This Country Needs Change: Why I Drove to Nevada to Knock on 51 Doors in 115 Degree Heat

Election '08

I hadn't knocked on the door of someone I didn't know since I sold Girl Scout cookies in the sixth grade. Well, actually, there was the historic night 25 years ago that my college roommate and I got hideously lost and spent a snowy night wandering aimlessly around West Nyack, N.Y., before finally knocking on a farmhouse door to ask directions to the Garden State Parkway. But you get the idea. I don't bother strangers. I don't particularly like it when strangers knock on my door. I'm essentially friendly, and I'm pretty smart, but the truth is I'm painfully shy and at heart a very private person. Were it not for the fact that I love my child and that I love my country deeply, and I fear what it has become, I'd really be very content to stay home and live as much like a hermit as possible.

But that simply isn't an option this year. So I've been donating money to the greatest extent I can, volunteering, distributing signs and bumper stickers to anyone who will take them (now the numerous Obama yard signs on the modest lawns in our neighborhood greatly outnumber the FIVE McCain signs on the historic Mansion that dominates the neighborhood), and using Neighbor to Neighbor to recruit more volunteers. But it didn't feel like enough.

So last weekend I drove to Las Vegas, along with hundreds of other Southern Californians, to help register voters and canvass from door to door. It was over 115 degrees in the remote area of northern Clark County that I was assigned to canvass, and there was no shade whatsoever. There were a couple of times I was almost afraid I wouldn't finish. It was awesome.

It was the second-most-wonderful, second-most-rewarding experience I've ever had as a member of a community. Since first place in those categories involved helping save a child's life, second in this case is a really, really amazing experience.

I spoke to people who said they had no idea who the candidates were. I talked to them about Barack Obama and how he was making me proud of my country again. (Michelle, I know you meant "more proud;" I unfortunately haven't been able to have any pride since we invaded Iraq -- love, yes; pride, no.) About how his vision is for all of us to recognize each other as fellow Americans with a stake in the well-being and future of our country, and a responsibility to each other. To move past the hatred and fear of the last eight years. And to make America live up to its promise for all of us, not just the extremely wealthy. Some were impressed, while others explained kindly that with both McCain and Obama it was all just "blah, blah, blah," as one very nice Latino man put it.

He felt that they talk, but who knows what they will really do. He was going to wait until the very end to make up his mind. I respect that, and I told him so -- and I encouraged him and others to go to YouTube and watch the debate they had missed the night before, and to keep really listening to Obama when he speaks, and to see what they thought and who they believed. And I said thanks and smiled, and you know what? Mostly, they smiled, too. They probably shook their heads and forgot about me as soon as I left, but hey, we had a moment. There was the young guy who said he knew absolutely nothing about either candidate and said -- in the friendliest possible manner, while he and his friend were working on his truck -- that he really didn't want to know. He also said I probably could count on his vote. His girlfriend had made him register, and he figured she'd leave him if he didn't vote for Obama like she told him to. I was so sorry she wasn't home -- my list said I was supposed to talk to her, too -- but it looked like the work was well taken care of in that household.

I talked to several wonderful women, white and black, who looked at me as though I was crazy when I asked if they knew who they'd be supporting for president. "Girl, whose hat are you wearing?" Um, Obama/Biden? "That's right. Of course I'm voting for Obama. And let me get my son out here and you can get him registered. Do you want some water, hon?" "She's in the shower, honey, but please come back in ten minutes, I know she'll want to sign whatever you got there for Obama." There was nothing for her to sign, she was registered and raring to go and she had to run to work -- but she talked to me and answered my questions from the front door to the car and then said, "You, go, girl -- get my mom to give you some water and go in the kitchen to drink it!" I talked to grandchildren living with hard-working grandparents, the grandchildren young voters in their late teens and early 20s. They were at home, the grandparents either out at work or sleeping as they had come off the night shift at the casinos only a few hours earlier. They were for Obama, and they were excited to hear about how they could vote early in Nevada and free themselves up to volunteer at the polls on Election Day. A young man carefully wrote down the rules for early voting and their two nearest locations, and he assured me he'd tell his grandmother all about it when she woke up. "Don't worry, she'll vote," he said, "She told me she wouldn't feed me if I didn't!"

I spoke to a delightful man, Victor S., who has been volunteering for ages and is downright joyful in his enthusiasm for Obama and the kind of America he represents. He was washing the biggest, bulkiest, galumphiest pit bull mix I'd ever seen when I walked up. I confess, I steer clear of pit bull anythings, even though I've heard that many can be wonderful pets. "Coco" must have weighed 90 pounds, maybe 100 wringing wet, which she was as she bounded out of the tub to waggle adoringly against my bare legs (and white shorts). Victor kept shooing her away, but I was in love with Coco. She might be big and hairy and doggy, but she was gloriously wet and cool and -- unlike the McCain supporter I had just spoken with -- obviously thrilled to see me. Victor encouraged me to have Californians stay with him the next time we came out, and he offered me a bottle of water for the walk. And make no mistake: I went out there with two bottles of water, and had drunk a glass of water half an hour earlier, and I was ready for that next bottle.

I met a man who was registered as nonpartisan who, when I asked if he knew who he was voting for in November, fixed me with what I took to be his stern, no-nonsense look (it was pretty good, stopping just a hair short of nastiness) and said, "McCain, and there's nothing you can do about it."

But you know something? He was the only remotely hostile person I met all day, and he was a definite improvement on the many homes at which there was no answer.

The next door down turned out to be another nonpartisan who spent ten thoughtful minutes with me, answering my questions, asking me his, and ultimately saying that for him, it would now all come down to the economy and he just hadn't heard enough yet from the candidates to make up his mind. I'm registered as nonpartisan, and I actually felt heartened by that kind of reflection and open-mindedness. The man was no fool. I do think he'll vote for Obama in the end, and that was a kind of exciting feeling to walk away with.

But my favorite experience in the field was one I wasn't supposed to have. On my way to knock on the door of 3154, my penultimate door before I could quit, I happened to notice an older woman and two younger women relaxing in their garage at 3150. I called out a "Hi, how are you today," to which they responded with a graciousness that for some reason called to mind my Southern great-aunts sitting on their front porch. They weren't on my list of folks to talk to, but I was wearing my Obama gear and they were friendly, so I asked, "Are you all registered to vote?" They weren't. They had just moved in and had planned to just go back to the old polling place of the only one of them who had been registered up until then. What a way to end the day! I had registered two people earlier and that had felt great, but here I was about to save three votes for Obama! I explained that the grandmother, Anna, would need to reregister at her new address or her vote wouldn't count. And her two granddaughters had never voted before, but they were ready to register for Obama. So we stood in the garage and the women filled out their registration forms on the hood of a car. I registered five people that day, and not one form was error-free the first time around. The forms are cramped and hard to read, and it is surprisingly easy to leave a blank. Fortunately, our field coordinator had put the fear of God in us about messing up people's sacred right to vote by not triple-checking the forms and pointing out errors or omissions to them before taking their forms. (That field coordinator is a story unto himself, but he may have to wait for another day, another blog.)

Anna's granddaughters had just turned 18. They were sly and funny and slow-talking, and they had been born in my home state of New Jersey. They thought I was crazy to drive all day just to walk around in the sun all day the next day, but they thought it was cool, too. And Anna knew her stuff. She wanted to know where the nearest campaign office was. She thought maybe she'd take the girls down there to see what people were doing "to make something happen this time." And she hugged me and offered me a beer. This was my kind of woman. I couldn't stay and drink the beer with her, though, as badly as I wanted to, first because I was late finishing my rounds and needed to report back to the field office to be debriefed, and second because, despite all the water, I was light-headed and didn't think I could drive with even half a beer in me. So we wrapped the cold beer up in tin foil and put it in my trunk so I could drink it when the day was done.

By the time I left the field office and got back to my hotel two hours later, Anna's beer was approximately 80 degrees. I put it on ice while I poured a glass of water and then a glass of wine, and when the beer was cold, I drank that too. I fell asleep sometime before 8 p.m., in Vegas.

AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.

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