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Campaign Journal: Bikers, Bill Clinton and Ballots in Florida

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There are many ways volunteers can help during a campaign. There is always a need for data entry, phone calls, canvassing, sign posting, food runs, bathroom sanitation  and general support. Anyone who cares can volunteer and the amount of hours contributed can vary. This volunteer has made a personal commitment to give at least twenty hours a week to the Obama campaign serving in whatever capacity they need. At the moment, I’ve been made a team leader for my district in East Orlando. In order to effectively lead the team I’ve been on the phones myself and I’ve been visiting the neighborhoods knocking on doors to get a sense of what’s happening here so that I can better advise the team. Amanda Michel suggested that I keep a diary and submit it on a semi-weekly basis and I thought it was a great idea.

Mon. Sep 29   9:30 AM The office has just opened on Saturday and many of the team leaders are assembled to receive basic instructions and lists of volunteers for our teams. There are young mothers with kids in tow, mothers of teens and lots of single women. The women probably outnumber the men four to one. Several ethnicities are represented. We get to meet each other and exchange ideas.  We discuss the best times to run the phone banks, the best times to canvass and other ways to be effective. Right now the biggest push is for voter registration and early voting. There is one more week to register and big pushes are underway at Univ. of Central Fla. and Valencia Community College. These two schools represent seventy thousand potential voters and this area, East Orlando, is the key to winning Orange County. One of our organizers tells us to keep Wednesday from twelve o’clock to two o’clock open and that there will be a special announcement. I take several sheets of phone contacts home to make calls from the house.

                      1:00 PM This is not a good time to be making phone calls. People are at work, or out doing their daily chores. I’m getting a lot of voicemail responses. Leaving a call back number is a waste of time


Tue. Sep 30 9:00 AM Check in at the office. The new phone scripts are available. I’ll get them to my team members. I’ve rearranged my business and personal schedule to be free on Wednesday so that I’ll not be able to contribute ant more time today. We now know that Bill Clinton will be appearing at UCF and it’s a prime opportunity to register people.

Wed. Oct 1 11:00 AM  On the grounds at UCF. The crowds are already here. The speech is going to be held outdoors. Much time is going to be spent jockeying for position and finding a vantage point in order to record and take pictures. I should have brought a milk crate to stand above the crowd. Several people faint at this event because it’s hot and the crowds are preventing a lot of air circulation. Two young women succumbed at different times less than ten feet away from me. In person he is everything positive you have ever heard about him. He redeemed himself in my opinion for his lackluster support up until now. There were registration tables set up for the college crowd and there was activity there.

Thur. Oct 2 3:00 PM  I’ve put Susan, my wife, on a plane to Baltimore to be with our daughter, Nancy, who is expecting her second child. The figures are in from yesterday and we registered over 200 new people at UCF and over 100 people from Valencia. My organizer has asked me to lead a team of canvassers to the Valencia area neighborhoods. I said okay, but the final tally was the organizer and me. We should work in teams; one person covering the odd number addresses and the other covering the even numbers. The focus of this canvass is to identify voter preference and to register new democratic voters, as well as, pick up early voting ballots and get early voting pledges.

                   4:30 PM Lots of people are not home. The ones that are home are hospitable even if they are not Obama supporters. I’m not trying to convince anyone here; I’m just trying to identify.  I do ask open ended questions where I can so we can determine why people are supporting McCain. Most of the people in these neighborhoods are of Hispanic descent, not necessarily Cuban. There are also Arab families, Indian, African American and oriental families living here. There are very few actual white people, however, in the middle of one block there was a picture perfect biker family that saw me coming. They were not on my list but I just had to comment on the big Harley in their driveway and the 79 Corvette (needing much restoration) and how much I admired the vehicles. I asked what it was that they liked about McCain. The answer was frightening: “he’s one tough guy-you guys are pussies.”  I responded that we Democrats also buy Corvettes and motorcycles and moved on. Some of the Obama supporters invited us in and told us how affected they are by the current administration. We signed up several volunteers and actually registered some people right on the spot.


                7:30 PM We’re back in the office. We must have covered a couple of hundred addresses and I learned a lot. Here are some rules:

1.     Wear comfortable shoes.    

2.     Don’t waste time with non supporters. If they are undecided ask them what issues are important to them and leave some literature.

3.    Do not argue. Even if you win you lose.  Be cordial at all times

4.    Carry a pocketful of dog biscuits. It’s a way of winning over people if their dog likes you.

Time to man the phones.  Making calls is different. The contact rate is much smaller, and when you do connect you can’t look them in the eye and control the conversation. I had one contact who said to me straightforward “I wouldn’t vote for that SOB if you paid me” just as I identified myself as an Obama campaign worker. Another contact, a Jewish middle aged woman said that she was supporting McCain.  Normally I would thank her for her input and hang up, but I was intrigued that she was so adamant. I tactfully asked her to give me a reason for her McCain support and she said that “Obama is not ready to lead.”  When I hear that phrase my stomach turns. I know where she’s coming from and she’s too ignorant to educate herself properly. There’s no use arguing with ignorance and my job is not to influence her, it is only to collect the information. I thanked her for her input and hung up, making notations on the contact sheet.

           8.45 PM  It is time to go to a debate party. After a long day I really wasn’t in the mood to be with a lot of people so I elected to go home, play with our dog and four cats, have dinner and watch the debate.

Fri. Oct 3 4:00 PM  I need to finish the Valencia area from yesterday.  Friday is not a good day. People make plans to go out and don’t have time to talk to you. Again there are many homes with nobody home. One wonders if anyone actually lives there.  On these blocks I found more Obama people and I collected some absentee ballots.  The undecided are leaning more towards Obama, but they have not yet made a commitment.  Once it gets dark there’s no use in trying to see more people, so it is back to the office. I’ll finish off the area tomorrow and take a new area as well.     

We decide that Friday after 5:00 is no time to make cold calls on the phone. I called members of the team to try and mobilize them for tomorrow. We agree to meet at 9:30


Sat. Oct 4  9:30 AM  I’m here. Where’s everyone else?  I talk to the organizer about putting the team to work. I’ll go out now with another partner and the team will go to work when they arrive. I only have three hours today as I must babysit for my other daughter today and tomorrow. Another thing that I discovered on the street is that I like it. It energizes me. I’m talking to people with names like Sanchez, Rodriguez, Kwan, Aboud, Shakir as well as Gibson, Wilson Becker et al. We’re all communicating as best we can. Everyone should do this.

Uh oh, there’s competition. No, it’s not the McCain people. It’s church people. We’re all knocking on the same doors. They are trying to sell books and magazines and they are in large groups. No way am I going to compete with them because they speak fluent Spanish. I’ll send someone out tomorrow to finish this neighborhood.                                                               


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