up on me. Really?

After only being there about an hour I became the  source of some campaign office buzz when I reported a case of what appeared to be a possible voting scam recounted to me by a Latina citizen I called. She explained to me that she regrettably could not vote as she was still awaiting her citizenship papers to arrive in the mail but that both her husband and her son were planning to vote. Her husband was worried because someone had called them the night before and told them that the husband was "not on their list" and would not be able to vote. Was that true, she asked me?

I explained to her that nobody on a phone could tell her whether or not she could vote and that she should send hubby to the polls. She told me that the people on the phone said the hubby might not be able to vote for Obama because he was registered as a Republican. "We used to be Republicans but we don't want to vote for Republicans anymore,"she explained. She was really worried.

All the bigwhigs in the office were worried it was a scam. The main Obama field officer asked me one question: was this woman Latina? Yes, I replied, surprised she knew that when I had not told her about the accent or the citizenship issue. She explained that Republicans have been targeting Latino voters and trying to intimidate them out of voting. Scary!

I called the woman back and encouraged her to go vote ASAP. She assured me she had just called her husband and he was on his way. That's right, McCain thugs, you are no match for Obama volunteers!

Are the Republicans that desperate? Really!

On an up note, two African American sistas came to phonebank with me and we had some laughs in between our phone calls. Both had volunteered before and one was volunteering at the polls on election day as well. Impressive! Some of the white folks started to give us hostile looks (too much laughing I guess) and one started to make condescending comments to the older black lady and I knew it was time for me to leave. It was just a matter of time before I was gonna say something. 

I am not a southerner and my tolerance for bad behavior from racists is much lower than it is for the average southern African American. As one Black man in Alabama (who I had a chat with about racism at a rest stop) explained to me once when I was driving to Fl from Seattle, I am what southern white folks call an "outside agitator from up north." I actually get indignant when confronted with racism, speak my mind and confront racists head on. Trouble!

I wish I could volunteer everyday but for some reason I have this annoying thing called a job. Florida is  still a battle-ground state. We need to turn it blue! Hurry, hurry before another racist girl makes up another sorry story about black knife-wielding  Obama supporters targeting McCain voters! Sister, please!

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