Monthly Archives: September 2008

Two Saturdays in Kalamazoo

headquartersNot much point going door to door in my neighbourhood, so on the 6th I drove up to Kalamazoo with a few friends to see if they could put us to use. Our first stop was campaign headquarters, where we found a huge crowd of volunteers from Illinois being put into service by the efficient Kalamazoo staff. They gave us a choice. We could canvas in a well-to-do suburb, or we could do voter registration on the north side of town, a poorer predominantly African American neighbourhood. We chose the latter, figuring we would at least get a good welcome in an area that was bound to be pro Obama, and we were right. Everywhere we went we were greeted with friendly smiles and little children followed us saying “Obama? Obama?” Almost everyone was already registered and excited to vote, and many had stickers or signs and were doing volunteer work themselves. The majority of new people we registered were ex-offenders who were stunned when we told them they were legally entitled to vote in Michigan. One man sticks out in my memory. No doubt poorly educated — he let his girlfriend fill out the form for him — he was very bright. “We need change,” he said, “Things can’t keep going the way they have been.”

registrationWe were able to return again to Kalamazoo this past Saturday, and this time we went straight to a house in a pretty tree-lined suburb, welcomed by a woman juggling us and her daughter’s soccer game. She told us her husband was in the electrical union but had been laid off, and was delighted to get a position on the Obama campaign. When I donate money, I always think of it going to ads and fliers. It was nice to think that some of it going to people too. Before we left to canvas, we were taught a new way to approach potential supporters. We were not to deluge them with policy positions or debate the issues, but find out what their biggest concerns are and then create an emotional bond of empathy between us before trying to connect them to something in Obama’s life or positions that would address their concerns. Basically, we were going out telling people, “I am like you and Barack is like me.” They had a lovely glossy brochure printed up, heavy on the biography and family photos, designed to show that Obama gets where they come from, that his story is their story. It came in handy with our most memorable visit that day. This was to an elderly woman in a nursing home. We had no idea what to expect, because just before we spoke to her we spoke to the only PUMA I have ever met. “Have you thought about voting for Obama?” we asked. “Is he the…the Black?” she responded. Our hearts sank. We started to talk about his mother and his grandparents in Hawaii, but she paid no attention. “Because I don’t care about any of that,” she said, meaning his race, “We need a change. I think I am going to vote for the Democrat this time.” She told us about growing up in Bridgeport and being a poll worker for the first Mayor Daley, of seeing racism first hand in her neighbourhood and hating it. We opened the brochure and showed her the Christmas card photo of the Obamas. “What a lovely family he has,” she said.

Joe Biden

gardenI had the the great fortune tonight, through the kindness of some wonderful fellow Chicagoans, to be able to attend a fundraising reception at which Joe Biden was the guest of honour. As my loyal readers will remember, I didn’t know much about him before he was chosen as the VP candidate, but I was so impressed with what I saw in Springfield and everything since then, that I jumped at the chance.
The reception was at a private house, and we stood around chatting for a bit over wine and nibblies before we were ushered out to the garden which had cement steps in the back. almost as if it had been designed for open-air theatre — or itinerant speech-making vice presidential candidates.
bidenspeechFinally, the guest of honour arrived, and we hung on his every word.  He had some notes written up, but he put them in his pocket and spoke off the cuff for a few moments.  This was a speech that was given far from the press to an enthusiastic and intimate audience of supporters and friends.  What impressed me the most was his awareness of the critical nature of this moment he has become part of, the opportunity for real change we have now and maybe only now.  After he spoke, he answered a few questions, one not surprisingly about how he is going to handle Gov. Palin in the debates.  His answer was revealing.  He said that this was a question that might have made sense thirty five years ago, when he was first upclosein the Senate and there were very few women in politics.  But he has been debating all kinds of strong and powerful women for years.  This is going to be nothing new for him. You may be afraid, but he is totally unfazed.
There was a brief chance to talk more informally after the questions were over. I was enormously impressed by every moment of this evening. Joe Biden is a man who knows what he’s doing, why he’s doing it (and who he’s in this for), and how to do it best. We should all have such a strong sense of purpose.