Signing me up for a contest to win a dinner with President Obama was sofagirl’s idea. We were in Rome and she was surfing the web when she came across an offer she didn’t qualify for: “They dont’ want any money! Think how cool – if you win, you can write about it”.
I should have known better about the money part. Of course they wanted my money and my chances of winning were zero anyway (voters from battleground states ended up winning the cozy dinner). From that moment on, I was fair game for the Obama re-election campaign, who had my name, number and e-mail address. I wish I had tallied the amount of e-mails I received from Barack, Michelle, Joe, Jim, David, Stephanie and all the other campaign staffers on the road with the President. It would make for an interesting statistics. I am surprised Sasha and Malia were not recruited to help. By the end of the campaign, I donated some money, I tried to un-subscribe, with not much success, I ended up actually appreciating the talking points they were sending and I signed up to work the phone banks. After all, it felt as if these people had become my friends – they sure wrote to me more than all my friends combined ever could.
And so it went that I cast my very first ballot since I became a citizen a few months ago and this morning I packed my laptop and showed up at a field office in Santa Monica, CA, not quite sure what to expect.
I walked into a hanger like office space kindly donated by an architectural firm. Balloons were flying outside and two elderly volunteers signed me in. “There you go dear, find a spot to sit and someone with a sash”. The someone with a sash showed me how to log into a network that automatically started dialling, sending calls to my phone. On the screen, the name of the person I was calling would show up, together with their age, sex, other members living at their household and the location of their polling place.
With my state a foregone blue conclusion, it’s Ohio I was calling. Those poor, bedraggled Ohio voters whose ballots are so sought after that thousands of people like me were insistently calling them to get them out to vote, hopefully for their candidate.
At my location alone, there were hundreds of us, all with our own personal spiel that severely veered from what we were given to make it more personable and less robotic. I was a cog and a witness to the effective Obama grassroot campaign, its organization and enthusiasm. Everyone I heard around me was unfailingly polite and I gained a new appreciation for those who do this for a living, maybe in Bangalore, during middle of the night shifts, calling people who don’t want to be called, powerless to talk back in the face of rudeness or downright abuse.
In the four hours in which I relentlessly made phone calls as if the entire election depended on me, I was hung up on, yelled at, begged to stop calling and rudely addressed. The winner of the top award in such department is the gentleman who felt the need to tell me I was a N- word lover. The lady next to me got a “I don’t vote for N-word”, a sad reminder that racism is alive and fairly well (in case we hadn’t noticed).
The hundreds of calls I put in seemed to confirm what the polls have been telling us: it’s an extremely close election. Middle aged white men were very proud to tell me they voted for Romney, with a tad of smugness in their voices. One of them seemed interested in knowing at least one good reason why he should have voted for Obama – we had a pleasant discussion, I didn’t change his mind but we agreed to disagree and I thanked him for exercising his right to vote. Women seemed more inclined to stay with the President, to say nothing of the few Latinos I came across and African-Americans.
An African-American woman described to me the scene outside her windows, with young students going door to door to make sure people were getting out to vote, leaving me to imagine her neighbourhood in the midst of securing the re-election of their President. “I am on fire! I am already planning a party for tonight because if he doesn’t win this country is going to s**t. And you better stay positive young lady”. Had she spotted the fear in my voice?
As the hours stretched on and the polling places were nearing their closure, my voice started to resemble Bill Clinton’s and the recipients of my well-intentioned “please go out and vote” message were losing their patience. Oh to be the courted voters of Ohio!
The only means we have to participate in the public discourse is to vote. You cannot be entitled to criticism if you can’t take the time to make your voice heard. Even those people who told me they voted for the other side made me happy – the point is to raise awareness, to let voters make informed choices and to participate in the process. For some of us, this is the only time we do.
What did I gain from the whole experience? A sore throat; a feeling of unity with total strangers engaged together and working towards the same goal; a clearer sense of finally belonging and the promise to never hang up on a volunteer again.
To those of you who insulted me and yelled at me at the top of your voice, I did not take it personally but you might want to re-think your approach – hanging up without a word will save us both time. To those of you who still mourn the loss of the South, I am sorry but the world has moved on despite you and without you. To those of you who took the time to thank me for what I was doing, you have NO idea how you kept me going.
Best caller of the day? A 93-year-old lady who proudly and clearly told me she had gone out to vote. “And I voted for my President”.
This was written before real time projections started to come in. It’s now nearly 9 pm in California and, despite Governor Romney not ready to concede yet, all the networks are calling Barack Obama the winner of the 2012 election!!!