October 10, 2012
I have loved this quotation by Thornton Wilder for a long time. It used to be theoretical—a wonderful, probably true observation. Now it feels the motto of my days. Here tis:
"The test of an adventure is that when you're in the middle of it, you say to yourself, 'Oh, now I’ve got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home.' And the sign that something's wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventure."
I am having myself an adventure and a half, and yes, during the past few weeks there have been moments of thinking I’ve gotten myself into an awful mess, and experiencing desperate homesickness for everything I love. I guess that’s good news because who doesn’t yearn for adventure? But I never dreamed I’d be having mine in Florida?
Voter registration is over here as of yesterday. It has been incredibly hectic, tense and successful. It has meant twelve hour work days and no days off (my decision. Necessary. Except today—a day off! Almost…I have a meeting about the next phase this evening…) Getting people registered has obsessed me and I’m still in the reflexive habit whenever anybody mentions a local site or event, of thinking “Could we send somebody there? Will they toss us out? What would be the best time?” (And also sometimes: would any volunteer actually go stand in that parking lot around midnight? Really? The answer is they wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t ask even though it’s probable that the people milling around there at that time aren’t registered...)
I am still an angry old lady, still infuriated by the covert voter suppression in effect in this state. Perhaps corporations have the right to not allow VR inside their stores—but to not allow it in the parking lots? To actually pull one of our volunteers away from a public bus stop insisting that the shopping mall owned that piece of pavement? But even if that is their right, there should then be state-backed safe and convenient registration sites. Every time I’ve seen a photo on the internet of a table set on a street corner with a sign: Register Here, I know it wasn’t snapped in Pinellas County, Florida. Here, we’ve too often had to be secret agents, avoiding the security guards on parking lots, behaving as if we were committing a crime, not performing a civic service.
This is plain wrong. As is cutting out the final Sunday of early voting because last election, the black churches of Florida bussed their congregants in to vote that day—and helped win the state for Obama. So now that day is gone. No explanation, no justification. Just gone.
And on the other, happier side, there are the stories. Each person who volunteers has a reason, a personal story of why this election is important to them, and many of them touch the heart. So many volunteers are coping with multiple jobs or no job at all now, huge family obligations and serious physical limitations (e.g.: in the past week, a paralyzed boy in a wheelchair entering data, an exuberant young man on dialysis going out and doing vr as long as he could stand the heat, and a man on the phone, near tears, calling to tell me he couldn’t come in to do vr the next day, as important as he knew it was, because his beloved cat was dying and he had to keep vigil.) I don’t know if any of these people are Mittens’ 47%, but they are people with stories and passions who care about all our futures, and it’s been a privilege to get to know them.
I also love getting to know our amazing Field Organizers. I have never seen people work so hard, so long, and so constantly. I truly love my F.O. who won’t let me call him my boss, but who is. His mind seems capable of handling ten things at once, and his energy boggles my mind. He also could be my grandson. I have consistently joked about that, and about how old I am. It apparently didn’t fully take, but a few weeks back, he offered me a paid position with the campaign. I was surprised and honored. He read my resume (I had to be vetted again) and said with surprise, “You were teaching high school the year my mother was born.” But apparently even that didn’t help register the fact that I am an ancient person. It took until he phoned me that evening and said they didn’t have my birth date anywhere, and what was it. When I told him the year, this incredibly smart, sophisticated young man whom nothing rattles said: REALLY??? REALLY??? And then he was speechless. (I turned down the job. I didn’t want to test out whether I could physically or psychologically stand working till midnight every night with no days off…He’s 22. I am not.)
But I’m apparently not too old to be running after a moving car early yesterday morning when I thought I’d lost a stack of voter registration forms. We have to account for every single form the state issued to us—thousands--and we’ve been told that not only will we be fined by the state 1K for any single missing form, blank or not—but if it was filled out by someone trying to register, which these were—then by losing them, I’d also committed a federal crime. About forty federal crimes in fact. The driver didn’t hear me and shot off (he is also 22 and drives like a 22 year old) and this old lady returned to the office in despair, only to see a tiny stickum note from my F.O. saying he had come in after I left (I left at 9:40 p.m. That’s what I mean about their endless energy and the hours they keep) finished the forms I’d come in early to complete and all was well. That car speeding away was taking them the Supervisor of Elections.
I’m allergic to caffeine, so I generally do not have a great way to wake up when exhausted. I’ve now found a new way. Believe you've created a whole stack of federal offenses and run screaming after a moving car first thing in the a.m. It definitely gets the adrenaline pumping and then the day is yours.
On the (temporary) home front, things have been complicated as well. I’m staying with an 85 year old ball of fire—or a woman who fit that description until two weeks ago when she began to be ill and finally wound up hospitalized for five days with pneumonia. She is now home and recuperating, and she’s given my angry old lady persona more to deplore: Florida’s health system. Do other states send an octogenarian with pneumonia home without filling her prescriptions at the hospital? The next morning, I found her on the phone morning trying to find out what pharmacy had what she needed to breathe. Time to take out my angry-old lady umbrella and bring it down on Florida’s head!
Our jobs now shift gears into getting the (Democratic) voters actually voting. More phone calls, more canvassing, more recruiting volunteers.(Have I mentioned that the actual me acutely dislikes talking on the phone and dreads asking anybody to inconvenience themselves?) This phoning, asking, phoning more, asking more alien who has taken over my body in Florida (did I mention how much actual and alien me loathe humid heat?) surprises and amuses me.
The good news is: I will no longer have to be sending out stealth-registrants, saying “stay till they ask you to leave. Easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”
These final weeks will be hard work--and fun: I’ll be talking to Democrats, to Obama supporters and not to the people who reluctantly or enthusiatically enforce the dictates of those shadowy, despicable “corporate says no” folk. No more bums’ rush. Just a rush to the polls. Less than four weeks to go...Four weeks for four more for 44!
The adventure continues.