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Spare some change? October 27, 2008

Posted by Merrilee in Travel.

This weekend, I did something I’ve never done before. I volunteered for a political campaign. I spent the weekend working on the Obama campaign and traveled to Nevada to participate in what the campaign calls “Drive for Change” — going to a battleground state to help get out the vote.

My reasons for participation are many, and they are personal. If you really want to know, I’d be happy to talk your ear off about it, but I’m not a political commentator. And besides, I would think that readers would be more interested in the experience than the reasons.

The first thing I should say is that that the Obama campaign is very well organized. Everything you want to know about anything is easily available on the internet (and the phone, too, it turns out). Some time ago, I signed up for online notifications about opportunities for participation. I’ve done some phone calls to people in other states from home — they gave me all the tools I needed. I have limited time, but I have been able to do a handful at a time, and I like the idea of small but meaningful participation. Many well-meaning people with limited time can do an awful lot of work when their efforts are pooled. I like the idea that the campaign trusts just folks to do good things.

I was notified about Drive for Change as a volunteer opportunity. Although the idea of traveling to a neighboring “battleground state” (in my case, northern Nevada) was daunting, I immediately knew it was something I wanted to do. I put out feelers to a few friends, and I heard back from two right away. Joci was planning to go, but on a different weekend, but Mary was game and would accompany me.

The website made it pretty clear that we would be canvassing. I was nervous about that, but all of the information on the website put me at ease and made me feel more comfortable. I would be contacting Obama supporters, or likely supporters. My role would not to be persuade, but to get to the polls. Nevada has what sounds like a great early voting infrastructure — go to any early voting location (including public libraries and a chain of grocery stores) and get your voting out of the way. This seems like an incredibly good idea, especially with long lines expected everywhere on election day. In any case, I liked the idea of encouraging people to do what they already wanted to do, rather than arguing with people.

Mary and I showed up as instructed at 9 am on Saturday morning (after spending the night at Mick’s house in Truckee) and found a sign at the Ball Street location. We were instructed to go to University of Nevada, Reno because Obama would be speaking! We gave each other a high five and rushed off to the baseball stadium. This was a huge treat for us, because Obama doesn’t need to turn out the Bay Area. I had never heard a presidential candidate speak live, and neither had Mary. We joined a huge number of people who had already gathered. There was a convocation and the national anthem, so it felt like graduation day. Being among all those people (I’ve seen an estimate for 11,000 people), I a wave of emotion. I could visualize our poor little flag, bravely waving on while the battle raged on. And I thought about the current situation in this country. Turmoil, a lot of strife, everyone stressed out. Through all of this, our flag bravely waves on. Under good leadership, this country could pull it together and turn it around. I wanted to say, “Yes, our star-spangled banner DOES yet wave!”

After about an hour of waiting around, Obama finally arrived. We were standing on the field, and I am so short (and we were behind so many rows of tall people) that I could only see him for a few moments at a time. The speech was nothing new (all stump points I had heard before), but I really took to heart his remarks about personal responsibility and everyone pitching in to work together and contribute to change.

Following the rally, we went back to Ball Street, where we were immediately sent to another center, “Area 52.” Once we arrived there, there was quite a bit of waiting around as groups of people were briefed on canvassing protocols and how to fill out forms. After about an hour, we had our materials, and after lunch we set off, ready to change the world.

We were sent to western Reno, a very nice neighborhood. So nice, in fact, that most of our addresses were in a gated community. Neither of us felt like we should go in, so we did the handful of houses that remained.  Most of those were not at home (it was a gorgeous Saturday, and no one in their right mind should have been at home). The first people we did find were over-the-top Obama supporters — they had just returned from early voting, and were happy to take the buttons and lawn signs that we offered, and the woman was interested in volunteering! That was a great way to start.

When we returned to the polling center, there was no more canvassing to be done. Mary and I had both brought laptops, so offered to do data entry. After a series of phone calls, we were set (with a car full of data sheets) to yet another location. One of the things I realized is at this point in a campaign, there are little pockets of volunteers all over the place, in nondescript warehouses, in office buildings…. everywhere!

In short order, we were set up online, and giving brief training and set to entering in the information gathered during the day. This gave both of us a good appreciation of what happens to the data that comes back. We worked at this until I was about cross eyed from information overload (until about 6 pm) then headed off to our hotel.

We stayed at the Siena, which is nice because it’s close to the Virginia street “strip,” but also a new enough hotel that all of the rooms are non smoking. The rooms were very pleasant, and also quiet. We had two rounds of drinks and appetizers — the first at the Roxy (El Dorado) and the second at the Enoteca Wine Bar in our own hotel. The martinis at the Roxy were quite good, and the food at Enoteca was fine!

We both slept in on Sunday, so quickly got ready and had breakfast at Peg’s Glorified Ham and Eggs, then headed back to Area 52.  This time, since everyone knew what they were doing, we collected our packets and headed out very quickly. We returned to western Reno, but further west, a even nicer neighborhood. The weather was, again, great, and all of the homes were beautifully landscaped, so it was a nice day to walking. This time, only one house was behind a gate. Many people were not home, but lots were. We had some very positive interactions, including with a couple who were mixed; she will either vote for McCain or not vote, and he will vote for Obama. We had a great talk about riding bikes (they have also done the Death Ride), and they gave me some suggestions on other centuries.

After canvassing, we returned to Area 52, then onto data entry. The people at the data entry center seemed genuinely pleased to see us return, and we got right to work. We stayed for close to 3 hours, then called it a day and headed back to the Bay Area. We were rewarded for our efforts by hitting NO traffic, and getting home at a reasonable hour.

In retrospect, I would have done a few things differently. I would have tried to learn more about how early voting works in Nevada. I would have tried to read the local paper for a few weeks. I would have reviewed the local ballot. None of this actually came up, but I know if I had done any of this, I would have felt more at ease.

I am so impressed by the Reno Democrats and others who have come together for this effort. Drive for Change was an increadibly rewarding experience, and I would definitely do it again.



1. Dave Bullock - October 27, 2008

Great read and great job on doing your part to help the campaign. I know how busy you are so I know heading off to NV for the weekend was no easy task.


2. Penelope Bullock - October 27, 2008

This is so wonderful, M! I was very touched by your work. The organization behind this campaign is most impressive.

3. Eric - October 27, 2008

Wow, what a wonderful story, Merrilee! I had quite a time canvassing a rather wealthy neighborhood of St. Paul on Sunday in the light snow and drizzle with my two boys. Lots of positive interaction. Thanks so much for taking the time to go to Navada, we can’t take anything for granted this week.

4. Eric - October 28, 2008

what an excellent story!! BRAVO!!

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