It began with the news of voter list purging. Ten days ago, the media identified six "swing" states as having "problems" with voter registration. Of those, two were in the Southwest (Nevada and Colorado); two in, literally middle America (Ohio and Indiana); one in the Great Lakes region of the country (Michigan). The most intriguing state for a family educational political vacation was in the South - the Deep South - North Carolina.
From all accounts, the situation in North Carolina was dismal. I couldn't figure out if the reports of voter fraud and voter disenfranchisement were fantasy or reality. Either way, I had a sinking feeling that the citizens of the Tar Heel state would be denied their right to vote if news reports were true.
That's how this Obama Mama from Texas picked North Carolina as our weekend destination family "vacation." It would be a reverse Disney - a trip that moved us from the "fantasy world " of an Obama presidency to the reality of working hard -grassroots style -- to help make it happen. But time was running out.
Our teenagers greeted the news with high-pitched, chalkboard scratching whines. Total teenage angst.
Elizabeth, our 11th grader, said she had too much school work, trying to juggle volunteering at the Obama office every afternoon, homework, school projects and studying for the PSAT and SAT. And, of course, spending time hanging out with her girlfriends.
Our 9th grader, Austin, protested too. He's interested in the presidential race; he's watched the convention speeches, the presidential (and vice presidential) debates and even submitted extra credit-essays on the debates for his World Geography class. Every evening at dinner, Austin regales us with tales from the "Obama trash talk" express at school. Austin is a walking, talking, one-man "fight the smear" billboard for Obama.
Austin also loves to argue - about anything - his favorite topic lately, natch, is about his civil rights (or lack thereof) in our house.
We always give him the same answer. "When you're 18, you'll have rights. You can vote. Until then, nada."
So, I shouldn't have been surprised when he turned those words right back at me.
"Like you said, I'm 14. I have no rights. I can't vote. I'm staying home."
I knew I had about 3 seconds to make my point. Instead, I shot back: "Your sister isn't old enough to vote either. But that's not the point."
"So.......then.....Mom ..........what exactly is the point?"
Then, I found my voice. "Listen Buster.The point is this your country. Mine. Actually, yours, mine and ours."
"And furthermore," I continued, "We...the adults....we....have just handed you kids a $700 billion tax bill for the financial mess this country - all of us - are in. Which means that you will be paying it off until you are old and gray. And your kids. And your grandkids."
I paused. I was exhausted just thinking about it.
"So, none of us can wait four years. Comprendo? This is the most important presidential election in our lifetime. Your lifetime. We're all going to North Carolina."
And that's how we ended up Friday, on the doorstep of the Obama headquarters in Cary, NC.
We talked and talked and talked -- phone banking kind of talking -- mostly it was a one-way conversation. We urged voters to take advantage of the "One-Stop Early Voting-Registration" that North Carolina offers. We talked up registration and early voting and gave voters directions to the Early Voting site at the Cary Towne Center mall "right between Belks and JC Penneys", we enthused, "but closer to the entrance at the Mitchell Spa." Like we knew where that was.
We gave a list of reasons why it was important to vote early. And let them know that it wasn't too late to register to vote.
Austin had the most creative sales pitch. Each was individualized.
"You know, you may have a flat tire on voting day. Bummer."
"A thunderstorm might happen."
"You might want to sleep," he said, probably inspired by his sister who was struggling to keep her eyes opened.
"It sounds from your answering machine, like you have a bunch of kids, so you might want to do it during the day while they're at school and not have to worry about a babysitter. "
And then, Austin brought a once-buzzing room of phone bankers to silence when he said: "Hey dude....you might just want to party!"
The volunteers stopped talking. Mid-sentence from the typed Obama Early Voting script.
That's when they began to giggle. Hands down, the party line was the crowd favorite.
When asked how he came up with the "party excuse scenario," Austin answered: "Hey, this guy is 19. I figured that was a better reason to Early Vote than a thunderstorm."
The next morning we returned to Obama headquarters and honed our telemarketing skills. It was Saturday morning. More people were home.
This time the script was different.
We were calling people who previously expressed an interest in volunteering; we were calling to follow up with a phone number and a list of specific opportunities for volunteerism. In kind donations, taking people to the polls, more phone banking, bringing coffee and pep talks to tired poll watchers. And there was an emphasis on asking for donations of HEALTHY food for the office.
"They tell me that people in this office haven't seen a fruit, vegetable or salad for 6 weeks," I found myself telling Kathleen, a mother of three who had the misfortune of answering the phone that morning. "Wow, salads are your speciality? That's great. They'll LOVE you. Their mothers will love you. I love you. Here's the address....."
Two hours later, Kim (Obama Cary office phone bank guru) hands me a sheet of paper.
"Joan. I am giving you the phone numbers of the LAST FOUR undecided voters in this entire county. If Obama wins Wake County, he wins North Carolina. If he wins North Carolina, he wins the White House.
Good luck, Joan."
Like my daughter, my little teacup of stress, just runneth over.
It was now an overflowing, boiling cauldron.
As a junior in high school, I've never been more overwhelmed with work, work, and more work in my life. Homework, tests, quizzes, PSATs, SATs, essays, chores, extracurricular activities, and more that fill my stress tea cup day after day, and I often wonder if there is even any more room for anything else in that cup. Like at Disney's Fantasy Land, The Madhatter's Tea Cup ride, I feel as though I am going around and around and eventually realize the ride is a waste of time. I start worrying about all the other things I need to be doing.
When my mother, told me that I will be I'm missing two days of school for the chance to go to North Carolina to campaign for Senator Barack Obama For President, I started to panic. Missing two days of school in the 11th grade means a lot of makeup work and more stress for my little tea cup.
I already volunteer at my local Obama office downtown three times a week! I thought that was enough, but according to Mom, it wasn't, and we needed to get to North Carolina A.S.A.P. So, Thursday night we left San Antonio and flew to North Carolina. I left my overflowing tea cup of stress, behind.
Upon arriving at the Obama campaign headquarters in Cary,NC, my jaw dropped at the sight of all the posters and signs taped or hung on the outside wall. This office was big. Well stocked. Computers everywhere. Next door, a huge McCain Palin sign sits on the flatbed of a truck. They say that's where the McCain campaign has its headquarters. Right next door. We never see any volunteers.
In the Obama office we are greeted by a small, friendly, gray-haired lady named Hazel. She shows us around the headquarters and then asks if we are ready to begin calling people in the neighborhood to remind them about early voting, the Battle of the (high school) Bands for Obama that afternoon in the parking lot at the Galaxy Cinema, and Sunday's March for Obama.
"This is what I do all the time at the Obama office at home," I whispered to no one in particular. "I did not come all the way to North Carolina to do more calling."
Hazel introduces us to Kim, the queen of phone banking. Kim, who has blue Democratic streaks in her hair, tells us about the political stakes.
"We are telling these people how important it is to vote early for Barack Obama. If we win this county (Wake County), we will be able to win the electoral votes for North Carolina for Senator Obama. I hope you all understand how crucial these phone calls are."
Even though I'd been doing phone banking for Obama in Texas, I guess I really didn't understand the big picture. If Obama wins North Carolina, he wins the White House. We all win.
I got through the call lists like a speed demon, knowing that I was just one volunteer helping the campaign. One 16-year-old who can't even vote.
I was encouraging so many others to help Barack Obama become our next president. Only a couple of people actually turned out to be McCain supporters; they let me know before they hung up. First, some of them cussed me out. I just laughed and kept going through the list. I talked to so many nice people, too. People from Cary, NC, who are so supportive of Obama and will do anything to get him into the White House.
The next day, my brother, father, mother and I drove through the Cary suburbs to canvass door to door. I'm glad we brought our Garmin GPS navigator. My mother calls Cary, NC, "Cul De Sac Hell."
I've never did canvassing with the Obama office back in Texas, so this a totally new experience. As we walked through the wet, leafy streets, I noticed that the neighborhoods looked like ours. Many houses were decorated for Halloween. On that Saturday afternoon, we found out that many people were not home. Some who did answer the door, seemed unhappy with our visit. They cautiously answered our questions about their presidential preference. We told them about "One Stop Early Voting" and handed them some information.
We came across one McCain supporter, who accidentally ended up on our list of Obama supporters; she was surprisingly very kind and courteous about our knock on the door.
Through this experience, I have finally realized what many Americans have not. That one person, whatever age, can truly make a difference.
I learned that I can call hundreds of phone numbers and knock on the door of hundreds of houses (well, it felt like it was a couple of hundred) and know that I am personally responsible for at least one, if not several, more votes for Barack Obama.
The presidential election will come within days of my birthday.
I think an Obama victory would just be about the best birthday gift I could get.
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