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How I spent Election Day: A diary of canvassing in New Hampshire for Barack Obama

By Matt Fowler

Section: Arts

November 7, 2008

On Tuesday November 4, the world witnessed history. But, I am not going to go into detail about what happened from a historic perspective. The only people who do not realize the significance of what took place are either in denial or have decided they don’t want to come out from under the six to eight large boulders under which they are living.

Political views aside (I’ll try) this election was historic not only because of the winner, but, because of how he won. Barack Obama had a ground game like no one in history. I know this not only because it has been reiterated to me over and again, but because on Election Day I was part of it. I saw firsthand why the political analysts have said that Obama’s victory was due in large part to the volunteers, organized groups, and the not so lazy youth of America that campaigned for him.

What follows is a running diary of my experience on the day (Election Day) that I became a volunteer for Barack Obama:

6:30 am

My alarm buzzes, and I struggle to get onto my feet. I can’t wake up to sound, so I have my cell phone on vibrate. Today does not feel any different from the other two years I have spent thinking about the upcoming election. Is this a bad omen?

6:45 am

After stepping out of the shower, I sit down on my suite’s couch and turn on CNN. I’d rather be watching MSNBC, but when I turn to that channel the screen goes black. That’s not very interesting at all. I turn back to CNN.

6:50 am

I have to choose something to wear. On any other day this decision would take five to ten seconds tops. However, the choice of what to put on is made infinitely more difficult, because I can’t remember the last time I did my laundry. I decide on a simple white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. I think this outfit will show the New Hampshire voters that I am approachable as well as serious about getting out the vote.

7:08 am

I step into the car that will be taking me to New Hampshire. Because I have chosen to sit in the front passenger seat I am told that I will be holding the directions. I probably should not be the one navigating. We’re going to some town called Raymond. That sounds like a strong solid name. I am more nervous than excited.

7:30 am

We are off. We find a Jason Mraz CD in the car and that becomes our soundtrack for the day by default.

9:10 am

I receive a text message from my oldest brother telling me he is online to vote. The lines are moderately long. He tells me he wishes they were longer in length so that he’d have an excuse to go home and just watch the election on television all day. I tell him that he should just take a personal day off. He doesn’t listen to me.

9:25 am

My brother texts me that he has voted.

10:06 am

We have finally made it to our destination. Despite traveling around the small town aimlessly for ten minutes (this is not because of my navigating my skills), I never once thought we wouldn’t make it. The Raymond, New Hampshire headquarters for Barack Obama is located in what seems to be an old furniture store. There are mattresses in the back of the room (which I can only assume are for sleeping) and tons of signs on the ground.

10:08 am

A man explains to a group of people what our job is today. We must knock on doors (of the people that are listed on the packets he has handed us), ask if they have voted, and then check off one of four responses they give us. After we are done we bring back the packets and some person with a computer does something else that is complicated (that I didn’t quite hear) and then they know whose door still needs to be knocked on. He also says something about a system called Houdini.

Harry Houdini is a magician. I like magic, so I smile.

10:20 am

My canvassing (why it is called this I’m unsure) partner, and I walk up to the front door. I make her knock because I have already decided she is probably the more likable of us two. No one is home.

10:24 am

After knocking on two other empty houses we meet our first Raymond resident. He is a painter, and he is whitewashing the deck. It looks as if he has been there for hours. He tells us that the inhabitant of the home is not inside because her daughter took her to vote for Barack Obama. We thank him. He makes small talk even as we say goodbye and mentions the fact that he too was excited to go out and vote today.

10:30 am

I speak instead of my partner for the first time. I fumble some of my words, but I am confident when I mention our candidate’s name. She says she has voted, smiles, and quickly closes the door. Maybe I should have worn a different shirt.

10:56 am

There is a lot of land in between houses in Raymond. It is a perfectly sunny day, and it would not surprise me if the temperature was around seventy degrees. My legs buckle and from exhaustion, and I curse global warming.

11:12 am

Walking up a hill my partner and I are jeered by two twelve year old boys on bicycles. They scream “McCain, McCain” as they zoom down the hill, and I contemplate measures I would take to protect myself from these fear-mongering tweens (I decide I’d probably make fun of them for being the generation that believes Miley Cyrus and Zach Efron are interesting).

11:14 am

I knock on a door. No one answers. The bicycle gang of two return. They reiterate their McCain chant, and I decide I dislike twelve-year-olds on bicycles profusely.

12:19 pm

My partner knocks on the door of a house that has a car with at least six different Obama/Biden bumper sticks on it. The woman who comes to the door wears an Obama T-shirt and tells us she has already voted. She wonders out loud if she has done enough.

She then points to her four year old son and tells him to tell us who he voted for. The little boy says Spiderman.

12:40 pm

We begin ascent up what seems to be a small mountain.

12:50 pm

Finally finished climbing, we knock on the door. Two older men walk out. One of them wears a green sweater with a colored flecks and the other has two earrings. They tell us they are very excited about this election and very proud that the youth have decided to take the fate of their future into their own hands. We make small talk about the election. I smile, and I sweat profusely.

1:16 pm

Lunch is pizza at a local restaurant. There we meet more Obama supporters. One of them has been coming up to New Hampshire every week since the beginning of September to knock on doors. The vegetables from my pizza fall on my pants.

1:49 pm

After getting the assurance that a man has voted, I turn and walk quickly away from Jenna (a large dog) that barks at me in an unkind manner.

2:26 pm

My father texts me to say he and my mother voted at 6:30 am. He says the polls were more crowded than usual and that he remembers taking me into the booth to vote when I was very young.

3: 00 pm

A little girl waves and smiles at me. My faith in the future of this nation is restored.

3:43 pm

We finish our last houses and return to headquarters. We give in our packets and allow the leaders to do their magic.

4: 00 pm

We leave Raymond for Brandeis.

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