Pounding the Pavement for Kerry/Edwards

I worked canvassing door to door for Kerry yesterday in Postindustrial Swing State City. I walked with KL and another canvasser through parts of two wards of the low-income south side of the city, where bungalows built in the 50s as small single family houses (2.2 kids, the dad working a good factory job at a family wage) have been converted into apartments. Sometimes even the 8x10 garage out back was a separate apartment; often the basement was. Porches were falling apart. Screen doors were ripped. Windows were patched. Most people didn't answer the doorbell. That's because most of the doorbells didn't work. But most people also didn't respond to a knock (despite lights on, the TV going -- well, maybe because of the TV). Probably a majority of the people who did -- or a significant minority -- didn't speak English well and/or weren't citizens. Most people had American flag decals or fading "United We Stand" signs on their doors or houses. This had no correlation with support for Bush.

Most of the people we talked to who were eligible to vote said they were planning to vote -- and most of those said they were planning to vote for Kerry, and that the rest of their households were too. One guy said "I voted for Bush last time. What a mistake." This was the encouraging part. The distressing part was

- the Latina woman who said she was voting for Bush because "he has a plan for jobs and education" (prompting me to wonder who gave her this line?)

- the goth chick you know from high school, now all grown up with five kids, who doesn't believe her vote matters because Bush will just steal the election again (we talked to her for ages)

- the white woman who said "I don't give a damn get the hell off my property." (I did)

The two neighborhoods were different. In the first, security systems consisted of attack dogs. In the second, they were electronic (or at least claimed to be, with stickers on the door). In the first, folks weren't up yet at 11am, they weren't interested in talking to us, they couldn't name issues they cared about. They seemed hopeless. In the second, which was also more racially diverse (white-Hispanic-black-Asian; the first was all white and Hispanic) people didn't seem much better off economically, but they were articulate about their issues, and knew they were going to vote and, usually, that they were going to vote for Kerry. A lot of them had lawn signs and stickers already. Most of them knew WHERE to vote, which suggests to me that they've voted before. Every single African-American adult we talked to was planning to vote for Kerry.

Some other observations:

A lot of people are depressed, apathetic, and disengaged. They don't seem to know what's going on in politics. They don't think it makes much difference who is in the White House. (In some ways, they're right. Kerry will raise the minimum wage, but enough that a household with two minimum wage workers will be able to reasonably feed, clothe and provide healthcare for their kids? I'm not sure.)

We found people unusually willing to give us their name and phone number. I don't know if this was because we seemed official, or because they liked the attention.

This is a world without the internet, but with big screen TVs.

We ran into union canvassers. They said they were only going to about one house per block. That says something. 30 years ago they would have been going to every house. They told us a house not to go to because they'd just spent a long time trying to convince a Nader voter, victim of a plant closing, to vote for Kerry, and he'd be annoyed if we knocked as well.

There were also Americans Coming Together canvassers -- students, I think -- doing the same streets. The Kerry campaign and the 527s are not allowed to coordinate their efforts, but I think this was OK. I heard someone say the campaign was trying to contact people an average of 9 times and that the psychology of this was such that they would not be so irritated as to change their vote to Bush. They certainly might just not answer the door. And they didn't.

There are many more undecideds out there than anyone takes into account -- people who are undecided about voting at all, and undecided about who to vote for. They just don't figure in this image of a deeply polarized nation.

There wasn't as much Christian or Catholic paraphernalia on the houses as I would have expected. (There was some.) But I think most of those who were wavering were wavering because of abortion.

When asked what issues were important to them, nobody talked about terrorism. Some people said safety and security. But most said education, jobs, immigration.

I think I could be pretty good at this with a little practice. I think teaching helps. I wish people were out there organizing these folks all the time and not just during election times. The work feels more meaningful, I have to say, than teaching humanities. Then again, I think it would get awfully tiring and awfully discouraging very quickly. So maybe everybody should put in a week a year at it. It might make a difference.

OK, all for now. I'm going to go back one or more times in the next three days...


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