I spent this past Saturday doing some much needed volunteer work. I’d received a phone call from MoveOn.org late the previous weekend asking if I’d be willing to give a few hours of my time the next weekend. I feel that this year more than previous presidential elections is incredibly important. Change is necessary and while I realize that no matter who gets elected, there will be someone different in the White House come January, I’d prefer that it’s someone who can really make a difference. And so, I agreed to go down to the south county Office for Change and do whatever was needed for a few hours to help spread the word for Barack Obama and the democratic party. When I arrived at this appropriated storefront in a stripmall, I was overwhelmed by the energy of all the people milling about. There were sign in tables for people who live in Virginia and those who’d been bussed in from out of state to help mobilize voters in this hotly contested state. Having never done anything of this sort before, that being volunteering for a political campaign, I wasn’t sure what they’d have me do. I was figuring I’d be making phone calls, but instead was told I’d be canvassing. This made me a little uncomfortable as it took me back to being in marching band and participating in what we called “tag day”…we’d go door to door asking for money for the band. I hated it. Felt a little like begging. Anyhow, I knew we weren’t asking for money, but I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I’d get going, knocking and ringing…furthermore I felt a little uneasy with the idea of doing this by myself. Apparently I wasn’t alone in this…and so I was paired up with Claire. Claire is a 78 year old woman, which I thought might pose a bit of an issue going door to door and doing all of this walking up and down stairs…but I apparently had no clue what she was capable of.
Claire and I set out to a house in another part of the county which was a staging area. There, we were provided with a list of undecided voters, a script of what to say and what kind of questions we were to ask, some talking points and pamphlets in case the people weren’t at home. Armed with the information we needed, we set out in my car to drive to the neighborhood we were assigned to. Claire hit the first house with me by her side…and we had our first negative reaction…nothing too intense, but enough to kind of make us realize that not all of the folks we would encounter that afternoon would treat us positively. And so we continued through our list…getting to know eachother between houses. Claire told me that she’s angry with some of her neighbors for wanting to vote for McCain. I think I just always assumed that older people voted republican, perhaps because that’s how my own parents tend to vote. She told me she intended to put an Obama sign in her yard and to go talk to her neighbors, to try to ask them why they were voting for McCain and to educate them on why they shouldn’t. For someone who had come to the campaign office today to volunteer for data entry, she certainly had a lot of fire in her. We talked about how we felt about issues, how Sarah Palin made us feel, how we feel that it’s time for a change. We went door to door to make sure people planned on voting on November…to ask who they planned on voting for and to hear their reasons behind it. Most folks were for Obama, which was nice to hear. At one point, the person on our list wasn’t home but Claire asked the person answering the door who they planned on voting for anyhow…she said she just liked hearing that they were voting for Obama, it made her smile. I realize that the area of Virginia I live in more or less swings to the left, but I know there are still a number of undecided voters out there in this election and it was incredibly rewarding to talk to people about their choices and to walk away from the afternoon feeling very encouraged about Obama’s chances of taking Virginia in a few weeks.
Claire told me the last time she had volunteered was while living in Boston back in 1960. She was volunteering for the Kennedy campaign and actually had the opportunity to meet JFK. She told me he was much taller and thinner in person than he appeared in pictures and he was quite handsome. I was completely fascinated, listening to her stories…hearing her talk passionately about politics and how things should be. It definitely changed my perspective on folks my grandparents age. Her husband, who is 80, still works…by choice. She walks 2 miles daily with her dogs. She was so full of life it made me giddy by the time I got home…I couldn’t stop talking about Claire and the amazing afternoon we’d had. She gave me the biggest, warmest hug when we were done and told me that she’d had a very fun afternoon and couldn’t wait to do it again…I wish I’d gotten her number or e-mail address, because I’d love to keep in touch with this amazing, inspiring woman. I hope when I’m her age I still have so much conviction and drive to make a difference.