Monday, October 11, 2004

One Foot in Front of the Other

This weekend, D. and I drove to Reno to campaign in a swing state -- a place where people's votes are seriously going to matter -- for John Kerry. I thought we'd be going riding high on the heels of his decisive victory at the debate on Friday night -- seriously, I was cheering him on everytime he opened his mouth and outright laughing at the president's fumbles and defensive posturing throughout the debate (as were each of the people I watched it with, all of us sometimes even squirming for Bush, he looked so totally whupped to us). I could not have been more stunned, then, to watch CNN's follow-up coverage and hear that one of the undecided voters they had in the studio had decided to vote for Bush after that debate.

Actually, it scared me. It's more evidence of something that's made me uneasy since before the campaign season even heated up -- we really are two Americas right now. I do not understand, truly, I don't, coming to the conclusion that George W. Bush is more right for America after that debate than John F. Kerry. I think I've come a very long way in feeling less and less alienated from Bush's supporters, generally and personally. I get it that they just want what's best for the country, too -- but that we fundamentally disagree about what makes America so special, so important to defend, much less how to go about it. I try not to lose my cool when people tell me they're going to vote for Bush. I just ask them why.

And then I try not to rant back at them about how crazy it is to believe Bush is the right candidate.

After Friday's debate, rather than rant some more, we decided to try to do something to help get the right candidate elected. We got up bright and early on Saturday morning and arrived at the Reno campaign headquarters before 10a. They gave us a precinct map to canvass, with a list of registered voters who were likely to vote for Kerry or on the fence, in order to try to convince them to vote early (in NV you can start voting October 16 through the 28th in the general election, which is otherwise held on November 2nd) or by mail.

Supposedly, the campaign staff had already been to our precinct several times over the last year, but I doubt it. For one thing, most of our precinct was made up of very low income, huge and spawling apartment complexes. The kind of places where the staircases are rotting out, "porch" or outside lights are broken up, and everyone has multiple locks on their doors. Probably 50 percent of the folks who actually opened the doors to us had never heard of the person we had on the list; and of them, at least 1 in 3 mentioned that they'd moved in within the last three months. Second, two of the addresses were at a Vagabond Inn hotel. Needless to say, those people were no longer there either. I'd be curious to know if they ever were.

No one answered the door at 70% of the addresses --- which, if you're keeping up with the math means that about 15% of the time, we spoke to the person we'd been sent to find and try to convince to vote for Kerry early or by mail. It was long day in the sun. Our feet were aching by the time we were on our way home. I still feel tired.

But I'm very happy to report that of all of the people we talked to who were not already adamantly decided to vote either for Kerry or against Bush (by voting, obviously, for Kerry) --- and happy to do so early --- it really seemed like we did manage to make a difference. As a tag team, D. working the strictly rational arguments, and me working the emotional ones, our earnest friendly passionate appeals convinced several completely neutral people to lean toward Kerry, and some fence sitters already tending toward Kerry to commit to him. It was incredibly rewarding not only to feel like we'd "won them over" but, more, to feel a resurgent faith that people care about the things I care about: the integrity and protection of our Constitution, the environment, the looming deficit, the education and health care of our children, a safety net for the elderly and disabled -- and being smart, careful, conscientious (and honest!) about our use of force in the world.

In Nevada, the race might be won by as few as a 1,000 votes. Next weekend, we'll be pounding the sidewalk again, one foot in front of the other, to gather a few more.