Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ashamed to Ask About Registering?

I had a success for President Obama's campaign that ultimately made me pretty sad the more I've thought about it.

I went to the somewhat rundown home of a 90 year old man in a small town today. The front door was completely sealed off with plastic sheeting (for insulation; I've seen a lot of it on the poorer homes around here). I went around the back to a broken porch, and went up the steps. A man was just starting out the door when I got to the top step.

I told him my name and that I was with the president's campaign, and asked for the man whose name I had on the list, thinking that it could be him. He told me that the guy was inside sitting at the kitchen table, and that I should go in. He accompanied me inside.

I introduced myself, and had a really pleasant chat with the 90 year old life-long Democrat. He told me that the country couldn't afford Romney's policies, and of course I agreed. He always votes on the day, and just has to go a couple of blocks, so I didn't bug him to vote early and promised not to bother him again as he votes in every election. When I asked if I could put an Obama-Biden sign on his lawn, he told me to put out as many as I wanted.

I asked the other fellow if he was also a supporter of the President, and he told me that he doesn't vote.

Then, he followed me outside and took me aside. He said that he wasn't supposed to vote. I assumed (I know, I know, makes an ass out of you and me, but it turns out I was somewhat right) that he was referring to a felony conviction, so I said that even if he'd been convicted of a felony he might be eligible to vote. (Iowa did let felons vote automatically after they'd served their time, but the current Republican governor rescinded that law last year, and now they have to pay all outstanding obligations to the court, serve a period of parole, supply credit reports, and then apply for the right, which may or may not be granted.) He looked at me in shock and said no, he didn't commit a felony, but he had a DUI 30 years ago and was told he wasn't entitled to vote after that.

I explained to him that he could vote if he had identification (he pulled out his driver's license) and could prove where he lived. Well, he told me that the old guy was his dad, and he himself was 58 years old, and he lived there with his father. Younger than I am, and I was ready to think that he was 90! He had a bad facial skin condition of some sort, infected eyes, and just seemed as though he got no medical attention, which I suspect is the case.

Anyway, I got out a voter registration form to show him what he'd need to bring with him, and he agreed to go to with his father to the polls on Tuesday, with his ID and proof of residence (in Iowa you can register on the day, and someone who knows you can actually vouch for your address. a state of such interesting contrasts. Of course, Governor Branstad would love to make it harder to vote.)

So my canvassing colleague and I practically high-fived each other over the lawn signs on a big corner lot, and an extra vote for Obama.

Then we used her hand sanitizer because we had both shaken the guy's hand, and he looked pretty infected.

Then, I started to think about how sad it was, to me, that all these years this guy had thought he couldn't vote, didn't try to find out, even in a household that values voting. And took me aside out of the hearing of his father to admit to me that he "wasn't supposed" to vote. He seemed so ashamed. People have such hidden struggles.

Yesterday, I gave a couple the information they needed for their disabled 26 year old son to vote. They had asked me if he was allowed to vote if he was disabled. He wanted to vote for President Obama. I said that if he wanted to vote he was entitled to vote. (citizen, resident, at least 18. . .) I gave them a registration form, and we discussed the logistics of going in on Monday to get it taken care of. I'm pretty sure they will follow through, and they also let me put up multiple signs for Obama-Biden and Christie Vilsack (running against the vile Steve King).

But who has a 26 year old son and doesn't know his rights as a citizen? They were nice people and strong Democrats, in a fairly run-down trailer park. I think that it can just be so hard struggling economically, with the added challenges of a disabled child, and maybe afraid of being rebuffed by the bureaucracy (speculating here) that only because someone literally showed up at the door to help could they bring themselves to ask? Also: evidence of untreated medical and definitely untreated dental issues.

Life is so frickin' hard for so many people.

Behind the Scenes: Saturday, November 3

I left Denison at 7:00 am (before light) to drive to Onawa for our first day of GOTV, bringing the folders of walk and call packets to Ken, who is the staging director (or some similar title) and is also hosting the staging at his house. I started the morning scrambling eggs from his chickens for the small group of us there early - including two young guys from Chicago who arrived at his house last night to help canvass in Monona county. The eggs were really big, and heavy, with thick shells. I always buy free range chicken eggs, but they are nothing like these. These seem to be particularly happy chickens, but I'm not sure how that translates to large eggs.

Then two women from Kansas, around my age or a bit older, arrived to help canvass until Monday morning. They're staying in a motel in Onawa. Now that I don't need to go back and forth between Onawa and Denison, the hour and fifteen minute drive each way seems stupid, and I'm considering joining them. Anyway, they're fabulous, ex-middle school teachers, right up my alley. Fun and smart. One of them was the canvassing captain, kept everything organized, and also canvassed a turf. Her friend went out with me, and we did one rural and one semi-rural turf. She came along to a few doors with me, and then I drove and she walked up to the houses while I plotted the next stop.

When we converged back at the house at the end of the day, the names of people who've already voted got "struck." I didn't stick around for that, because I needed to drive back to my hotel in Denison. But the idea is that after the Secretary of State posts the names of people who've voted that day, we "strike" them from our call and walk lists.

And tomorrow we go out again! And Monday! And Tuesday! The idea is that we have lists only of pro-Obama voters who haven't voted yet. We go to the door, ask to speak to the person on our list, ask if they support the President, and remind them to vote. We also ask them to consider voting early, which they can do through Monday. This not only puts their vote in the bag, but allows us to strike their name and not go back again to remind them to vote.

And we wonder why people are frickin' sick of us!

If no one is home, we have very elaborate, kind of colorful and lovely, tree-killing door knob hangers. For today, Sunday, and Monday they say "Vote Tuesday", and each one has the address of their local precinct, so we have to be careful with the packets. For Tuesday, they're a darker blue, and say "Vote Today."

EVERY TIME we go to someone's door and they're not home, unless and until they are struck from the list, they get a doorknob hanger.

Here's how you got off of our master list up through and including yesterday: 1. die; 2. move; 3. be a Romney supporter; 4. VOTE.

Here's how you get off now: VOTE.

We're keeping notes and won't actually go back to people's houses who've told us that they support Romney, or that someone has died. But the call lists won't be changed. I'm determined not to get sucked into calling again. Everyone hates it. I hate it.

Here's how you stymie us: put a dog pen outside your front door, completely surrounding the entrance to your house, and then put a big dog in it. Seems to be a bit of a thing here. Maybe only during campaign season?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lots of Hang Ups!

By which I mean people hanging up on me (and all of the other phone bankers) when we call to ask if they've sent in their ballots (ballot chase) or if they'll work a shift in the four days leading up to the election (GOTV volunteer calls). Most people sensibly just don't pick up. I certainly wouldn't. At least we're calling in person, and with a specific purpose, but it's still unbelievably annoying of us. I have my own rules. I don't call anyone over 75 after 7:30, don't call anyone over 65 after 8:00, and don't call anyone after 8:30. We're supposed to call until 9:00. Really? This is rural Iowa, and among other things, many people don't have caller ID and can't avoid us without missing calls that they would actually like to take.

We're supposed to have lists just of Obama supporters at this point, but sometimes there's a mistake and they're Republicans, or they're usually Democrats but don't support President Obama. I reached one dad whose kid had moved. He was the worst today. "So, this means you're okay with murdering babies?" "Sorry to bother you, sir," as I start to hang up the phone. "What is it with you abortionist baby killers. . ." I hear him shouting as I hang up.

One of my own folks hung up on me today. A couple hadn't signed their mail-in ballot affidavit, so I had brought them a new request form and then delivered it to the court house. We agreed that I would check in today to be sure they'd gotten their new ballot, and would pick it up and deliver it to the courthouse if they wanted me to. When I called their house this afternoon to check, and said "Hi, Larry, this is Kathy from the Obama campaign. . ." - click! I had another house to visit in their town because I didn't have the guy's phone number, so I drove over to check on both sets of ballots. When I get to Larry and Ann's house (names changed to protect. . .) they're happy to see me, and have already mailed in their ballots. Larry refuses to vote on the day because the folks at their local polling station "are a bunch of jerks" and won't go in to vote early at the courthouse because "they're a bunch of jerks." I get his point, as I guess the local officials always try to get him to declare a party. Anyway, he's definitely Mr. Cranky-pants. But I ended up seeing all of their granddaughter's engagement and wedding photos, which were beautiful. And when I told him he hung up on me, he said he realized it had probably been me when I showed up at the door.

Awkward segue: Onawa, where I spend most of my time, is actually the town where the big Hope-Action-Change live stream was held, when we were all supposed to host house parties to view it together back in 2007. (Bob and I hosted a house party, though we ended up showing it on a couple of computers since we couldn't get our projector to work.) Anyway, it turns out that the Onawa library, Julie's and my favorite place to stop in and pee during the canvassing day, is where the discussion was held. Ken told us that the President has been to Onawa several times (as have all of the other candidates, I expect), and he's even had breakfast with him. Until last year Ken was a local union president, as well as being the chair of the county democratic party, so he's in on the meetings. As he told me and Julie, "they all have to suck up to the unions, of course."

Ken told us a funny story about how much personal attention Iowans expect to get from presidential candidates. He was talking to one of the democratic party members about volunteering to do something, and she said she might not be able to, as she thought it was the night that she was going to someone's house to see the president. Ken was a bit puzzled, as he didn't know anything about it. Anyway, she'd been invited to someone's house as a sort of house party to watch President Obama on TV discussing something or another, and, because it's Iowa, she just assumed he'd be there in person.

I think I'm the only volunteer that often sits in on the evening video conference that Marlene and Grady, the field officer and deputy field officer, are part of with all the other FOs and DFOs who report to Megan (because I stay anyway, usually until about 11:00 pm, to help enter the day's data). Anyway, Megan said ". . . and if we don't get that done, we're fucked. . . Oh, sorry, Kathy." Haha. Just how fucking old do they think I am? Don't answer that.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lots of Gravel Roads and Farmhouses Today

Julie and I started the day cranky and moody, delivering three vote by mail requests and one ballot to the Monona County courthouse, and discovering that yet another ballot by a presumed Democratic voter was invalid because she forgot to sign the enclosed affidavit. And because we could only find two of the first three houses we were looking for in rural Castana, which took us one and a half hours. Two houses! And of the two we found, one wasn't home and the other had already voted. So, Julie convinced me that we hadn't actually helped the President at all, and our time would be better spent in our other rural walk area, outside of Onawa, which was somewhat more densely populated and had the added benefit of our being able to ask Ken to plot the route for us.

Then the day started looking up. We arrived at Ken's, and his chickens and rooster came running over to meet us like a pack of friendly dogs. Ken says they think food just falls off of people, because he spoils them. Then the sun came out, and he plotted us a route past a lake, over some creeks, past so many picturesque barns, farmhouses, cattle, and rolling acres of farmland that we enjoyed just being outside.

We found all but one of the houses, the route was super efficient, and everyone who was home was friendly. We didn't pick up any new ballots, but the reminders were useful and we were able to troubleshoot a couple of ballot problems. That, plus spending the day together driving through the countryside on a gorgeous day, was a really positive experience.

We stopped by the courthouse just before they closed at 4:30 to get a couple of answers to ballot issues, and to alert them to a thrown away ballot.

Arriving back at the office, the stress ratcheted up. Two important volunteers flaked out on Marlene at the last minute, so she's scrambling for replacements to run a staging center for GOTV this weekend. But Julie and I joined another Julie, Grady and Marlene phone banking for a couple of hours, then Julie learned how to input data and after a break for dinner (microwaved rice and beans, pity me, people!!) we inputted the data from the day until 11:00 pm. So, a productive and fun day.

And, earlier, when we stopped by the mechanic to see if he thought my car would be road-worthy for canvassing and also the drive back to Chicago, not only did he say it would be fine, but he didn't charge me! Not that I'm abandoning Illinois, but Iowa is certainly growing on me.

Julie drives back to Omaha tomorrow night, and flies back to Chicago Thursday morning. I'm in denial!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Chickenhawk Ate the Kittens

Just finished inputting data a while ago, and Julie and I drove all over Iowa farmland today chasing ballots. More on that tomorrow. We didn't get back to the office until well after dark, about 8:45 pm. So, I'm having trouble putting a coherent story together and tomorrow we have three packets to "walk" (translation: drive!).

I have to write about one of our encounters. We missed a farm house by about half a mile and a neighbor sent us back to Pearl's house. Middle. Of. Nowhere! We were outside waiting for someone to come to the door and met several of the great grandkids and a number of cats and kittens. Her great-grandson, about seven, told us that the cats don't have names, they just call them all kitty. They come and go, but some of them disappear, especially the kittens. Meanwhile, a really old guy (husband?) was high up on a ladder looking down into the contraption that had grain shooting from  one great big metal thingie to another (technical jargon, sorry).

Pearl came to the door, and was really glad to see us because she had a ballot question. She invited us to come in and sit at her kitchen table. She showed us that when she opened her ballot with her knife she cut the ballot in half, and wasn't sure what to do about it. Having been in the auditor's (Illinoisans read: county clerk) office an hour before and gotten the auditor's personal cell phone number because Julie and I are that awesome, we called her to find out what to do. Left a voicemail, and then chatted a while with Pearl.

While I was leaving the message for Brooke (the auditor) Julie saw Pearl at the window eagle-eying her great-grandkids - I saw you at the well! Get away from there, how many times do I have to tell you. . .

Then she was telling us how much the kids love the cats, and are so sad when they disappear. Her neighbors keep "gobs" of cats, and never have a problem. One of her grandsons saw an owl near their property, and is inclined to blame the mysterious cat disappearances on it, but Pearl thinks it's more likely a chicken hawk.

So totally on top of her game. Maybe it's not all old Iowans, only the liberal ones? But we are so impressed with so many of the people we're meeting.

And, an hour or so later when we were door-knocking in the town of Mapleton (pop: nearly 2000!) Brooke called me back and told me what Pearl's options were with regard to her spoiled ballot. I called Pearl, and she's going to bring it with her to her polling place and vote in person on election day.

Just another day on the mission to re-elect the President. You can all thank us later!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Happy Day!

Julie got here this morning to spend a few days helping canvass, phone bank, enter data, whatever the campaign needs. And hang out with me and help me be less whiny. It's working already!

She flew into Omaha, Nebraska, rented a car, was here in Denison by 11:30 this morning, and didn't hit any deer on the way. (When I requested a state bordering Illinois, I didn't necessary think about the fact that it would also border another, much further away state!)

We headed to my home-away-from home, Onawa, in Monona County. Julie drove, as my car looks a little the worse for wear and still has little Bambi tufts sticking out of the hood. It drives fine, but I may take it in to a mechanic in the morning. (Random unrelated recollection, a few days ago I was talking to a dad who had his 10 and 12 year old sons with him. He suddenly looked over my shoulder and yelled "Prius!" Then he explained that he and his boys play "Prius" instead of "Slug-a-Bug". People watch me getting out of the car and walking up to houses, but I just figured it was because I was a stranger. Now I realize that the car is unusual around here.)

So, Julie and I decided to to do our walk packet together, instead of splitting up, since I knew we could finish it an a couple of hours and we only had one packet to do. As soon as we got out of the car at the first house, the first thing she did was set off the car alarm! For some reason, this struck us as so hilarious that we couldn't stop laughing. I was basically doubled over. As I read this over, I see that evidently you had to be there. But it was actually a great start to the door knocking, and we definitely had a good day, so the mood stayed.

We encountered a number of strong Obama supporters, several of whom agreed to let us put out lawn signs. A couple of people seem likely volunteers for the GOTV next weekend, which is a real boon - Marlene is a bit demoralized about how few local volunteers we have for Monona County.

But rural areas are hard. It's not just that this is a heavily Republican area so there aren't so many Democrats. It's that in a small town being overt about your politics is harder. There's not just no anonymity, but business and family relations are so intertwined. Two different guys in the construction industry have told me that they thought they would lose business if they advertised that they supported Obama. The one I talked to yesterday, who has his own company, told me he lost a $10,000 job when the client found out he was for Obama. And a lot of people here seem to feel strongly that the ballot is secret, and that talking about political affiliations is akin to bad manners. Of course, I've only been here a week, so I don't have a way to judge whether they just don't want to tell ME! Anyway, it makes it harder to get volunteers, I think.

 Julie and I giggled our way through the day, but when I asked her just now to remind me of some of the stories, neither of us could remember any. Random things strike us as funny and we can't stop laughing. But one great experience was right at the end of the day. We were at Ken's house (the county democratic chair) getting some extra yard signs for Christie Vilsack (running against King) that a couple of voters had requested. Turns out that the yard sign had disappeared from the house of someone he knew (if you're reading this, Ken, nothing nefarious, it just blew off - Julie and I put in a new one and anchored it with the metal holder from the first sign) and so we were going to bring a new one over. Ken looks at Julie's car, says, "oh, what the heck, it's a rental," and sends us across his lawn, over to the edge of the bordering farm, along what seemed to be a neighbor's yard, and then onto a gravel road paralleling the railroad tracks for about three miles, until it turned into a surfaced road that led right to his friend's house. Fairly mild as off-roading goes, but still not what I encounter in Chicago!

Bedtime. We have a meeting at the office tomorrow morning to be trained in the "ballot chase."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yes, I Really Hit a Deer

So today was our dry run for the GOTV frenzy that will begin next weekend. It was fine.

The drive home? Yeah, not so great.

I was driving along a two lane road in the absolute pitch black when I saw a deer jump into the left lane a bit ahead of me, probably coming up out of the ditch. I've been hearing warnings on the radio all week about deer on the roads. It's mating season, the corn has been harvested so there aren't as many places for the deer to feel safe so I guess they're on the move a bit more, and it was early evening though already really dark, a time when they're out and about.

So, I knew not to swerve to avoid it, especially since I had no idea where it would decide to go. I braked just as it jumped toward me. The poor guy landed on the front of the hood of the car right on the spot where you pop the hood open, bounced up and off, and slammed into the passenger side of the car at the front bumper and passenger side mirror. At this point I was basically stopped, since luckily I hadn't been speeding, pulled over and parked, and immediately called my new friend Ken, my go-to guy for all questions rural, to see if there was some Iowan protocol about these things. A number to report deer collisions? 911? I'd checked and didn't see or hear the deer, so he said as long as the car was drivable I should figure out exactly where I was for insurance purposes and then just drive back to my hotel.

Just then a really nice woman stopped her pickup to see if I was okay. I told her that I'd hit a really big deer, with huge antlers. Then, on reflection, I added that I was from Chicago so I wasn't positive about the actual objective hugeness of the deer, but it seemed really big. She laughed. At me, I suspect, but in a nice, Iowan sort of way. I was next to her farm, and she assured me that just a few days before she herself had hit a deer.

So, in hopes that Bambi was either (preferably) completely fine, or totally dead and had died instantly, I went on my way.

Then Ken, in an overflow of snark, had the nerve to text me: "Are there any lengths you wouldn't go to, to have something to blog about?"  Am I that transparent?

And how do I know where the deer hit? The crushed latch on the hood, the deer hair in the space where the hood closes, the place where the bumper is slightly separated from the frame, and the smashed passenger side mirror.

The other parts of my day? I knocked 81 doors, registered a new (Obama!) voter, got 8 people to agree to let me put out lawn signs, and only talked to one person who really sucked. A young guy. I am pleased to report that I did not give him my opinion of him and his pompous, non-fact-based, mean-spirited excuse for rational thought. I went to Logan and met the woman who is the staging manager for the GOTV there. Grady is working out of Logan and introduced us. She is 93 years old. What is it with these Iowans and their complete sets of marbles at advanced ages??

And, Marlene taught me to enter data for the campaign, so I have my own ID for the Obama campaign data-base and helped enter data until about midnight. Plus, I have a new title, with  button to match - Organizing for America Neighborhood Team Leader! I am ridiculously pleased. I am also my own team. The queen of multi-tasking - team leader AND team! Possibly I will acquire minions. I await developments.

Friday, October 26, 2012

"we few, we happy few. . ."

A terrific day. Democrats may be wildly outnumbered in this part of the country, but they are really rising to the challenge. It helps that part of the point of all of this canvassing is to eliminate the non-Obama voters so we can be more efficient on the four last GOTV (get out the vote) days. So, today, a refreshingly low number of Republicans!

But, better yet, some energizing results and reactions. First, I left this morning with twenty Obama-Biden signs, and returned to the office with ONE at the end of the day! Lots of the Democrats who wouldn't agree to do any volunteering agreed to let me put signs in their yards. Psychologically, seeing an Obama sign out here just gives me a lift, and I'm sure it has the same effect on other Democrats. One of the things we have to combat here (and everywhere) is voters' feeling that their vote won't matter, Obama can't win here, because all they see everywhere are Romney-Ryan signs.

Oh, and by the way, this is Rep. Steve King's congressional district. Pity me, folks! This guy got elected here, and re-elected four more times, and is evidently leading his challenger, Christi Vilsack, by about 4 points. (Steve King gives assholes a bad name) And - how cool is it that I figured out how to title a link!!

So now there are nearly twenty times the number of Obama-Biden signs in Onawa, Iowa than there were five days ago. Go me! And go brave Democrats who will put out a lawn sign in this community.

My favorite person of the day was Virgil, 91 years old, and straight ticket Democratic voter his entire life, he said. I knocked on the back door (typical here - to figure out which door to knock at you have to  see where the truck is parked, what gate is chained, etc. - at Virgil's the cyclone fence in the front had the gate clipped closed) and it swung open. Knowing that the resident was 91 (it's on my canvass sheet) I stuck my head in and yoo-hooed (I'm turning into Aunt Bea), asking if he was okay. A woman came to the door - she hadn't realized that it hadn't closed all the way. She called Virgil over, and told him I wanted to talk about Obama. He told me he was a straight ticket dem, and voted for him before and thought he did a pretty good job, so he was voting for him again.

But, he told me, in any case he'd never vote for a Republican. He'd had enough of them with that Hoover! And ever since his daddy lost the 280 acre farm in 1936, that was the last straw, he never saw a Republican who cared about or understood poor or middle class people.

He had a ballot dilemma, though. He showed me his absentee ballot, and pointed out that there was no spot for county supervisor, and he wanted to vote for that nice Poole fellow who used to be a foreman in Mapleton. There are Poole signs all over town.  I asked if he wanted me to find out. He said yes, so for the second time today I drove to the county auditor's office (equivalent of our county clerk) - the first time was to drop off a voter registration and request to vote by mail for a young guy who was new in town - and asked about the supervisor election. Turns out that Poole is running one district over, but for some reason has signs and has sent out mailings in Virgil's area. His supervisor has two more years in office. But I'm thinking about how carefully Virgil looked at the ballot and thought about the election, that he even noticed what wasn't there. I hope to have half as many marbles left at his age as he does!!

And the capper - he told me to put out as many Obama signs on his property as I wanted!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Headspinner of a Day!

The day started with the woman who came to clean my room asking if I was "the Obama lady". Turns out that she moved here from Minnesota, and she and her then thirteen year old son knocked on every single door in their small town for Obama in 2008! 

A nice young guy who works at the hotel and has been very supportive, including letting us have our debate-watching party in the lobby (and then taking us out for "fireball" shots at a local bar, but that's a story best left to when I manage to get my photos downloaded from my phone), agreed this morning to work seven shifts during GOTV, making me a minor star since we're struggling to get enough volunteers.

Then there was the 85 year old woman I talked to on the phone who said there was no choice but Obama, because "that other guy" wants to take us backwards. 

BUT, there was also the middle aged guy with two dogs who stalked and harassed my friend Grady. He followed him down the block, stood by his car, shouted at him from the curb when he was talking to voters. . . Things like: you want to bring an abortion clinic to town; this is my town; you're supporting that socialist; get out of town. WITH TWO DOGS. Grady called the police after consulting with the campaign. And the police said that they were tied up with a Halloween celebration, so it would take a while. And never got back to him!

AND, there was the Obama campaign field officer in a nearby county who had a gun pulled on her at someone's house, pointed at her, while the guy shouted "get the fuck off my property."

AND, the staunch Democrat I talked to on the phone today, when asked if he'd be willing to work a shift for Get Out The Vote, told me that he and his wife knocked on doors for Obama in 2008, and said never again. Some people were terrible to them.

Then, at the very end of the day, four delightful young volunteers hung out in the campaign office, eager to be part of re-electing the President, one of them not old enough to vote yet.

My cynicism is fighting with my optimism. Time for bed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day Two and a Half in Iowa

Well, I met some really nice folks door-knocking today, including several who said they'd put out lawn signs! So I drove out of town into REALLY rural Iowa to get signs and meet the county Democratic chair, a super guy, navy vet, active in the VFR, ex-union. He made us a pot of coffee and we sat in his kitchen watching the birds at his feeder and talking about how difficult it is to keep up your motivation as a democrat when you live in an area like his. He said that he knocked doors in 2008, but just won't do it any more. But, he hosts the staging area for the get-out-the-vote days, works for candidates behind the scenes, and generally keeps the other democrats' spirits up. However, he attributes much of the resistance to racism, and it just demoralizes him.

I didn't actually go to many houses, as I got a late start, it was drizzly and cold, and I was still whiney from yesterday (and sat in Ken's kitchen for an hour!) So when I got back to Denison I redeemed myself a little by helping with the phone-banking. And what was really interesting was one of the stories I heard when I called an Obama supporter.

A divorced mother of two, she was in a motorcycle accident last year when a deer ran out into the bike she was a passenger on. It turns out that the driver's insurance company wasn't liable because it was a deer (act of god??) so he wasn't at fault. And her company wouldn't pay because she was on a two-wheeled vehicle. She basically spent all her money before she could get on the state's medical plan, I guess. She's just going back to work this Friday, and has lots of physical therapy still in her future. She kept saying that she has pride, too, but sometimes you just need government help.

She told me that in her area, people get harassed by neighbors if they're vocal democrats. I've been hearing a lot about that, and I definitely felt intimidated yesterday. She took herself off of facebook about three months ago. Someone accusing her of hating rich people was one of the last straws. But from the way she talked several times about having pride, I definitely got the idea that people were also talking a lot about folks who take public assistance.

Anyway, by the end of the conversation, she asked me to come by tomorrow and put an Obama sign in her front lawn!!

My mission tomorrow is to ask every Obama supporter if they'll let me put a sign up in their yard. I've only seen one in the part of town I've been canvassing in, so the two I put up today, and the one I'll put up tomorrow morning, will already quadruple the number of Obama signs! I think that psychologically it might give some people a little more courage to see that there are others. Maybe I'll even get someone to agree to volunteer on the GOTV days. My bosses, Marlene and Grady, have managed to get some volunteers, but no one has said yes to me yet.

Tonight, a good night's sleep!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Denison and Onawa, Iowa

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Well, off to a mixed start here in Denison, Iowa. Reported in yesterday afternoon, after having driven from Mt. Vernon, where I’d had breakfast with Becky. Marlene, my boss and the head of a several-county area (which will no doubt become clearer to me as time goes on) asked if I could do some door-knocking in a nearby neighborhood that afternoon. She’s fabulous, smart, focused, dedicated. So of course I had to say yes.

Well, I had one guy fill out a voter registration form (anyone can do that here!) and three people filled out vote-by-mail (VBM) requests for ballots, which I’d been told to stress. We keep track of who requests them (of course we first ascertain that they’ll vote for President Obama!) and will use that data for our last 4 days of get-out-the-vote before the election. I checked off the info that I gleaned at various houses – Obama supporters (or not), who’d moved, new residents, etc. I’d canvassed for about an hour and a half. Marlene was really pleased. Yes! I’m a canvassing star!

Fast forward to today, when I spent an hour driving to Onawa, IA, then about four and a half hours on my feet and in the car  canvassing, and an hour driving back to Denison.

NO one agreed to fill out a VBM request. NO ONE! No new voters registered. I did see ONE Obama-Biden sign, but no houses on my list had an Obama sign. To be fair, though there were lots of Romney signs, still not nearly as many signs overall as we see at home.

Even the voters on my list of “definite supporters” weren’t necessarily voting for President Obama, and the list of “potentially persuadable” voters were pretty much pro-Romney.

Now, I fully realize that the reason Organizing for America (OfA) sent me to rural southwestern Iowa is that it’s heavily conservative, and in order to win Iowa we have to convince every Democrat in the conservative areas to vote so the cities can carry the state. So, I should be ready for day after day of mostly Republicans, that’s the whole point. But I just have to whine for a minute or two about how demoralizing that felt a few times today.

Low point: I go to the house of a “persuadable” voter, introduce myself and ask for Tom X. The 40ish-year-old guy in the front yard tells me I probably want his father, who isn’t there. We talk a little about how nice the leaves he’s burning (on the front lawn! this is Iowa! it’s okay!) smell, and I say I could talk to him, I’m canvassing for President Obama’s reelection. Then he says “no, we can’t talk” as he turns his back on me. Turns his back on me! I say maybe I should talk to his father, instead, and he says, over his shoulder, not looking at me, “He feels the same way, and he has guns!” Then he says he’d like a big sign that says “Obama sucks.”

I just said, “well, okay, keep it classy,” and headed to my car. Reason that this was the low point? Because - why couldn’t I have come up with a super retort?? Where are Jon Stewart’s writers when I need them? Or Bill Maher’s. Or the Wonkette’s (one of my favorite blogs –

Suggestions for fabulous, withering, witty retorts welcomed. I’m sure I’ll need them again. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Too Busy to Write!

Our coach from Nairobi to Kisumu at a rest stop. Guardian Angel!
 Phylis Magina and I and two of her kids, Bethwell and Doris,
 headed to their home town of Funyula on Monday.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Getting Ready for Kenya!

Okay, possibly it's almost one in the morning, departing the house for the airport at approximately three this afternoon. These are three boxes and one suitcase, carefully packed, with packing lists for customs, weighing fifty pounds each (airline maximums), destined for Kenya. And, just maybe, the stack of training manuals sitting on top of one of the boxes still needs to get packed. Into something. Along with some reward stickers I just came across that I forgot I bought for some Kenyan teacher friends. And the index cards I need for a "spread of STDs" game (because, yes, I am that much fun!).

Well, looks like one more box to be built and packed. And, my clothes, toothbrush, meds, etc., for the first two countries on the trip - family vacation - aren't packed into my travel suitcase yet.

Prioritize! Finish the glass of wine, hit the sack, get up at 6:00 am.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

First Meal after the Challenge!

ahhhh - spices! cumin seed, turmeric
and fresh ground black paper
TWO eggs!

add beans
add lots of fresh organic spinach 
cover and finish cooking

almost there!

yum! plus, coffee with lots of lovely rice milk. and yes, that is a copy of
Barack Obama's birth certificate
on the back of my "Made in the USA" mug!

This is actually my usual three-or-four day-a-week breakfast. It now feels so luxurious. It's not that I didn't always enjoy and appreciate it, but my perspective has really changed.

Feeling much more energetic and focused, but I need to get ready for Julie's graduation tonight (MSW! yay Julie!!) and Mother's Day tomorrow, so I'm putting off trying to catalogue my thoughts on this experiment. I want to be sure to do it while my feelings about it are still so strong, though.

Oh, and I don't want to get gluten-and-dairy-free chocolate brownie deliciousness on the keyboard.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Last Day of Living Below the Line!

my last Living Below the Line meal for 2012
rice, beans, lentils, onion, broccoli, olive oil, salt
delicious. no, really. delicious!

I was so hungry for this meal that I ate it at about 5:00. I'm still not too hungry, but also not focused enough to reflect on the last incredible five days. More in the next few days.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day 4 Living Below The Line

Julie's gluten and dairy free birthday desserts - which I didn't even taste!

Julie and Carlos came over for dinner tonight to celebrate Julie's 27th birthday! I had my beans, lentils, and rice, fried up with my broccoli. Lots of salt. Many glasses of water. Bob made (rice) pasta arrabiata for the three of them. I bought gluten and dairy free desserts for Julie and Carlos (and in my normal life I'm also gluten and dairy free) - they looked, and reportedly were, delicious. Oddly, maybe because I rarely eat dessert even though I love it, it just wasn't a problem for me at all to skip dessert. As hungry as I am, I know if I were dieting it would have been nearly impossible to resist.
BUT - the visceral experience of this challenge (even with the many advantages I have over a truly poor person in terms of ease of cooking, use of a car, refrigerator, etc.) has been worth the deprivation. Each day I get a bit hungrier and a bit more tired. And each day I think of another way that hunger affects me, and how much more it would affect an extremely poor person. My health is still good, my teeth don't hurt (so many poor people have bad teeth, certainly due at least in part to poor nutrition, and the Kenyans I know just have the bad tooth pulled, until they are often missing many teeth), I can rest or even nap if I need to. . .

I had breakfast with a friend this morning, after reassuring her that I wouldn't be at all bothered by watching her eat in the restaurant. And I wasn't. But it occurred to me that I could sit in a restaurant at a mealtime and not order a meal. This was a pretty casual place, and I'm sure that people often come in and just have a cup of coffee, but I suspect that I might have been pretty unwanted if I looked extremely poor or homeless and wasn't ordering food.

My kiwi tasted a bit odd this afternoon. Getting overripe, with a nearly fermented edge to it. I put my last one in the fridge, but I'm nervous that tomorrow's might be inedible. And my broccoli is starting to yellow a bit. I'm not really nervous about it, but I did start to feel anxious for a minute. And I wonder what it would be like to buy food on a truly tiny budget and then have it go bad, and have that mean that I don't eat.

My lips are dry and burn a bit, despite the copious quantities of water I'm drinking, since I drink half a glass or so every time I feel hungry, plus a glass or two at every meal. I think it's that I have too little fat or oil in my diet, in spite of the fact that although I budgeted for two tablespoons of olive oil a day I'm not really measuring and am probably using at least three. That isn't huge from a budgetary standpoint - about 10 cents worth - but calorically it is relatively huge. A serving of beans is 70 calories, and a tablespoon of oil is 120. So I'm giving myself more calories, and more fat, than I'm paying for, and I'm still not getting enough. And - I'm using lots of chapstick, which didn't have to come out of my $1.50.

What's it like to be a hungry, growing kid?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day 3 Living Below The Line

Wednesday, Thursday AND Friday's rice, bean and lentil mixture 
meals for Wednesday - 3 servings of rice/bean/lentil + 1 egg for breakfast,  1 kiwi for lunch and broccoli for dinner

So last night, Tuesday, Julie, her fiance Carlos, and my nephew Matthew were over for a late dinner after Carlos's soccer game. The guys were really hungry, and I made up a big batch of rice and beans for them, while I was also preparing my lentils and rice for today. After they'd finished eating, I was packing up their leftovers for them while I put my rice/bean/lentil mix into quart jars, one each for the remaining three days of the project. Julie thought that the quart jars of food were one for each of them, to pack for their lunches today. She couldn't believe that each jar was three meals of food. For me.

I managed to go through what is for me a pretty normal day today, which basically means not much physical exertion. An hour of physio for an injured toe, some shopping for garden plants with a friend, re-potted some of the new plants, did a little watering, emails, some reading (just how luxurious IS my life?) . . .

I was so hungry I couldn't wait for dinner, and cooked my evening meal at 4:45, except for the broccoli, which I just ate a little bit ago - about 8:30 pm,  just to spread the food out over time. It's now 9:45, and I'm pretty much out of oomph.

I'm imagining how I would feel if I'd had to expend a lot of calories working, or even walking very far. Or, if I were cold - it's a chilly night, and I saw my breath a little while ago letting Spenser out in the backyard. Notice I didn't say taking Spenser for a walk.  What if I were hungry AND cold? What if I had to walk to a shelter? Or sleep outside?

Two more days.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Day 2 Living Below The LIne

Well, this morning I had to cook my rice and lentils for the day, since Sunday I cooked five days of beans and Monday's rice and lentils. Lesson learned: you will wake up hungry and not want to be cooking before you can eat! I cooked the lentils and rice together (started the lentils with all of the water, and added the rice six or seven minutes later, with 2 sliced cloves of garlic), then stirred it in with a day's worth of beans (1/2 cup!), then divided the mixture into three bowls, one each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

My day was a bit chaotic, so I needed to pace my meals. I had to run over to a friend's for a while first thing, so I ate about a third of the bean/rice/lentil mix before I left, and had the rest of it with one fried egg at about 10:00 am. I then spent the rest of the day until 3:00 doing some gardening, and stopped for my second bowl of beans/rice/lentils around 12:30, but saved the kiwi for later. I had the third bowl at about 4:30, because I promised to go to a reception at 5:30 where food would be served and wanted to be as full as possible. Just drank water at the reception, and came home at about 8:30 and had the kiwi and cooked up the broccoli.

Right now it's about 10:15 pm and I'm hungry, but doing okay. I am cooking the rice and lentils for the rest of the week as I type, so that I don't get caught hungry in the morning again with no food ready to eat. I'll add it to the beans again, and separate it into three parts for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and then each morning separate that day's food into three.

I've discovered that I like the whole mixture together, and don't mind that it's the same all three meals of the day. Having beans and rice separate from lentils and rice didn't feel like I was getting interesting variety, and mixing it together is easier and perfectly tasty. We'll see if I still agree by Friday!

I've learned from tips from friends. Thanks, everyone who's suggested ideas. So, one meal a day, at lunch, I'm adding extra water when I reheat the food, and it's a bit like having a large bowl of soup. And a nutritionist friend (thanks, Jan Schiappa!) asked if I was sure to be outside at least fifteen minutes a day for my free vitamin D, since there's no money in the budget for supplements. I haven't been very successful foraging, since I finally found some dandelion leaves in my prairie plants, but left them outside all day and they looked too limp and icky to eat. And I keep forgetting to cut some chives and add them to the rice. I don't know if I'm too hungry and therefore forgetful, or not hungry enough yet to remember every scrap of potential food!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Day 1 Living Below the Line

breakfast: beans, rice, 1 fried egg
lunch: lentil-rice soup, 1 kiwi

dinner: beans, rice, broccoli

Hoo boy! First day of "living below the line". After each meal I felt full, and I think I did an okay job maximizing calories and protein, with some fruit and vegetable, for the money. But I'm definitely used to eating between meals, and when I got in the car to do a quick errand this afternoon and saw the bag of salted almonds I always keep there - a close call. I tossed it over my shoulder into the back before it could call my name again.

My main strategy in the afternoon to keep hunger at bay? I took a nap! That's right, I said it. A nap. In Kenya the poor women that I see have to walk to the river for water and carry it back on their heads, walk to the edge of the forest for wood for fuel and carry it back, walk to the "trading center" to buy a little corn meal, cook over a fire. . . Me? Napping.

So. Day 1. Yikes! Because, the other thing? I didn't go into this hungry. What will tomorrow bring? And, how early will I be in bed tonight?? 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Getting Ready for Monday

the bulk of breakfast, lunch and dinner tomorrow!
 So, maybe I'm a bit nervous. This is the basis of all three meals tomorrow. Lunch, on the top, is a serving of lentils (turns out they expand nicely when they absorb water) and half a serving of rice. Bottom is breakfast and dinner - half a serving of beans and a serving of rice each meal. Does not look like enough beans!

2 1/2 onions sauteed in olive oil
2 1/2 cooked onions turn out to be nearly 2 1/2 cups 
I haven't yet put in the onions, which I sauteed up and can have half a cup of per day. Of course, with breakfast I'll get an egg, with lunch a kiwi, and with dinner some broccoli.

Right now I'm on my second glass of a lovely Pouilly-Fuissé, which I will sorely miss!

Can I Eat On $1.50 A Day for Five Days??

Yes I Can!

Okay, it's Sunday evening, May 6, and I'm getting ready to  "Live Below the Line" for five days. As accurately as can be calculated, an American attempting to feed herself on what a "typical" person who lives in a developing country and is extremely poor would spend has about $1.50 per day to spend on food. Of course, we have a lot of advantages, not least access to information (and refrigerators), and the ability to purchase items in bulk because we actually have the cash on hand, and if necessary can drive to a store that has cheaper items.

In the photo are a tablespoon next to my big olive oil can (I'm allotting 2 T/oil/day), the rice, bean, and lentil bags from the market in Chicago, my 10 cloves of garlic, 2½ onions, the 6 kiwi, 5 eggs, 15 grinds of salt (one for each meal!) and the amount of broccoli I was able to buy for $1.00.

This takes some planning, not necessarily my strong suit. Last week I went to a neighborhood shop in Chicago with cheaper food than what is available in Evanston. I'm drawing on my work in rural Kenya, where I've both shopped and cooked, and I've decided that, as is common for poor people, I will eat a very limited menu, and the same thing all five days. Here are my self-imposed constraints:

•no gluten or dairy, as I am sensitive to both
•as nutritionally dense as possible, even though I only need to do it for 5 days
•I will buy non-organic produce
•I won't buy meat or eggs from animals treated badly. This means I can't afford meat, but have budgeted for free range eggs.
•I will cheat and call coffee "water", which is free. I freely confess to being addicted, and if I don't drink coffee I will have a headache (and be constipated!) by Tuesday evening. But - I'll drink it black rather than use my beloved rice milk.

I think this will work as a menu, but may alter quantities and ingredients as the week goes on. It will be the same every day:

½ serving beans  .08    
1 serving rice       .08    
1 egg                   .25    
1 T olive oil         .10   
l serving lentils   .12
½ serving rice     .04
1 kiwi                 .14
2 cloves garlic    .07

½ serving beans    .08
1 serving rice        .08
broccoli                 .20
½ onion                .12
1 T olive oil         .10

totals: .46 + .37 + .63 = $1.46 + .03/day salt = $1.49

I'm soaking the beans as I type, and will cook the entire 5 days worth tonight, with 2½ onions (½/day) for flavor. Tonight I'll also cook Monday's lentils (with 2 cloves of garlic) and rice, so that I can measure out the portions across the day and see what it looks like. I'm a bit worried about being full enough, but should have enough protein, since I both have one complete protein a day (the egg) and three servings of combined protein a day (the beans or lentils plus rice).

Yikes! I can't imagine doing this if I had to buy a little each day as I earned a little cash (and losing all advantages of economies of scale by buying in bulk), and expending lots of calories working, fetching water and firewood, etc.