Canvassing in CD6:
Corte Madera, CA. October 13. It is 2pm on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon and CD 6 coordinator Lance Iuoye is sitting at a picnic table in the town park, checking over canvassing forms with the last returning teams of Barack Obama volunteers. “Turn the Page on Iraq,” a national canvassing day, is drawing to a close.
But this local Obama team was obviously thinking big when they chose this locale to host their event. Since 10 am, their launch pad, highly visible under a festive white canopy and a colorful cache of Blue & White Obama signs, has been set up mid-center on the grass alongside the town’s main parking lot; and thus it has attracted heavy foot traffic and garnered huge interest throughout the day: ongoing soccer games on the adjacent fields, at all-day Open House at the Firehouse next door, and just down the block a community fair chocked full of hundreds of attendees.
Amidst the music and balloons, the Saturday bikers and the family dogs, this pint-sized Obama camp seems a perfectly synchronized slice of a vroomed-up, vitalized community.
Lance is really excited about talking to the team who inspired a teenager he had just registered to drive down and sign up.
“That’s just amazing,” he says. “What did you say to get him to do it?”
“He said Barack Obama was his man but that he was only 17,” says volunteer Sandy Grant “But then his mom walked into the room and said “No, your 18, You can register right now.’ She must have taken him down here. “
Indeed she did, says Lance (big smile). “She said some very nice ladies told him where to go to register right now and after they left he said ‘lets do it.”
Sandy, a busy Mill Valley physician who doesn’t have much spare time for hobbies, is so determined to elect Barack Obama she’s become active in politics for the first time.
“I can’t believe I’m so excited about one kid when there are millions of people all over the country …” her voice trails off. “Next week I’m going to start canvassing in my neighborhood.”
CD6 is reportedly one of the best organized districts in the California campaign, with 56 registered volunteers and a schedule that includes regularly weekly tabling, phone calling, outreach to high schools and colleges and a growing voter registration drive. Volunteers are encouraged to ‘think out of the box’ and meld their personal skills and talents with the campaign’s mission.
The efficiency of today’s volunteer team coordinators rivals the proficiency of any professionally designed event. Before setting out in seven teams, with assignments in three towns, participants are guided through a short tutorial on the do’s and don’t of canvassing (don’t knock on a door more than once, don’t force campaign literature on someone who’s clearly not interested, leave flyers tucked under outdoor mats so they’re not too visible from the street, and be prepared to tell your own story about why you support Obama). Folders are distributed with maps and print outs of the 50 families on each teams’ itinerary, along with clear instructions on how to fill in data on each location. A ‘cheat sheet,’ explaining the goal of the day’s event is provided as an example of how to introduce yourself. Each team receives handfuls of official campaign “Turn the Page in Iraq” handouts and small yellow flyers offering tips to new recruits on how they can become involved in the Obama campaign NOW.
“There are more canvassing events happening here in California today than in any other state,” says Canvassing Coordinator Ben Ludke, a student at College of Marin. “We’re the first campaign to be canvassing in California. This is just the beginning.”
Conversation around the table shifts as Lance asks volunteers for feedback. What can we improve upon next time?
“I didn’t feel that I was informed enough about all the issues,” says Sandy. “I was really nervous someone would ask me something that I couldn’t answer. We need talking points next time.”
“Right now you are your own talking points,” says Lance,“ acknowledging that talking point memos are in the works and should be available by the next canvas.
For every issue mentioned in this discussion, however, (“I’m not sure on his stand on education …. on immigration … on Blackwater … on tax breaks … “) someone in the group has a well researched answer and can offer resources: listen to his speeches, read the blogs, visit the website, join the listservs.
By all accounts, Marin County’s first official Obama canvassing event succeeded in much more than registering another Democrat to vote in the Feb. 5 Primary. Over 500 homes were contacted, resulting in conversations with over 140 local democrats about Obama’s position on ending the war in Iraq and whether or not they had made a decision on which candidate they were leaning towards.
Currently, based on this narrow sampling, it appears that most people in the section of County are still undecided; with 21% strongly supporting Barack Obama, 38% undecided, and less than 10% committed to another candidate.
Undoubtedly, the most encouraging outcome was the unanimous consent among participants that people are just aching to talk about what’s happened to America and discuss how Obama can set things straight.
“It was strange,” says one volunteer. “You’d knock on someone’s door, feeling really apologetic about interrupting them, but when they saw who you were they were just so happy to have a chance to talk about things. It was like they’ve felt so isolated for so long and now all of the sudden here was somebody on their porch inviting them to talk about it.
From another: “I didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t willing to listen to me, who didn’t want to know why I was backing Barack. Everybody seems really ready for change, really ready to believe in someone again.”
One volunteer recounts a story of a conversation she had with a woman who opened her front door with a huge bottle of Tropicana orange juice in her hand and a tense ‘why are you bothering me now?’ look on her face.
“Right away, you knew how busy she was. You could see right through the house to the backyard where three or four little girls were sitting down for lunch under this big striped umbrella. It was really bad timing. But when she saw my Obama hat and heard why we were there, she forgot everything else. She said she wasn’t ‘plugged in yet” but she wanted us to tell her why we were supporting Obama. She asked questions. We must have talked to her for ten minutes. If she was leaning towards Hillary when we arrived, I don’t think she was when we left. You could just feel how hungry she was to talk about things: Iraq and Iran, Healthcare, education, the war. The need for big change in America. Wow, that was an amazing experience.”
In this small corner of Marin, at least, the battle is strictly between Obama and his main rival, New York Senator Hillary Clinton. But, say volunteers, people who were leaning toward Hillary said they are just now starting to do their research. Hillary is what they know; Obama is who they what to discover.
“People still think it’s really early in the campaign,” says Ludke. “A lot of Californians don’t realize yet that the Democrat’s Primary is Feb. 5. That’s why now is the ideal time for us to start canvassing. Hillary hasn’t started yet. We’re the only campaign actively canvassing in California right now.”
A conversation ensues between Ludke and a couple of volunteers about the ‘grassroots’ organization of the campaign, with Ludke drawing a flow chart outlining the chain of command.
“But that’s not grassroots,” someone says. “That’s a traditional hierarchical business model. We want people organizing right where they live, working out of their cars. People should have access to Obama materials so they can just hand things out.
“But they can,” says Ludke. “They can just download things off the internet. They can purchase supplies online at the Obama store. You’ve got to understand that California right now has only one paid employee. We can’t afford to supply everyone with free materials.”
Jasper Goldberg, a student at nearby Branson high school and a member of Students for Barack Obama saunters over to the table.
“I have boxes of Obama stickers I can give you,” he says, approaching a group of women who are discussing investing in a stockpile of gear for CD6 volunteers. “How many do you want now?”
He plops a plastic bag of stickers on the table. Wallets emerge. None of these Obama supporters want something for nothing. They all want the same thing: something promoting Obama to give away for nothing. Goldberg shrugs, accepts proffered donations. Says he’ll use the money to purchase more Obama gear.
It’s after three and everybody’s tired, has places to go, but seems reticent to leave. Opinions start flying on Obama’s best speech.
Riverside Church. The Foreign Policy address at Des Moines. Selma. New York (Washington Square Park). Springfield. San Francisco, last month when he introduced what instataneously became the infectious rallying cry of the campaign, “Fired up, Ready to Go.”
But as is always the case in these talks, someone always brings up where it all began, for most of us. And this time it’s Ludke who reminds us.
“For me it’s still the 2004 convention. I watched that speech and said ‘That man’s my president.”