1.10.08

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.

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