Election 2004

The Celeb Effort for Southwest Voters

Sean Penn, Peter Coyote and others hit the pavement in search of the undecided voters — and find some.
An energetic team of celeb canvassers led by Academy Award-winner Sean Penn, flew into Albuquerque, N.M., and Las Vegas on Monday to cheer on hundreds of volunteers flocking to these key swing states for the election day push — and to knock on doors themselves in search of the undecided voter.

Traveling with Penn was a gaggle of notables, including actor Peter Coyote, producer Lawrence Bender, director Callie Khouri, linguist George Lakoff, media critic Norman Solomon, and Fernando Suarez del Solar, a passionate parent of Jesus, a Marine who was killed in Iraq on March 27, 2003 shortly after hostilities began.

Suarez was going door-to-door asking, “Are you voting?" One Latino man in his 30s replied, "Yes I am — but I haven't made a decision yet."

Suarez took up the challenge of convincing him. “I believe Bush lied to us about the war in Iraq and why my son died there,” Suarez said. “I think with (John) Kerry, we have a better chance because he has been to war ... and Bush hasn't. Bush wants more wars — in Iran and North Korea and that means more Hispanic young people dying."

The man softened a bit. “Yes, I don't like war and I've seen you on Hispanic TV,” he said. Then came the sticking point. “But Kerry is for abortion and gay marriage and that's not good for me."

Suarez didn’t miss a beat. "Yes, I understand this is a problem,” he said, “but don't forget the legislature makes the decisions about abortion and marriage, not John Kerry. But Bush chose to go to war himself.”

As the man hesitated, Sean Penn stepped up to the door to seal the deal. Penn explained that he had gone to Iraq with Suarez to find out what had happened to his son — and learned that Jesus had stepped on a cluster bomb dropped by the U.S. Penn pointed out that Kerry was also a Catholic and had trouble with abortion and gay marriage as well. That did it. The man agreed that it made sense to vote for Kerry. He called downstairs to his father to come up and meet the celeb at the door.

Peter Coyote reported tougher going in New Mexico where he knocked on more than 50 doors and found a slight plurality for Bush. "But the biggest part of our job is to support the volunteers who are working hard to pull out the vote," he said. Meanwhile, Lakoff seemed impressed with the energy and drive of the volunteer force assembled under a large tent by America Coming Together (ACT) at the convergence site on Owens Avenue in Vegas. "These people are amazing,” Lakoff said.

But clearly ACT wasn't the only game in town in Vegas, as canvassers representing MoveOn PAC, the Sierra Club and the Democratic Party, along with various local elected officials kept bumping into each other on the semi-suburban streets outside of Vegas. It seemed clear, with early voting numbers high, with experienced organizers from the Culinary Workers union and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and with an overflow of volunteers, that virtually every Kerry voter was going to be found and reminded more than once to come out to vote, maximizing the vote in the Las Vegas area to overcome the strong rural support for Bush in Nevada.

Nevertheless, everyone hoped that democracy would win out on Election Day. Suarez was hopping a plane to Washington, D.C., to be part of a national voter monitoring effort, while Penn said of the next few days: "I'll be wherever I have to be to make change happen."

Despite the enthusiasm, there was some trepidation in the air, and talk of having to take it to the streets should the election appear to be stolen.
Don Hazen is the Executive Editor of AlterNet.
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