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.