Tag Archives: community activism

Joining the Circus – Volunteering in a “Battleground” State

Back in September, before the first debate, things were looking good for the President, but the voter suppression stuff was worrisome especially in Pennsylvania.  I kept seeing a clip of that sleaze-ball Republican legislator saying that voter identification would win the state for Romney. Having once gone through the arduous process of helping an elderly non-driving relative get a photo ID, I knew there was a good chance he was right.

So I was primed and ready when I got an e-mail from Kal Penn urging me to leave safely Democratic New York and move to a battleground state to work for the re-election of the President.

(Kal and I aren’t close.  We’ve never met, but like Michele and Barack he sometimes sends me and millions of other Americans e-mails.)

Being one of the lucky ones who could afford and get several weeks liberty, I answered the call and ran away from home to join the circus.  I was sent to Reading, PA where I’ve mostly been knocking on doors, making phone calls, and practicing the español.

From the day I arrived on October 4th through October 9th, the focus was on registering new voters and helping those who’d moved to change their address. There were also phone calls to and canvassing of registered voters, persuading the persuadable, and gently reminding the mildly and even enthusiastically supportive that every vote counts and this is their chance to help make history.

What I learned that first week was that America is greatly in need of civics lessons and voter education.   Many people wanted to register but didn’t know much about how.  While Pennsylvania encourages registration at it’s Motor Vehicles Department, they don’t offer much else.  People aren’t aware that changing your address at the post office doesn’t change it at the Board of Elections, or what it means to register with a party.   People, who may be enthusiastic about voting for the President, aren’t aware that there are elections more than once every four years and voting in those elections could make the President’s job much easier. Some acted as though the whole process was not only hopeless, but a bit sordid, not something with which they would ever involve themselves.

All this reminds me of ivy-educated Rick Santorum telling people that wanting to send your kids to college makes you an “elitist,” and how dare those lousy elitists assume you’d want to do any such thing. I can easily imagine the Republicans who have done so much to keep the numbers down in the voting booths, doing it even more blatantly if they get in, while trying to convince the suppressed that it’s for their own good.  “Those lousy democrats, they want to make you leave your house and wait on lines to do something you don’t even want to do.  It’s like the Soviet Union.  It’s worse than Hitler! Join us in voting now to repeal voting forever!”

While celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyonce have done their best to make supporting the President a thing, voter education has to be supported and people who live in a democracy need to understand how it actually works from the most levels to the highest.

In addition to helping turn out the vote in November, the real mission of being here is to convey enthusiasm for the democratic process.  It’s not just about helping to ensure the re-election of the President, it’s about organizing in communities for the future, actively encouraging local people to become involved, volunteer, and become leaders in their communities.  It’s about empowering people and building democracy like building the economy — from the middle out, not from the top down.

If I weren’t here, I’d be home pulling my hair out on a daily basis and obsessing over which state is “leaning” and why Real Clear Politics just threw another one into the “toss up” pile.  I’d be venting my snark on The Wonkette and checking FiveThirtyEight Blog like it was the weather report in Florida during hurricane season.  Here is good.  I’m staying in the home of a delightful older Unitarian lady.  I’m working harder than I have in years and being supervised by a field organizer less than half my age, and having more fun than I’ve had in a long time.