Like I promised last week, this weekend I joined the College Democrats on a campaigning trip to Columbus, Ohio. Extended bus rides, gym floors, canvassing, middle class and beyond, a visit from Charlie Crist and Ted Strickland, and more made this weekend remarkable and unforgettable.
Leaving Friday afternoon, we departed on what was to be a very long and exhaustive bus ride. All in all, it took us 9 hours to get to Columbus. Due to the fact that I tend to compare situations here to situations back home, it is interesting to consider I would already have been in Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg when riding on a bus for that amount of time. Notwithstanding, the greatest surprise came when we arrived at the hostel where we were going to stay: it turned out we were literally sleeping on the floor of a gym. Not much fun (I only brought one blanket), and causing a very sore back on the way back home, but it was all worth it 100 percent.
That was it for the less appealing aspects of this trip; the real fun started on Saturday morning, kicked off by a huge sponsored breakfast in a very typical American diner. This all soothed the experiences of the night before and got us ready and fired up to start the actual campaigning. I was very afraid I was going to be out of my league, talking to undecided voters and it was quite hard to come up with a sound rationale as to why they should support Obama, because there is just too much to say on the subject. For that reason I settled for telling people why I support the President: his support for women’s and LGBT rights. In addition, the most important reason for me to support Obama is the difference that distinguishes Barack Obama from Mitt Romney: Barack Obama truly cares for all American citizens and this is reflected in his policies of the last four years. His opponent is clearly not, and willing to say anything to appeal to voters, even if the words he speaks are completely the opposite of the truth. This big difference affects every single policy stance and attitude of the candidates, which is why I think the choice this year is easier and clearer than ever. Nevertheless, people need persuasion and encouragement, which is what we were in Ohio for.
Canvassing, or going from door to door to talk to people, is scary in the beginning but becomes encouraging the more people one talks to. Fortunately, no one goes alone, because everyone is divided up into pairs and walks with a partner who you’re constantly close to, in case anything happens. I have been to three different neighborhoods in and around Ohio this weekend to canvass, and all had their specificities. There was one which was clearly blue and did not need any more persuasion; people were pro-Obama and proud to tell me about why they supported the President. It was truly moving to hear some stories about why they were so convinced of Obama. One woman showed me pictures of her entire family with a cardboard Obama, another started to tell me everything that was wrong with Romney and his attitude, and another told me about how important the equality of opportunity that Obama stands for is to her.
There was that, and there were the fanatic Romney supporters. These people were less fun to talk to, not because they did not support Obama, but because some of them were just very uncivilized and unpleasant to me. Some did not want to look me straight in the eyes, others opened the door and quickly shut it again, and some just didn’t open the door at all. Of course, I can see that it can be annoying when people are bothering you with political talks, but I do not see what is so hard about telling me calmly they are not interested – it is what I would do. Luckily, I have quite a thick skin and was not bothered by these talks at all, and they did not ruin my resolve to knock on people’s doors and reach out to the community.
Being in Ohio also showed me another side of the United States. DC is a very urbanized area, where people are used to quite a wealthy lifestyle, especially around campus. In contrast, some of the neighborhoods I canvassed in where clearly poor. Some friends visited places that were truly terrifying and shocking, with drug addicts and criminal practices. Some of the houses I saw were confiscated and shut down with huge locks on the front door: the people who used to live there are now homeless. These things are shocking and clearly show why the elections are so vital, because the policy choices that are being made to revitalize the economy influence people’s lives in a very real sense. It also reinforces and strengthens the realization that I need to keep in the back of my mind: I have been very privileged my entire life and am extremely lucky to be able to live up to the opportunities that come across my path.
The second night in the hostel was much better, which I ascribe to our mental preparation of where we were going to sleep, and probably more significantly, our complete exhaustion after the first day. On Sunday we undertook another canvassing session, after which we departed for Washington, DC, on another 9 hour-long bus ride. The commitment that all GW students made this weekend to go all the way to Ohio and try to convince people to vote for Obama was quite impressive, and this commitment was strengthened by a visit from former Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, and former Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland. Former Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, used to be a Republican but basically turned away from this party after he openly embraced President Obama after his inauguration – a very civilized and normal thing to do in his eyes, but not in the eyes of the GOP. These two men were inspiring and made my commitment a little stronger by telling us personally why they are supportive of the President in the upcoming elections. In addition the good care and all the food that was bestowed upon us by the campaigning staff made the weekend a lot more productive. The balance at the end of the campaigning weekend was very impressive: together the GW students knocked on more than 1000 doors and more than 800 people signed up to vote early. This was amazing to hear, and very satisfying.
The journey does not stop here: upcoming is the next presidential debate on Tuesday; on foreign policy no less, and there are 26 days left to election day. A lot can happen this month and hopefully I will be there to report back on some of these events. Until then: FOUR MORE YEARS! (not kidding, I don’t like slogans, but I had to put this one out there).