5th saturday in ohio

whatever was i thinking that a day unplugged from this campaign wouldn't risk peeling back the glorious distraction from my shit that this trip has so far been. back at the headquarters after my afternoon excursion to the movies, i am enveloped now by the sheer chaos that is homecoming -- the buckeyes' big game against penn state -- with this neighbourhood and surrounding streets ablaze with the fervor of team spirit, of misspent youth, of obnoxia nervosa. it is amidst this jarring, surreal soundtrack that i attempt to shove back under the folds the coils and batting that anxiously poked through today. where've i been, they wonder - almost audibly - and who do i think i am leaving them untended this damn long. and i well know the answer: i am as deserving as anyone of a fresh break from old pain, thank you very much, and so i have managed to find myself as sublimely immersed in political passions as anyone could wish.

but handy they are, my neglected bits, or i might not have been so rocked - gutted, even - by the poem caty read me just now:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,

And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

- Edna St. Vincent Millay


campaigning in ohio - dispatch #4

it sort of feels like i've actually re-located to columbus, not just popped by as a political tourist in search of a hot campaign. i mean, today i did such 'i live here' things as shop at Target for scouring pads and a brita, get a massage, and visit the market for produce. i'm currently preparing a sweet potato chipotle soup. feeling harassed by that bandwagon, i picked up a copy of 'the secret life of bees' which i shall curl up and read on the porch tonight instead of seeing margaret cho at the palace theatre - an expense i really couldn't justify.

after our 'golden week' grand finale on monday, the campaign has temporarily suspended. tate, the director, drove back to brooklyn for a few days to stroke shawna's baby bump; plus he's up to his eyeballs in FEC paperwork. other members of the core team have scattered away for a few days of rest/play. and here i remain in columbus, holding down the fort while tending to neglected contract work for clients from home.

and of course, i saw OBAMA yesterday at genoa park, downtown. it was all that. i'm so glad i came down here to this intensely heated battleground state. what a freaking historic election.

i've had occasion to weigh options and consider other points of interest in these here united states. i thought about checking out philly, looking for campaign work in florida, or even heading to colorado where the race is tight and fascinating. then amy, our field director - who is now home in new york state with her ducks and congressional races - suggested my role in the next phase of our project could be that of more press officer duties while continuing my regional oversight of cincinnati. that suits me fine. i feel invested in ohio now, especially after these two weeks of fervor. and i like the idea of staying with this team and seeing something really cool to it's end.

what exactly are we going to do? well now that 'golden week' is over, we are planning some variation on the same theme: mobilize registered voters to continue to take advantage of the early vote scheme. it all returns to full swing in this makeshift HQ on monday morning.

here's what we/i posted just the other day to the Vote Today Ohio website:


Monday was the final day of Golden Week here in Ohio, and we ROCKED IT!

That was the day we banked just over 800 Obama votes (exact tallies to be confirmed).

That was the day we hit our single biggest total.

That was the day when all our advance work and publicity paid off. It shows the cumulative power of our relentless organizers, drivers, team leaders, and supporters. We built a great organization together, and no matter what curveballs came our way, we persevered with our mission.

That perseverance touched people. As corny as it sounds, our work here hasn't just added votes to Obama's column. It has changed lives. Original volunteers have decided to stay longer to keep driving early voters. New recruits found over the course of our activities have thrown themselves into the cause. One of our team leaders in Cincinnati called on Tuesday to announce "The amazing volunteers here just won't be stopped!"

Deep down, I think he's why all of us do this work -- to make our democracy work for the people that need it most. That's justice.

Also, of course, we do this work to WIN. So, how does it all add up? What do we have to show for our blood, sweat and tears?

During Golden Week, Vote Today Ohio banked ~3300 Obama votes and 621 voter registrations. Did we make a critical contribution in America's #1 battleground state? Absolutely!

Our 3300 votes were far more than just a drop in the bucket. Consider this: In Franklin County (home to Columbus), 9264 people voted early during Golden Week. Vote Today Ohio vans (and cars and marches) moved 1369 of them to the polls. Yes, we directly moved 14.8 percent of the early vote in Franklin County. It's safe to assume that thousands more heard about Golden Week directly from our work. That's powerful. We were THE game in town.

Plus, we broke new ground. We asked ourselves a risky question -- could a hard-working and intrepid group of volunteers actually make good on an untested Golden Week voter mobilization program? Would voters respond? Could we pull it off in just three wee weeks? The answers are a resounding YES. Sure, we learned some tough lessons. But we learned them well, and by the end of the week, we had the kind of smooth, professional operation that any campaign would die for. With some strategic tweaks, our Golden Week program will now become a powerful tool in the progressive arsenal.

Now for an important announcement: Over the next few days, our core team will be processing and analyzing this amazing experiment. We're already planning our next steps. We've built something strong and effective, and are compelled to keep it moving. So please stay tuned for our next phase, and don't be surprised if we invite you back!

We should all feel immensely proud of the work we did -- from driving voters to the polls to engaging with them directly, from supporting us with donations to housing our volunteers, to a zillion other things. We've accomplished an historic feat this week. Go ahead. Pat yourself on the back. Celebrate our success. And when Obama wins in November, you'll be able to say, "That's MY victory!"

With deep, deep respect for all you've done this week,
the Vote Today Ohio team


campaigning in ohio - dispatch #3

for starters: i finally got some photos of this nutty ohio TRIP up onto flickr. a photographer i am surely not, but hey. everyone has gone to bed and the house is quiet. i can't sleep. not because i'm wired up but more because i'm wired down. oddly. tomorrow is our Grand Finale -- the last day for one-stop early voting. and unlike my counterparts who are each, in their own way, nursing pangs of anticipation and anxiety about it all, i feel fine. plans have been laid, teams prepped, assignments assigned. in a way, it's all out of our hands now. yet in another, we carry it all.

so how has the week gone for
our humble project? the numbers tell part of the story: several hundred the first day to almost a thousand on friday. the weekend stats are weird, given that so many EVCs (early voting centers) were closed half or all day. our teams did lots of visibility work when EVCs were closed, like flyering cars and postering shelters and what my team dubbed 'the dorm storms' -- targeting students with sign-ups for monday rides.

the trajectory of numbers has been promising, to be sure, though not necessarily what we'd projected. the exercise of identifying any numeric targets had been arbitrary, at best. that's the trick about inventing a brand new thing -- you have nothing to compare it to, no lessons to correct, and everything to gain. early voting is a new concept in and of itself, never mind the fact that this 'golden week' portion of it was the first time (ever? anywhere?) voters could register and vote at the same time. so when
tate conceived of and initiated this idea, he also took on the task of making everything up. from scratch. sure, he assembled a dynamo team to do it with, but still, no one knew what to shoot for... at least not in comparative terms. that's not to sound defensive. i'm just sharing those realities of field organizing that anyone who's done it can relate to.

in spite of those deeper matters, our teams and activities have been rocking. it took a couple of days to hit our stride, but once we did, that shit got HOT. from allied groups to average voters, everyone can feel it. and they're buzzing about it. reports from the field have all ended the same way: "this thing is gaining momentum, and tomorrow, we're gonna do even better!"

in addition to my regional director role, i've been put on a bit of press officer duty -- and
we've been getting covered! -- so i've had lots of occasion to think and talk about this project. the thing i keep reminding folks is that we can only track numbers of voters we physically take to the polls. but those don't reflect the thousands of ohioans who learned about early voting thanks to our visibility, materials, media, and people, then took themselves to vote. there's no telling how many voters hurried up and registered because Our Work reminded them that tomorrow is the last day. that's not spin, that's fact.

so we're feeling stoked and proud and energized about it all. the whole concept of early voting still blows my mind. and you just know it came at too crucial a political moment in too tense a place because those other guys
tried to shut it down. unsuccessfully. but it still makes folks nervous that this could be the only year for early voting because some people are too antsy about it -- likely because it favours the types of folks whose voices are mostly unheard.

meanwhile, it has been tremendously rewarding to help mobilize the very people whose belief in democracy will most benefit from this early voting scheme. amy, our field director, has been comparing our one week initiative to a single election day -- which means tomorrow (last day) is like the final hour of a typical e-day. no holds barred blitz, baby. overdrive. full steam. home run. analogy-palooza, basically. we're gunning for some SERIOUS VOTES.

the teams i've been overseeing couldn't be more ready for tomorrow. they've pimped up the vans like nobody's business, and even rented a major megaphone system for one of them to be blaring loud and clear "last chance to register and vote early". people here at headquarters have been teasing me about the crushes i seem to have developed on my team leaders out there, but with them turning out such kick-ass organizing skills and energy day in and day out, who the eff can blame me?

btw, saw springsteen (again) today -- he stopped in columbus as part of a
special tour for obama. it was an incredible acoustic set under a beautiful, warm, fall sky. granted, we worked the crowds for van sign-ups and whatnot, but still, it sure felt nice to take a break from the frenzy to enjoy a simple outdoor concert. i may not be his biggest fan, but it has to be said The Boss has never sounded better. more importantly, he gave what has to be one of the best (albeit inadvertent) political speech i have maybe ever heard. no speechwriters, no tele-prompter, no spin. just a poet with heart, movingly imploring ohioans to grab hold of the early voting advantage as a way to get obama elected because "i want my america back. i want my country back."


campaigning in ohio - dispatch #2

as i unwound on the porch in the dark rain late monday night, my mood could best be described as misty. the day spent doing our volunteer training session both exhausted and inspired me. our compact core team shuffled back to headquarters in the late evening as aching zombies. we had successfully briefed, papered, and assuaged the 100+ volunteers and deployed them out to various parts of the state. we were feeling confident and hopeful about the project kicking off with a bang. as pretty much the sole operation in ohio focused solely on mobilizing targeted populations to take advantage of the early voting scheme, we had all the sense in the world that what we're doing is profoundly worthwhile and electorally important.

yesterday, we awoke nervously to sit all day on pins and needles, waiting to get word from our team leaders in the field about how things are looking and feeling. as it turns out, it was a day full of highs and lows. in some locales, our vans were filling up like gangbusters while at others, the same work yielded smaller results. in some instances, team leaders came up against campus administrators, security guards, and feisty republicans. in better news, there were no hiccups at the actual early voting centers (EVC). frankly, this stunned us. by all accounts, the staff and process at all of the EVCs are smooth as silk. this, of course, would have been the side of things on which we would have expected trouble to reside. BUT HELLS NO. the secretary of state for elections here in ohio is apparently progressive and helpful and openly devoted to making voting easy for EVERYONE (hunh, imagine). we had one incident at a campus in cleveland where a volunteer of ours – a middle-aged former cop, no less – was handcuffed by a campus security guard for calmly asking a student if she knew she could vote early, but it all got sorted out and we're certain today will go smoother. since operations at voting centers seem to be relatively free of kinks, the crack legal minds of the ACLU, America Votes, and AFL-CIO who had been put on stand-by for initiatives like ours are languishing with little to do, which means they've descended upon our handcuffing situation with gusto. they're re-confirming campus access issues and hopefully issuing a memo to all colleges and universities state-wide instructing them to let our people do their THING.

by the way, even the least significant story of voter access problems left me rather teary. ok, the fatigue makes for a lower weepiness threshold, but still - i don't think i'll ever get over the complete insanity of how in canada we get a piece of paper in the mail and choose to walk over to a polling place (or not) to cast a ballot. yes, i know, there are still problems with the census and Elections Canada tracking and some voting procedures and of course that whole proportional representation thing. but in general, it is not hard or complicated or discriminatorily unjust for us like it continues to be down here. that makes me feel a great many things, the overriding of which is SAD. but never mind that for now.

i've pretty much averaged an 8 am to 1 am workday since arriving, and last night went way later than that. it was the first round of nightly check-ins between me and my team leaders, and all the reporting forms and notes that go along with that. i'm sure tonight's calls will be shorter, but it took awhile to debrief day one, then turn around and brief the field director on what i'd learned. i cannot possibly put into words how amazing my team leaders are -- four bright, young, committed guys whose dedication to what this is about really rocks. they move me. seems like every time i hang up the phone after a question or update or alert, i need to take a couple of deep breaths to let it soak in just how amazing i think they are, this is. and how glad i got over my last-minute cold feet and decided to come here to support, advise, and motivate them.

i am jotting down drafty bits about upper level strategy and analysis and progressive numbers later, but the past couple of days have really just been about people. the american friends i've made over the years prove it to me over and over again that there are indeed pockets and movements of amazing progressive work happening down here, but it's super easy for us to stay caught up in our (mostly justified) frustration about americans – or more to the point, the american electorate (as if our own is any less confounding). what a world of good to be in the company of such committed, progressive AMERICAN activists – spanning the range of ages and backgrounds and geographies – all of whom are devoting every ounce of intellect and energy to changing this country. i think every once in awhile, it's important for canadian progressives to be among these people... in person, in real time. i mean, it's not like we don't know 'these' americans are down here, fighting the good fight and feeling the way we do. but at times like this, i love getting to KNOW them.

IN (PSEUDO) CELEB NEWS: i was giddy to meet mrs. andree dean, mother of howard, who is one of my team members in youngstown. she'll be moving her adorable, 83 year-old self around communities of colour this week and even agreed to be exploited as we need her to be. she found me funny, and i found her tiny. also, this guy who I TOTALLY recognized from various secondary character roles is one of our columbus volunteers, is deliciously sarcastic, and eager to talk up early voting whenever he's promoting his new movie "W" (a bio-pic about Dubya).

also, here's my new friend cristina moon narrating a promo video we (VTO) put out last week. oh, the cuteness.