Sunshine on my navy colored Obama shirt creates just the right temperature. November or not, forgotten gloves are no big deal. My newspaper journalist buddy Chris and I set out with maps in hand, for a South End neighborhood of an Iowa city.
Our targets are walled to the east by a huge grain processing plant. A tidy grade school rims our west and we’re further defined by railroad tracks. I’m feeling lucky to be handing out invitations to Barack’s Town Meeting this week.
The first homeowner to open a door is a thirty-ish woman who squeals, “I love Obama!” Maybe this assignment won’t be so hard. Next, a well-seasoned grim woman holds open her door to hear my appeal. Clad in a worn dress and favorite house slippers, she thanks me and politely informs me her voting decisions are private.
Big black dogs guarding chain linked yards seem to appreciate my passing sweet talk. I advise them not to snap at Obama people – we’re the good guys (and the dogs agree). When I ask one attention-seeking mutt if Republicans ever pat his head, I’m answered “I don’t know” in goofy tail wags.
I’m puzzled by old pick-up trucks laden to near collapse, holding freshly cut stumps in front of a few homes. A chipping sound signals men in backyards, bent at the waist, hand splitting logs into kindling. I expect to find wood-burning stoves in remote rural areas, but in a city of over 20,000? I settle on being humbled by their literal hands-on way of controlling energy bills. Emboldened, I talk with other men leaning over cars, using the buddy-system to get them running again. I learn the 1/2 house numbers are backyard garages converted into rental property.
Just when my confidence peaks, I meet the woman I carry in my heart. Tillie is maybe thirty-eight. She sounds sixty. As a nurse aide going to school to become a nurse, she works part-time nights in a nursing home. Her double amputee spouse lies on the couch in the unlit room behind her.
Tillie supports our War on Terror. Her son was a Marine in Iraq during the first four years of the war, but he’s home now. She much prefers we fight the terrorists over there than here. Convinced it’s a real mean world, she feels we need constant protection at all costs. Her biggest resentment is our country’s tolerance for illegal immigrants’ free use of our medical system.
When Tillie’s husband became ill, he lost his job and both their healthcare benefits. Then he lost his legs and their retirement vaporized. The doctor prescribed $2000 a month in medicine. She says at the point he goes to a nursing home, they’ll have to sell their house so Medicaid will cover his care. Her friends advise her to divorce him in order to keep their home. She says this isn’t the right way and vows never to leave him when he needs her the most. I see on her face she’s had practice at “sucking it up” to keep a sense of control over their destiny.
I ask her if perhaps a lengthy war over there is draining our means of providing Universal Healthcare for citizens over here. We rail over gazillionaire politicians’ push for Health Savings Accounts as the “economy boosting” means to fix our medical system. I tell Tillie hers is the story that needs to be told again and again until our leaders finally get it. She seems to soften at the idea of an invitation to come meet Barack, for the chance to tell her story and to receive his message of help for her blue-collar neighbors. Then she remembers it’s also the day her husband goes back for another surgery.
When I ask if a voter has logged on to barackobama.com, I’m met with the same flat response: “We don’t own a computer.” The few self-proclaimed Hillary supporters I meet each paradoxically listen to this Illinoisan’s reasoning for not supporting her. I leave them thinking that perhaps my personal demand for ethics in government has helped to buy back a bit of the media induced/image-making consulting they’ve been sold in the past.
Upon sinking into the donated couch at the Field Office, I fall into silent grief. Mature volunteers man the phones around me, seeking commitment to attend Barack’s Town Meeting in just a few days. Young and talented field staff quickly train other volunteers about to embark upon their assigned neighborhoods. I feel but a pinch of the humongous need expressed to Barack daily. I’m convinced spreading our hope-filled personal reasons for voting for Barack will ignite the victory we need. All the Tillies drive me on to doing more. Nothing changes until we coalesce ethics with action. Can you help?