Not a lot of time for blogging around here. In addition to the usual end-of-semester crunch, I spent a couple of Saturdays driving up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to canvass for Barack Obama (after doing some much easier, and tremendously rewarding, local canvassing here in Prince George's County in February). I wasn't planning to go back up again after mid-April--I was out of town the weekend before last, and classes are wrapping up, and I had an important talk to deliver on Wednesday. I figured I was entitled to sit one out.
Then I bought Steve Earle's I Feel Alright, one of the first albums Earle made after his release from jail. The tracks are anthems of survival and defiance and perseverance and continued fuckups, especially the title song (which ran over the montage that ended season two of The Wire). It's great music for digging deep, picking yourself up, and starting all over again. It would also be great for throwing away a relationship or starting a fight.
Steve Earle's music, in short, can inspire a man to do stupid things. I'm just lucky I'm enough of a dork that my fight was to go up to Lancaster one last time to get out the vote for Obama on primary day. The senator owes Earle for one more day of volunteer labor (with partial credit to David Simon and Ed Burns).
But that's not where this story starts. It starts about five weeks ago when Christy and I went up to register voters before Pennsylvania's deadline. It was not a great day. We didn't sign up that many people, and we were almost as likely to register McCain or Clinton supporters as Obama ones.
The McCain guy told us that he'd already met some Clinton people doing the same thing, and they wouldn't register him. That struck me as a pretty characteristic move from the Clinton campaign: pugnacious, selfish, and short-sighted. As one of the local Obama organizers told me, he was happy to register any Clinton leaners as Republicans--since that locked them into the other race in the state's closed primary.
Our reasons for registering McCain and Clinton supporters were a little less cynical. We couldn't refuse anyone on general principle. Barack Obama runs his campaign on a community organizing model of voter empowerment, and we took that to mean we should register anybody who wanted to register. We also hoped that, as representatives of the Obama campaign, our willingness to talk to and sign up anybody might cause people to think better him. So we registered anybody who asked, even if they said they supported Hillary Clinton. I'm glad we did, but I drove home that evening wondering if we'd netted more than one or two Obama voters for the day.
Last Tuesday, while I was doing a last-minute canvass in a poorer neighborhood in Lancaster, I ran into one of those Clinton voters I'd registered. She happened to be the last name on my list, the last voter I contacted after three long shifts; I recognized her, but I don't think she remembered me.
This was a list of identified Obama supporters, and she proudly said that Barack Obama was her guy. In the past five weeks, she'd switched candidates. I don't think our registering her had anything to do with that; more likely it was a result of media exposure and Obama's campaigning in the state and the steady work of the local volunteers (who ran a great operation--Obama has the best-organized campaign I've ever seen), and maybe the influence of friends or family. But if we hadn't signed up that soft Clinton supporter, we would have had one less vote for Obama.
That chance encounter was the perfect way to end my Pennsylvania canvassing, and it took a lot of the sting out of Obama's primary loss. Even more than seeing him rack up a solid win in Lancaster County--proof that grassroots efforts matter--it was good to see that his method of campaigning and organizing does pay off over the long run.
I hope we get that McCain guy in November.