Wednesday, October 31, 2012

a worm's eye view of the ground game

I’m writing this before the sun comes up on Hallowe’en morning. A lot of time and history have passed since I arrived in Florida September 1st.A devastating megastorm has come and gone up North, leaving a nightmare in its wake, and the battle for the presidency still rages on, but is near its close.

The large tube of toothpaste I brought is now small, I’m measuring out my remaining shampoo and I’ve trimmed my bangs twice. A week from tomorrow, I’ll step back into my real life. I am halfway out the door already, but meanwhile I am very much here, exhausted, but also more intensely unexhausted than ever.

We are all nail-biting nervous, trying not to read the fluctuating polls. Neck to neck might be fun with horses, but not with issues this important. If my hair weren’t already gray, it would be now.

I am astounded by the dishonorable nastiness of the other party, both in matters enormous and petty. Of the latter variety: a large bill-board size Obama sign here is spray-painted black, then shredded. Almost every Obama yard sign has been ripped out of its lawn and stolen and too often replaced with a “Fire Obama” sign. The mean-spirited, stupid pettiness of this disgusts and depresses me. As a new friend says, “The gene pool needs a little more chlorine.”

But then I’m heartened by the huge numbers voting early, even though the “souls to the polls” Sunday before election, the day when Black congregations traditionally voted—has been arbitrarily eliminated. Early voting ends this Saturday, and then no one can vote (except by mail) until Election Day.

If ever I were to be involved in a campaign again,   it would be to make Election Day a national holiday. If nobody had to work that day, much (thought admittedly not all) voter suppression--which should be a Federal crime-- would be eliminated.  How do we as a nation allow such things to continue?

But back to the present campaign: I recently found notes I wrote  during a conference call last June for all wannabe-Obama Organizing Fellows. I’d liked the sound of the  basic philosophy of this campaign: “people-centered, metrics driven” even though the only metrics I knew about at the time had to do with the beat of a line of poetry.

I now know about the other kind. I know about data-entry, reporting  several times a day at precise times, counting door-knocks and turf packets and phone conversations and much more that I will never need to know or use again--for which  fact I am grateful. I bumbled my way to some proficiency through “retroactive learning,” which is a polite way of saying I  screwed up, forgot, or messed up—and then found out what it was I was supposed to have known all along.

So here’s a worm’s eye-view of the ground game. For nine weeks, I’ve literally been a bag lady, toting necessities with me every day, from my laptop and phone and their chargers to a now shredded map of Clearwater, roll-on deodorant—which friend Louise  told me would stop the itch of mosquito bites (she was correct) first-aid supplies, an umbrella in case of rain, a hat with a visor in case of sun, bug-spray, a water bottle, an extension cord (never know where a plug will be vs. where my computer needs to be) a cardigan (in case the air-conditioning is set too high) and a small soft cooler with food for the day.

Ah, food. I’ve been eating like a homeless person trying to avoid a perpetual sugar high. This “job” runs from 9 a.m. till 9 p.m. (or later) with no days off at this stage, and no breaks. We work right through those times formerly known as “lunch” or “dinner.” The office had no refrigerator, no microwave or heating element to warm water. There was instead donated food as in: cupcakes, chips, cookies, banana bread, Coke and recently, piles of Hallowe’en candy. So along with the list above, into my bag went turkey and beef jerky, cheese-sticks, apples, almonds, yogurt, a salt-shaker, and Publix’s pre-made salads (complete with a wee plastic fork nestled in the greens.)

I look forward to using the bag to tote groceries home, to eating cooked food, to sitting down at a table with people I love and without a single interruption. Not a text message, an e-mail, a phone call or those metrics to enter into the data-base between bites. At one point, when the variety of interruptions was overwhelming and went on for hours, I posted a large sign above my desk that said: IS THIS ISSUE LIFE-THREATENING? I’m not sure it deterred a single disruption, but it made me feel better, and made me laugh.

It’s not all reports and metrics. It’s also people-driven, and I’ve met some wonderful women and men, worked with (for) an amazing 22 year old whose mind moves at warp speed, and crossed paths with characters worth remembering. For example, a woman who did do door-to-door canvassing for us—under an alias.  “Mary Smith isn’t my real name,” she whispered. “My landlord doesn’t want me working for the Democrats.” I doubt her landlord was apt to burst into an Organizing for America office and check the sign-in list. Sometimes, both sides of the gene pool need chlorination.

Lest I grow cynical, there are people who are so generous of spirit, so amazing that they restore my faith in humanity and possibility. Here, as one proof, Ursula. When everyone was exhausted from the intense push of voter registration, I asked them to re-up for the get-out-the-vote phase. (This is called “the hard ask.” It is very very hard for me.) The Saturday after I sent that message, I received this e-mail from Ursula, a woman in her late seventies. It said: “Dear Judy, I’m sorry I didn’t answer right away. On Wednesday, I had a heart attack and went to the hospital. On Thursday, they put in five stents. On Friday, they released me. I can work for you this coming week.” 

It’s nearly time to enter the day’s first report and get myself to the staging location. More doors to knock, more calls to make, more volunteers to recruit, more data to enter, more infuriating, incredible someday-we’ll-laugh-about-this-moments. It will also have the bittersweet knowledge that life in the ground game is coming to a close.

There’s no need for me to write the denouement of this adventure—we are all going to write it next Tuesday at the polls. So farewell to bloggery, with a toast to a happily ever after conclusion—or if not ever-after, I’ll settle for four more years.

(p.s. I can’t resist—it’s now a reflex, so I’ll say—even with only a few days left, or especially because of that: help!!! Contact your local office and make some calls. Help make what you want to happen really happen. It’ll make you feel good, I promise.) 


  1. Judy, I feel like I have an easy job--data entry. I hear these smooth-tongued callers and am in awe of them. I'm signed up for several hours in the next few days, but can't begin to match my friend Joan who works tirelessly, basically putting her "real" life on hold.

    I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Florida. It's disheartening to hear about the nastiness that goes on in the hustings. What is NOT disheartening is that it looks like Wisconsin is pulling away for the Big O, AND it looks like we may not only retain the Senate but gain seats.

    Thank you so much for your amazing effort. Even if Florida doesn't go in the Obama column in the end, the efforts of you and your team have kept it close, forcing the Repubs to spend time and money there. Come home. Next time I see you I'll treat you to a glass of wine (or martini or??)

  2. Jude, be comforted to know that the big problem at the Berkeley/Albany phone bank on Tuesday was arranging rental of 50 more chairs for the weekend calling.

    Home in a week, doesn't that sound amazing!

  3. i continue to be in awe of your efforts and courage to jump into such an adventure. I'd rather spend a week in Damascus than a day doing your job in Florida. Brava!!

  4. ps. the above was from Sharan. I can't figure out how to post through all those sites. Sigh.

  5. Judy -- all of your posts make me laugh. I am heading to Reno for the weekend to GOTV (though early voting ends tomorrow), and 10 other friends will be staying through election day. Here is something that I hope will make you smile and shows how much effect your work is having:

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