Friday, September 28, 2012

Angry old ladies, the bum's rush and fish heads

Here I am again, a little later than I meant to be. I’ve been waiting for a burst of inspiration, a gestaldt binding everything together and giving me a handle about how to encapsulate the past ten days.
       Alas, Gestaldt’s R Not Us. Life continues to be a busy jumble of intertwined yet fragmented moments, parts of a whole I can barely sense. There is no routine. I switch, sometimes within minutes, from phoning potential volunteers to entering data, to training people, to doing voter registration on the street, to counting forms or collating packets, to attending a meeting, to answering questions—in short, to doing whatever the moment requires.
       It’s my nature to ask ‘why? What is this for?” 
       But this past week I stopped asking that, and/or looking for the whole picture. The whole is enormous—people like me all over this country, more and more and more of us. (People walk in off the street every day saying, “I want to help.” It makes the heart sing.) The whole picture would show an intricate, brilliant ever-enlarging web of connections so of course I can’t see to its edges or really know it’s shape.
I am one wee part of a huge organism. I am a worker bee, a drone (and I mean that in the nicest way). I don’t understand how the hive works, only my share of it, but I do understand that if I—and the other drones—do our bits, then the hive definitely will work.
       And so I drone on. Happily.
       There are highs and lows along the way. A high for me recently was registering a ‘forgiven’ felon who will now vote for the first time.
       Lots of kids who messed up with drugs or cars or other foolishness decades ago are now disenfranchised middle-aged citizens. So when we register people, we carry information on where felons can check whether they’ve been forgiven (doubtful) and/or how to begin the process towards that. It’s lengthy, and filled with red tape according to “my” felon.
       At first, he waved me off with an “I don’t vote.” His wife stopped him. “You can now! Do it!” And after some hesitation, he took the form, writing, then stopping to talk about the years it had taken him to regain his right to vote. It was an emotional moment and one I’m glad I got to share. We were all beaming when the form was complete.
       (Speaking of felons: last night, I was on a telephone bank and politely asked for a man we’ll  call “Bernie Smith.”
       Bernie?” a woman’s voice that scalded my ear said. Bernie  Smith? That @#$% is in Federal prison for fifty years so stop calling him!” 
I don’t think Bernie’s ever going to get his rights back, but I love the little (maybe not so little) stories that even some of these brief contacts suggest.
       Sometimes conversations can be downright silly. Office phones are used for the phone banks. They aren’t personal phones, so they don’t ring—except when one of them did. When I answered, a voice straight out of a horror movie—a low, slow, uninflected growl is the only way I can describe it—said, “Why. Did. You. Call. Me.”
       I said, “You called me. Who is this?”
       He said, “Who. Are. You. Why. Did. You. Call. Me.”
       I told him who we were and tried to explain why he’d been called, but he interrupted.
       “Don’t. Ever. Call. Me. Again.” He had overlong pauses before and in between his growled out words. Creepy, but I was not about to do or say anything that in any way would reflect poorly on Organizing for America or Obama, so I promised we wouldn’t ever call him (and we wouldn’t) if he’d tell me his name. I thought perhaps he was impaired, couldn’t speak normally. Couldn’t think quickly.
       He grumbled again about not being called.
       We went back and forth—don’t call me/tell me who you are so I can remove your name/don’t call me…
       And then I no longer cared if he thought less of me or Obama and I said I was busy and couldn’t talk anymore and I’d have to hang up if he wouldn’t tell me his name.
       And he said “Bah.”
       I waited (for the “Humbug”)  Silence. I asked again.
       He said, “Bah.”
       I said, “Do you think you could tell me your name? Do you need more time to think?”
       By this time, everybody else in the office was watching, amused…
       He said, “Bah.”
       I will spare you how long this went on with the long pause, the question, the next long pause, another few demands that I never call him, and another “Bah.”
       And I finally said: “Please. Maybe you could spell your name for me?”
       I had to ask a few times, and then he said:
“B…….A…..” Nothing more although it took a while for me to realize that.
       Mr. Ba?
       Had I committed an ethnic slur?  Embarrassed an incapacitated man with an unusual name? Had all the “Bah’s” been attempts to answer me? After further prodding, he gave me his first name and hung up on me.
       The odd postscript is that I did try to remove Mr. Ba from the call list, but he didn’t exist. Not with his first and last name reversed, not with initials, not anywhere at all.  I wonder what the whole long call was about. Somebody furious about being called, but so paranoid and angry he wouldn’t tell me the very name he wanted removed?
Mr. Whoever. He. Was will undoubtedly be called again. The difference will be that this time, I’m not answering if that call phone rings.
       Less trivial or funny has been the bum’s rush that we’ve received at almost all corporate owned retail sites. We aren’t inside the store or blocking access to anybody’s building—we’re out near the parking lot, standing and greeting people with the question, “Is your voter registration up to date?” That’s all. And of course we register anybody and everybody.
       But way too often, an embarrassed looking store manager comes out to say that alas, Corporate won’t allow “soliciting.” Ah, we say, we aren’t. We’re doing a civic service. The law says so.
       It doesn’t matter. “Corporate” in its far-away office, says no. And the process of requesting and getting permission from Corporate takes forever. “If we let you do this,” one manager told me, “we’d have to let everybody else do the same. Why,” he added, ”if somebody had a petition to burn the Holy Cross, we’d have to let them do it.”
       Did he not have High School English? Did he pass his S.A.T.’s? Where is the analogy there? We’re simply trying to enable people to vote…
       Of course, we are trying to get the people who were shut out by voter suppression rules to vote. Republicans are not out on the streets registering people. This is more suppression, this time orchestrated by remote corporations, and it infuriates me because we have no support of our rights from the state. How could there be? Four weeks before the election, the governor here is trying new ways to purge the polls.
       It upsets me to read newspapers calmly report how Obama is ahead in the polls, but of course, he might lose because of voter suppression rules in so many states.
       A sentence like that should not be calmly stated. This is a democracy. A sentence like that should be a screaming, outraged headline. We should be protesting, loudly, constantly that this is the antithesis of who we are and should be.
       In lieu of that, I’ve been busy, happy, exhausted—and angry about the malevolent shenanigans designed to warp our democracy completely out of shape. However, taken all together, it’s given me a new personal creed:
Nothing on earth can stop an angry old lady.
 Here I am: angry, old and unstoppable…
       And finally—time out, a trip to nearby Tarpon Springs with a fellow Fellow. (These masculine labels confuse me. I’m a Fellow who will be manning an office tomorrow. That’s just wrong, but what’s the female version?)
       Bet you didn’t know that Tarpon Springs was once the sponge capital of the world. Neither did I. Time, sponge plagues and plastic have reduced its prominence but it’s still a place where the men who harvest sponges live. We watched an interesting film about the hard life of a sponge diver, and it included one thing I can’t seem to forget.
       The diver needs to eat during his long periods out at sea, and sponges aren’t gourmet fare, so he spear-fishes. The film showed him preparing his catch (or if speared, is it his impaled?) for dinner. “I get this part,” he said, lifting the head. “I have to eat the head because I looked him in the eye and I killed him.”
       I’m not sure I understand it, but it nonetheless haunts me. Is there something about Romney in it? Obama? Angry old women? Life?
And now, back to work.
Thirty-nine days to go!

(p.s. immediately after writing this, I received news that the administration here is being sued for reneging on their earlier agreement to stop these shenanigans. Good for that immediate reaction—bad that it has come to this.)


  1. Judy, I hope you had the chance to enjoy some Greek food while you were in Tarpon Springs! (It probably won't surprise you to hear that I've been there, so I did know it was the sponge capital of the world...)
    --Sue T.

  2. Judy, I love reading these posts, even though it makes me feel like my Monday nights doing data entry for phone banks is getting off easy. Hope the weather has cooled down a bit and that Florida graces your efforts by swinging Obama's direction.

  3. This is fascinating. Amusing. Infuriating. I couldn't stop reading. Go, subversive voter registraters!

  4. THIS:
    "It upsets me to read newspapers calmly report how Obama is ahead in the polls, but of course, he might lose because of voter suppression rules in so many states.
    A sentence like that should not be calmly stated. This is a democracy. A sentence like that should be a screaming, outraged headline. We should be protesting, loudly, constantly that this is the antithesis of who we are and should be."
    Jimmy Carter has, for years, taken groups of people to other countries to ensure their voting process is taking place fairly and legally. And now we're in need of the same policing. And there aren't more people outraged by this??!
    Judy - you, m'dear, are my hero.

  5. Surreal! Wishing you strength and sucess.

  6. We here in New York are completely out of the whole thing so it is fascinating to read about what other states are like.Keep up the good work!

  7. Our job just got a whole lot harder!
    Deanne V

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