Notes From the Ground Game


Yesterday my family drove to Reno to assist with the get out the vote effort.

We all had fantasies, I think, of what it would be like, that we would be happily going door to door, sharing information with willing, perhaps marginalized voters who just needed a little reminder and they’d soon be hobbling off to the polls.

If only that were so.  In the end it was a mostly sad and dispiriting day, yet one that revealed the strange power of the process.

We arrived early at the campaign headquarters and were efficiently dispatched to a neighborhood in North Reno.  And it was no marginalized neighborhood.  Think witness protection program.  Or ground zero of the housing bubble:  cul de sac after winding cul de sac of good-sized trophy homes, largely identical except for flipped floor plans.  Each collection of houses was surrounded by that legacy of the Bush era – those carpets of housing pads for developments started, but never finished.  In other areas, the shells of half-built homes stood like bombed out structures.  Beyond that, barren desert.  I imagine that many of the people in their fancy homes were most likely under water.

It was Romney country and we were assigned to walk to select Blue houses that were few and far between.  The goal was to have a face to face contact and get a commitment from the voter in that household that they would go to the polls on Tuesday.

It became clear that this was an angry neighborhood.  And a beleaguered and fearful one as well. The streets were mostly empty. Blinds were drawn.  People refused to come to the door. The few people on the street who spoke to my wife yelled at her, telling her to get out, to go back to California where she came from.

Another man berated my daughter asking if she knew how many people Obama had killed in Libya.  Another angry father yelled because his daughter who wasn’t home had registered as a Democrat.

This wasn’t a spirited electorate gleefully stepping forward to exercise the most sacrosanct right granted to them in this country.  Instead here the ground game felt more like a ground war, an election that was pitting family member against family member.  And so we trudged through enemy territory, looking for allies, but even they were too tired or frustrated to engage. We are so tired of you people ringing our doorbell, one woman complained.

My wife eventually gave up.  We’re not helping anybody here, she said. We’re just pissing people off.

And it would seem that way.  That is until you consider why we were in that particular neighborhood on that particular day in the first place.

These were the last holdouts: the ones left after the early voting, the ones who were least committed even to the process, the ones who had steadfastly refused to come to the door, and who by elimination were the only ones left who could still make a difference. This was the reluctant and recalcitrant grit at the bottom of the barrel.  And it wasn’t going to get dislodged easily.  They hadn’t voted in the last three elections.  A simple phone call wasn’t going to do it.  It was going to take phone call after phone call, door hanger after door hanger.

And hence the power and the pain of it all.

We were going only to the doors of registered voters who because of their demographic and voting record statistically had the greatest chance of swinging the election in Nevada and possibly the entire country.

And because of that, their names had landed on our list.  And because they’re on that list, people are coming in from surrounding states, they’re knocking on their doors repeatedly, they’re deluging them with phone calls.  Nameless donors are spending boatloads of money to get them to the polls.  Unbeknownst to them, and without their conscious doing, a handful of people, those holdouts in that cul de sac in North Reno have become the most powerful in the country.  It’s not me.  It’s them. They are the ones who will decide who becomes the next President of the United States.

In part our future is up to a few lone citizens hunkered down in a half-finished housing development in Nevada.  One woman lamented that she put up an Obama sign in her front yard four years ago. Her neighbor hadn’t spoken to her since.  In such an environment it’s hard to stand by your convictions. You wonder if perhaps you might be doing the wrong thing by engaging in the electoral process at all.

And so there my family found itself on a warm November day.  We stood at the doorstep of potential voters who were literally besieged by the electoral process.  We stood there, ringing doorbells of folks who refused to answer because they didn’t want to hear one more thing about the election.

If you’re one of those people who didn’t answer the door or who hung up on the caller, I have one thing to say.

If you’re one of those people, it’s not happening to everybody. Trust me.  It’s happening to you in particular because your voice, the one that belongs specifically to you, matters a whole hell of a lot more than those in the rest of the country.  Without your asking or your doing, you have become the arbiter of the direction of this country.

How very strange.

And all you need to do is vote.

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6 thoughts on “Notes From the Ground Game

  1. Nice, Andy. I was doing the exact same thing in Manassas, Virginia, yesterday, and I have to say the results were rather more positive. There was some weariness and a little anger, but most people we managed to reach were friendly, supportive of the president, and at least somewhat committed to voting (despite not being habitual voters). So there’s some hope. Keep fighting.

  2. I live in one of the (very) few blue precincts in my otherwise red county; last election we had some precincts results coming in with a 90%+ for McCain. It is unbelievable the logic they follow and the fervor in which they embrace it. There is no discussion here, only shoutdowns. I will be watching the polls tomorrow night with my father-in-law, who shares none of my opinions on politics. Luckily for me, he is Canadian and in this matter his thoughts don’t count. 🙂

  3. I have walked a bit in the suburbs west of Des Moines. Not as bad as your description, but it reminded my of the psycho-babble from my favorite folk-rock-white-reggae anti-nukes 80’s band: “I don’t want to live at ground zero. I don’t want to love fear and to fear love no more.” People in Iowa are very engaged in the democratic process, but out in the suburbs I definitely got how fear-driven it is. The suburbs go from small houses close to the Boulevard with a higher density of Obama supporters to bigger houses farther in where it is Romney land. It is clear that most of life out there is about doing whatever it takes to buy a house and keep at least one nostril above the water line. The reward is the hope that one day the market will rise and there will be a bigger house and a new living-room-dinning-room set. The fear is that you will loose the house and it will all be over. Life ruined. I was so saddened by the profound lack of vision for any other alternative – God knows it won’t come from any political leaders!

    • Thanks for the word and the walking. It’s a good question – how do you address fear and bridge a divide? Keep on law schooling!

      • It will take a greater leader with a bigger vision than what we have seen in some time. Here’s to a second term, may it give him the power to step up and set an agenda for the future instead of an agenda predicated on reacting to the past.

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