Thursday, November 06, 2008

My Guy

I remain bone-weary from five days of nine-hour walks around a southern New Mexico town. While I was there I was not supposed to blog about it, not that I would have had time anyway, and it may be that some restrictions still apply. I am not going to say much about the management of the campaign, except to say that its firm but generous structure impressed me and honestly reminded me of nothing so much as the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt.

But I did have personal experiences, personal stories, in canvassing, and those I am allowed to tell. So I will tell one in particular, the story of "my guy." By the end of our canvassing experience, my friend M and I had each found "our guy," the one experience and story that, to us, made the five days worth it, made us absolutely confident we had done something real, even when we didn't know the outcome. So I will tell mine.

I was looking for a woman on my canvassing list, Josefina (name has been changed). Upon reaching the house, I found a gentleman in the garage, probably in his late forties or early fifties, Latino, shirt off, doing something with tools I couldn't quite see. Decked out in all my Obama finery (wearing pins, carrying lawn signs), I asked if Josefina was home. The man said he would go get her. I stared at the McCain sign on the lawn next door; it was not uncommon, I had discovered, for next-door neighbors to have opposing political views.

The man returned. "She doesn't want to come out," he said.

"Okay," I said, in my ineffably perky canvassing persona. "Would you mind giving her these?" I handed him several brochures regarding Obama's positions on economic security, health care, and John McCain.

"Sure." He took them. "She's kind of in between right now. I'm not voting," he added.

"I'm sorry to hear that. May I ask why not?"

He explained that he liked Obama, but he had two hesitations about him. The first involved his Reverend. I braced myself for another stupid rant about how Obama could trust someone like that, but this man said almost the opposite: how could Obama so easily break off a relationship with his pastor of twenty years, saying "You mean nothing to me?" His second concern was "the pro-life issue." But McCain was just going to be more Bush, he said, which he wasn't wild about either. He admitted that he had voted for Bush in 2000, but had since realized his mistake.

I addressed "the pro-life issue" first, since I had actually prepared for the prospect of hearing that one. "I don't think anyone's really 'anti-life,'" I said, and explained the ways in which Obama would work to prevent unwanted pregnancies: by increasing education, by increasing insurance coverage for women (I hinted only vaguely at contraception at first, but the man soon responded that in spite of his Catholic upbringing he considered that "a private issue," and so I addressed it more directly). The man seemed very receptive, saying "that's true," and I felt hopeful. However, he was sure Obama was going to win anyway, so his vote didn't really matter.

"Oh no," I said. "I'm from New York, and I've been living in Illinois, so *my* vote doesn't matter. But in the last election, John Kerry lost New Mexico by 314 votes. In the entire state. You are definitely one of those 314. Your vote matters."

He took that in.

"But I just can't understand with the pastor. After twenty years, how could he say 'I want nothing to do with you'?"

First of all, I said, I think he kind of backed Obama into a corner. My guy agreed with me, but remained uncertain, reminiscing on the influence of ministers in his youth, how he could remember and name each. I told him I didn't personally have much religion in my life, and conflated a few stories involving people leaving their church (my father's girlfriend and many members of his community) with much regret and the presence of female pastors (my friend's mother in high school). (Who says I can't improvise?) I felt I was flailing, but we then moved into a discussion about privacy, about the fact that you really couldn't know what Reverend Wright and Obama, who did indeed have this relationship of twenty years, had discussed before Obama made this announcement.

"Still," said the guy, "after twenty years, how can he just say, 'I want nothing to do with you, you mean nothing to me'?"

"I don't think he said that," I said quickly. "I mean, I've broken up with people, and it didn't mean you mean nothing to me, it meant I couldn't be with you anymore."

He stopped and stared at me. "That's a really good way to put it," he said. "I wish Obama had said that."

"Thank you," I said, startled. "I don't know if you can have that kind of subtlety in public presidential campaigns. But again, we don't know what went on when they spoke to each other." I looked at him; the conversation seemed to be ending. "Sir, you seem like a really thoughtful, informed, interesting person, so can I just ask you to—reconsider your decision?"

"Well," he said, "I have three more days to figure it out, right? And I will read these." He shook the brochures I'd given him for his wife. "Thank you."

"Thank you," I said. We shook hands, although mine was covered in blue ink from the freshly printed lawn signs, and I went on my way.


At 11:10 PM, Blogger Bilal said...

See, I'm proud of the small work I did in Indy. But you, you are my hero.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Ammegg said...

Wow, thank you! I think the field organizers there were my heroes. I can't imagine putting twenty months into something where you really had little control over the outcome. *So* impressive.


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