Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 7th, 2008
This is about my last twelve hours or so of work — Monday evening and Election Day — for the Obama campaign in Virginia. It may not be all that riveting to you, but it was a privilege to be a part of it, and to meet so many smart, hard-working people in such a short time.
I had canvassed twice in Leesburg, and it was my intent to rejoin the Leesburg office for final GOTV (“get out the vote”) work on Monday night and Tuesday. While I assume that would have been welcome, I also needed a place to stay, and that proved difficult to arrange. I had needed to leave quickly on Saturday; as I tried to recontact people at the Leesburg office on Sunday and Monday about where to go, I came to suspect I was becoming more of a problem for the people there than a potential asset for them.
I had rented a car for the occasion (I would need to drive straight from Virginia to Ohio for a funeral). By Monday afternoon I’d resolved to book a Leesburg motel room as well and just show up at the Obama HQ there when I got a call from one Lynne Weil, who said she’d been given my name. Having established that she wasn’t in Leesburg, Virginia but in the vicinity of Chantilly, that that didn’t matter to me, and that she had a place for me to stay, we agreed I’d arrive around 8. But between a late start, traffic, and eventually needing to buy a Loudoun County map to find my way, I finally arrived at the address I was given around 9 pm.
Precinct/turf situation board, South Riding hub,
Chantilly, VA, night of 11/3/08
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew
Somewhat to my surprise, it really was just another single family home among many in a prosperous looking neighborhood — big, fairly new houses, usually several cars per driveway. But the house turned out to have been all but handed over to the Obama campaign by its owner — the garage was a canvassing staging area, the kitchen had bowls of salad and multigallon coffee containers, the dining room was occupied by four or five people entering data on their laptops. I had arrived between shifts, and stood to the side eating an unexpected dinner on a paper plate and listening in to low conversations in the living room about how urban or rural a given “turf” was, were there enough flashlights, when the door hanger work would start.
I got to talking with another volunteer clearly also waiting for work to do — and it turned out he was part of the Senate Foreign Relations committee staff. We talked about Iran briefly; he seemed to approve of pressure on Iran on the basis of their past nuclear weapons work, and noted that a problem with the “MIT solution” is the fear of a breakout — the Iranians might work with an international uranium enrichment facility for a while, then appropriate the facility and/or the expertise gained and go back to nuclear weapons work on their own. I suggested that no matter what, there will be the possibility of disappointment. But I didn’t want to press things much further than that — we’d both come to do get out the vote work, not have a debate on Iran.
Around 11:30pm, that’s what we did. I couldn’t even say where we went — he had the map and address list, I had the flashlight and the bundle of door hangers (“Obama / Warner”); we got into a process of me shining our flashlight on the mailboxes, confirming we were at or near the right spot, and jumping out to hang up the door hanger. After jingle-jangling my way to a couple of doors, I emptied my spare change and car keys into the back seat. I was forever braced for Rover the dog to start barking — and not sure what I would do – but thankfully that didn’t happen. The whole thing took maybe an hour and a half.
We were billeted at another home nearby, lived in by a United Airlines pilot, her husband (also a pilot), and her mom. The UA pilot waited up for us, and talked with us for a while; the shower and bed were very welcome, as was breakfast the next morning. (I thought I’d see her again the next day, but didn’t — thanks again for everything!).
The next morning I was sent over to a secondary HQ — another home — for instructions and materials. This time, we would be knocking — the idea, of course, was to identify supporters who’d voted and whittle down the list to those who hadn’t. The little area (or “turf”) I drew was apartment/condo style residences near the school where voting took place — and I couldn’t tell you much more than that. The routine was the same all day — get out of the car, reassure yourself you had the right address, walk up to the door, take a deep breath, ring the bell, knock… and wait. And usually find no one home, and leave the door hanger dangling.
When someone was home, the feedback was generally positive; while I got one case where a brother working on a car in the driveway got a bit surly and asked “what if she is” when I asked if so-and-so was home, I also got more than a few glad “sure have – Obama!” responses — even though I wasn’t asking who they’d voted for. One woman even expressly thanked the campaign for showing up so often.
On my return from the first walking list of the day around maybe 11, I learned we were being reassigned to phonebank GOTV work at yet another location — the time was judged not to be right for more door to door work. So off I went to yet another Obama-house — this one abuzz with cell-phone conversations — where to vote… be in line by 7pm and you can vote… the number to call for a ride if needed… bring ID… ask for a paper ballot… thanksbye.
As with the door to door work, the Chantilly phonebanking lists had a number of (presumably) first/second/early generation immigrant names — noticeably Indian-Americans, but sometimes also persons with Vietnamese, Chinese, African, Hispanic and other names you could make a guess about ethnic origins from. I got through a packet of about 5 pages worth of names — I’m guessing maybe 60 people or so, and 50 households. I also spent a fair amount of time checking on the “remaining funds” levels of cell phones (“Virgin Atlantic”) obtained by the Obama campaign for the purpose, and then learning how to top them up again online — earning me brief “rock star” status in the eyes of the phonebank coordinator before she turned back to briefing incoming volunteers.
As elsewhere, I found a combination of great volunteers and superb new leaders — people who were themselves volunteers, who’d been identified and promoted to positions of responsibility. As elsewhere, this was probably facilitated by the meticulous record-keeping and reporting that was part of the game plan. Take a close look at that whiteboard in the first photo sometime. You’ll see a process broken down to its necessary parts, with a step for data entry planned before more work takes place. It worked well. And the people who were running things were not necessarily long time veterans. Sophia, the field director at Talamore Place, was not much over 20 if she was that.
From Oribi Place to Destiny Drive
Having promised to return to Oribi Place staging location for more door to door work, I returned there in the early afternoon. This time I drew a more extensive walking list (about 40 doors, if memory serves) to get through on my own. I slugged down a water bottle and a snack while my phone recharged, and then headed for my car.
I didn’t take along one of the good umbrellas stockpiled for the occasion — a mistake. Even though it never rained hard, a steady misting drizzle made the afternoon round a bit of a chore. It was about 4:30 by the time I got back, fairly tired, fairly wet, and fairly sure I was going to bag it for the day — I still had a long drive to Ohio ahead of me, and I didn’t want to fall asleep at the wheel and get myself smeared all over the road somewhere on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
But there were still two and a half hours to go before the polls closed. After sitting down, drying off with some paper towels, and resting a bit, the Oribi Place “staging location” director Wendy didn’t so much talk me into another round as I talked myself into it. I asked for a nearby neighborhood.
So I got my final walking list of the 2008 presidential campaign. The street names in the area were often anywhere from precious to whimsical — Tanzanite Terrace, Clock Tower Square, Sarazen Drive.
But this time, they combined the lyrical with the prophetic. My Google directions were:
Head southeast on Oribi Pl towards Destiny Dr
Turn right at Destiny Dr
Turn left at Possibility Way
Turn right at Cherish Court
And that is what I did.
NOTE: for a collection of my posts on my experiences as a Maryland volunteer in the Obama 2008 Virginia campaign, click on the “obamava” tag link. I’m but one of hundreds of us who went to Virginia time and again, or called, or helped organize volunteers to do so. All of them, particularly organizers like Aviva in Maryland, and Wendy, Lynne, David, and Sophia in Virginia, deserve a ton of credit for the work they did. We won a very, very big one; long may the story be told. For some good explanations of the Obama campaign “ground game”, and what made it such a good organization, see Zack Exley’s Huffington Post article “What’s Really Behind Obama’s Ground Game“ and many of Sean Quinn’s “on the road” articles at fivethirtyeight.com, e.g., “On the Road: Northern Virginia.”