Getting Out the Vote for Obama in Virginia

I live in a very liberal town in a very liberal county in a very liberal state. So Obama’s win is assured here. But I also live near Virginia, a state that will be decisive in Tuesday’s election, since the count is very close there at the moment. So what’s a solid-blue-state gal supposed to do? Go to Virginia, of course.

Ted was approached last week by an Obama organizer outside the food co-op here in Takoma Park. He told her he was too busy for campaigning and went inside to shop, but he felt guilty about that and talked with her some more upon exiting. A few emails and phone calls later, we were both signed up for canvassing somewhere in Virginia on  Saturday.

We showed up at the appointed parking lot at 8 a.m., greeted by Congressman John Sarbanes from a nearby congressional district and lots of other volunteers. Some were heading to Virginia Beach for the weekend; we signed up for a day outing and were paired with two women, one of whom had a car. 

We set out for Springfield, VA, to a house that had Obama-Biden signs of varying sizes planted all over the yard, and bumper stickers plastered over both cars in the driveway.  Our favorite was: “We’re not perfect, but they’re nuts.”

We got a sense of the organizing skills required for this kind of work. The homeowners had set up stations throughout the living room and kitchen: first, sign in; second, get a little training about what canvassing in nearby neighborhoods would be like; then get packets with the street numbers and the names of the occupants of those homes that we were to visit. These targets are expected Obama supporters but they are not committed voters, often sitting out midterm elections and primary races, so the goal was to encourage them to vote and tell us their plan for getting to the polls that day.

With Obama buttons and stickers on our coats we got dropped off in the middle of a neighborhood and started walking the streets: Ted had a list of residents to visit on one long road, and I had a list of residents on side streets nearby.

It was disappointing that so many people weren’t home, and we just got to leave door hangers that promoted the Obama-Biden ticket and Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate. But I did have a few people answer the door: a teenager whose parents had left the country for quite awhile (or so he said); a young woman who wasn’t on my list but she assured me she was a straight Democratic-ticket voter;  an elderly woman who said she “can’t stand that Romney” (I said that was a little bit harsh but I appreciate her support). My favorite stop was at a townhouse where an elderly, disabled man who looked like he might originally be from Pakistan or Afghanistan proudly showed me his new voter registration card and inquired about where he could vote that day under early voting rules because he was’t sure he’d be up for it on Tuesday;  I was able to direct him to an early-voting site.

It was pretty cold, probably in the 40s, and I thankfully had gloves on. So I wasn’t too disappointed when we returned to the staging house after two hours and were told that a lot more volunteers had arrived for another shift, so we weren’t needed there any longer.

We were pumped up to help, though, so returned to Silver  Spring and to the Obama campaign offices there to make some phone calls. The small meeting rooms were jammed with volunteers working off the phone numbers and a script provided on computer screens; some were using paper information forms in the hallways. A kitchen had lunch food and snacks.

We used our own cell phones to reach people listed in the computer database; each screen came up with a person’s name and phone number, the script we were to use and blank spaces to input the respondents’ answers to certain questions: Are they going to vote for President Obama? Are they going to vote for Tim Kaine? If they’re undecided, or leaning toward Mitt Romney, what is the most important issue to them in making a decision? And if they name something, we were to talk with them a little bit about how Obama addresses that concern.

Hardly anyone I called in 1 1/2 hours was at home. I reached a few solid Obama supporters — one whose wife was out herself knocking on doors — and a couple of Romney voters and one who said it waas his right not to talk with me about it. I couldn’t tell if one guy was joking with me when he said he didn’t know that Tuesday was election day, but as I talked with him further it became clear that he might have some cognitive issues. 

It was interesting meeting some of the really dedicated campaign volunteers. Our driver in the morning had traveled to some poor rural areas of Pennsylvania four years ago to get out primary votes for Hillary Clinton. A woman sitting next to me in a phone-calling room had earlier in the day been calling people to support a marriage equality law in Maryland. One guy was going to Virginia on election day as a “protection” worker, which he explained means going to a voting site and making sure that poll workers don’t tell voters that they have to produce forms of ID that aren’t really required.

It was a fun experience, and gratifying to support get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts and exciting to be part of activities to sway voters in a key swing state.

I may return to the phone-calling offices on Sunday or Monday, since the office is just a few blocks from where I work.


About mariannedc

I just moved from Albany, NY, to the Washington, DC, area and many friends and former co-workers want to hear about my life here. So this seemed like a great way to do that.
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