I’m knocking on doors for Claire McCaskill’s GOTV effort, in suburban St. Louis [an impressively well-organized and energetic effort, I must say], and here are some things I’m noticing as I walk/drive/jump out/talk/leave literature. Totally unscientific and anecdotal, of course:
1. A vote for McCaskill does not seem to necessarily mean a vote for Obama here in suburban St. Louis. We’re asking the McCaskill question first, and following with the Obama question. I’ve had several voters say they definitely would vote for Claire, but “still thinking about” Obama. That’s disappointing. But there’s such a slim-to-none chance that Obama would win Missouri that it’s not all that significant locally. If Missouri can simply help hold onto the Senate by re-electing Claire, we will have done an important job.
2. The people we’re focusing on [self-identified Democrats, of course] get that Todd Akin isn’t just a neanderthal, but that he doesn’t deserve to hold office. People I’ve talked to have spontaneously used the word “idiot,” “moron” and “awful” to describe him, even though I haven’t asked for their opinion of him. That’s encouraging.
3. Voter suppression takes many forms, some of which are very subtle, yet very dangerous. Case in point: I knocked on a door yesterday, looking for an 18-year-old voter named Brett. A 50-ish-year-old man opened the door. I told him that I was campaigningfor Claire McCaskill, and asked if Brett was around. The man–his Dad, I assume–said, “He’s right here. But what’s this about?” I told him again, and at that moment, a skinny kid–obviously Brett–appeared behind his Dad, looking like he wanted to talk. Dad said, “Brett hasn’t made up his mind about who he’s voting for.” “Well, could I talk to Brett about that?” I asked. “No,” said Dad emphatically, and shut the door in my face. Yikes.
Similarly, I approached a man on a riding lawn mower, showing him my McCaskill sticker, telling him what I was doing, and asking if “Julie” was home. “She doesn’t want to talk to you,” he said. “Can I talk to her about it,” I persisted. “No,” he said, and revved up the lawn mower to drown me out.
4. We’re up against some very hostile, unreasonable people: We got booted out of a pretty ritzy subdivision when a very angry guy, claiming that he was the president of the subdivision told us that he wouldn’t vote for “that bitch” Claire McCaskill if she were the last person on earth, yelled at us to “get the hell out of my subdivision,” and threatened to call the police. I tried to say that political canvassing is not soliciting–according to US courts–but he looked like he was about to take a swing at one of us, so we got in the car and left.
5. GOTV is labor-intensive and requires perseverance when the specific voters you’re trying to reach live in non-grid, curvy suburban subdivisions, where address numbering is virtually unfathomable. It also doesn’t help that the cutesy names given to the streets only add to the confusion: When every street name starts with “River,” and all of them intersect via traffic circles and twisty non-linear design, you can get turned around and totally lost rather quickly, even when the campaign provides a very good map. Yesterday, it was “Riverbend,” Riverridge,” “Riverview.” It could be a “Court,” a “Drive,” or a “Circle.”
I’m complaining about this, but I’m not quitting. And my main point is this: I have a hard time imagining that supporters of our opponents have a ground game as good as ours and volunteers as willing to do this work as we have. And that’s what [finger crossed, rosary beads counted, pinky-swear] should pay off in a very close election that boils down to who gets their voters to turn out on Nov. 6.
See you on the streets?
Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.