It’s election eve and I’m working an Obama phone bank in California. Forty five minutes before the polls close in the midwest, the autodialer beeps and on my screen appears the name of a woman in Ohio.
Hello, she says quietly. She sounds tired.
I explain that I’m calling from the Obama campaign and I just wanted to make sure she got out to vote.
No, she says. No, I didn’t.
An uncomfortable silence follows.
Is there a reason why, I ask.
She pauses for a long time.
I didn’t know who to vote for, she confesses. I just don’t know enough about the candidates to make a good decision. So I think it’s better not to go out there.
I hold my earbuds close to my head and strain to hear above the noise around me.
You’ve just made my day, I tell her. I can’t believe that I’m actually talking to an undecided voter in Ohio. I didn’t know there were any of you left.
The woman laughs. Emboldened, I ask if there was something in particular she didn’t like about the President.
I don’t know, she says hesitantly. It’s hard to talk about. She struggles and at last declares, I don’t like gays. And I don’t like abortions.
Those are deeply held beliefs tied to God and religion. Phone bank instructions are to cut bait and go on to the next call. But I don’t.
Instead I listen to this lone woman on this autumnal evening in Ohio. I’m surrounded by the buzz and chatter in the campaign office. Virginia is closing and the folks on paper lists are dialing as fast as they can.
The lady continues. I do care about people though, she says. And I want to help people out. And it seems Obama wants to do that, too, she says.
We’re together and yet a huge divide separates us and I have no idea how to bridge it.
You know, I finally say, given how you feel about those first two issues, I can see how it would be hard for you to support the President. It’s really hard.
It is, she says.
But it’s really good you’re thinking about it, I say. And I want to thank you for being so nice. So many people have been calling you and bugging everyone in Ohio and you’ve been really gracious and you didn’t have to do that.
It’s been really hard, she says. And then she adds something. Where’s my polling place, she asks.
I tell her and thank her again for her time. She thanks me and we hang up. The next call comes.
Today I and all my friends are basking in the Obama victory. But I also can’t stop thinking about that undecided voter somewhere in Ohio.
I don’t recall her name, so I’ll just call her Sherie. If you ever read this, you know who you are and know that I’m talking to you.
Sherie, I think it would be neat if one day we could meet again and sit together and perhaps talk. I’d like to learn a little bit about who you are and vice versa.
I’d like to thank you again for letting me into your life for just a few minutes, and for being honest, for saying things that are especially hard to say to a stranger.
Why do we believe in different things, I wonder. Why are those issues that are so emotional for you, perhaps less emotional for me. We’ve had different lives and been exposed to different things. But we’ve grown up in the same country. And perhaps that can make all the difference.
If we could ever meet, I’d like to introduce you to some of my friends who are gay. They’re all decent, wonderful people: TV producers, investment bankers earning a lot of money, astronomers studying the universe, hospice nurses caring for people as they die. These are people who without you asking would watch your back unconditionally. I know. It’s hard to believe.
I’d like to also tell you that I don’t like abortion either. And truthfully, I don’t think there are a whole lot of women out there who do. For the women I know who’ve had an abortion, it has been sad and painful and not an easy choice at all. But they do want and I believe, deserve, the right to choose.
I’d like to say that it’s your body. It’s your bedroom. It’s your business. It’s not mine. And I wonder if somewhere in there, perhaps there’s something you and I can agree on.
So thanks for letting me into your Ohio home during this divisive election. Thank you for being an actual undecided voter. And for genuinely caring, I believe, about the future of this country.
Luck to both of us as we figure this whole thing out.