I think I'm going to put "politics" in the title of every post about politics, so that people who aren't interested can easily skip them.
This morning S. and I volunteered to do voter registration. It was great! I'm really glad we did it. And really glad S. came too, as it was much more fun with a friend.
We went to the Durham Farmer's Market first. Which might seem like a bad place to go, as the percentage of registered voters is really high. But on the other hand, the people there tend to be pro-Obama so it's a good place to ask for volunteers.
Between the two of us we got contact information for almost 20 volunteers in an hour and a half. We would ask people as they walked by if they were registered to vote, and if they said "yes!' enthusiastically or said anything pro-Obama then we would ask if they wanted to volunteer. If they said they wanted to help later on but didn't have time right now, we would tell them about the website my.barackobama.com. Some people sounded like "not right now" meant "leave me alone," but most people sounded like they genuinely wanted to help closer to the election. And if people were giving off a "don't bother me" vibe, like they didn't slow down when asked if they were registered to vote, then we generally didn't ask them about volunteering anyway.
The only people I think I shouldn't have asked were a gay couple with a little boy. They sounded enthusiastic when I asked about their registration, but said "no!" in an offended tone when I asked about volunteering. Then I remembered that Obama is pretty weak on gay rights -- he's better than McCain but has spoken against gay marriage -- and those guys had a kid. I can see how it would offend to be asked to give up my time to work for a candidate who wouldn't protect my family.
People were really enthused and many stopped to have conversations with us. Many said they were already volunteering. One woman told us she had made phone calls, donated, and written to the Obama campaign to suggest who she thought they should nominate for vice president (Jim Webb). She even stopped by again to see us on her way out and gave us strawberries. Lady, you were my favorite person all day! We also saw one woman wearing a Hillary t-shirt. As she was walking away she yelled out, "If he's smart, he'll choose her as vice-president! If he's smart!" I kept my opinion to myself. No point in antagonizing people.
S. also registered 6 voters, which really impressed me! She said that most of them were people who had recently moved and needed to change their registration.
I also ran into one of my old libertarian friends. Who raised an eyebrow when he saw my Obama pin, but was nice enough not to give me a hard time about it. Besides, who can complain about a voter registration drive? It's about as pro-democracy as activism gets. We offer to register everybody, not just Obama supporters, and they can check whatever they want under "party affiliation." The form even has "libertarian" on it, although I think anyone who checks that will be registered as unaffiliated since the Libertarian Party got screwed by the state again.
When the Farmer's Market wound down they sent us to the Food Lion on Roxboro Road. Where there was a more constant flow of traffic, but also more people who were in a hurry or clearly not interested in politics. I did get one registration there. There was someone else who said she wanted to do a change of address when she came out of the store, but I saw her leaving while I was busy helping the first woman fill out her form.
The big excitement at the Food Lion was the crazy man who talked to me forever -- 15 minutes maybe? I'm not kidding, he went on and on -- and I'm honestly not even sure what he was talking about. Something about women being sexually harassed at their jobs in cemeteries, and the crazy man's mission in life is to bring this to the attention of public figures and then call them cowards when they don't immediately call a press conference to denounce the conspiracy of sexual abuse in North Carolina cemeteries. He told me he had sent material to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Erskine Bowles and Elizabeth Dole, plus numerous local politicians, and all of them were "cowards" who "don't give a damn." He kept asking me if I give a damn and if I think he gives a damn. I told him I could tell he certainly does give a damn .. a crazy damn! Okay, that last part was just in my head.
When I say crazy I mean "outpatient" not "what a character." The only part that really bothered me was when he pressured me to tell him where I worked, but eventually he gave up and went back to ranting about cowardly politicians who don't give a damn. He grabbed my clipboard and spent the whole rant writing gibberish on a piece of paper -- which alas, was the paper I had to turn in, otherwise I would have scanned it. I took a photo which didn't turn out at all. He just kept writing words and circling them: names of politicians, a court case file number, whatever. He reminded me a lot of Bill Dunn (favorite crank of many longtime Durhamites). He also told me that what I was doing doesn't mean anything and if I really gave a damn, I would spend the $160 to run for mayor. Um, sure, a crackpot run for local office makes tons more of a difference than participating in a voter registration drive. Whatever you say, Mr. Crazy Man!
Then after I finally got rid of him, he came back! He had gone to his car to get a piece of paper which he triumphantly gave me and S. (we were discussing leaving at that point). The paper was a photocopy of a news clipping, which had been written on so many times, in all different directions, and then re-photocopied, as to render it totally illegible. If that's what he's been sending to politicians then no wonder they all ignore him. He also ticked S. off by trying to get her to agree that teenagers are angry. He seemed very nonplussed at her insistence that the kids she teaches aren't angry. But what does she know, she only works with them every day.
After all that excitement we dropped off our materials at the organizer's house. Who was thrilled by all the volunteer names we had collected, and said they're going to do this every weekend all summer long. Their goal is to register at least 20,000 of the 36,000 unregistered voters in Durham County. That's a laudable goal, and I hope they're smart about sending people to different locations each week. It seems like if you go to the same place you're going to see the same people over and over, and the flow of new volunteers and registrations will dry up pretty quickly.
Then we had lunch at Chubby's Tacos, which was fantastic. The fresh pineapple drink really hit the spot after three hours in the sun and heat. Then I came home, took a shower and had a nice long nap. I'm really glad we went out, and I definitely want to participate again. I found out about this event on the Obama website and will check there in the future.