Thursday, October 30, 2008

Political Homecoming

Back from two-week road trip,
blogger tries on role as activist

Heading north through the Virginia countryside on Wednesday, we had a close encounter of the metaphorical kind – seeing John McCain’s Straight Talk Express campaign bus on the other side of Interstate 81.

Not surprising that we were going in opposite directions – McCain’s bus heading south (the direction his presidency would take America, I fear). We didn’t turn around to check it out; the candidate was elsewhere, and the bus evidently being driven to Ohio to meet him for his next-day campaign drive-through in the battleground state.

Returning home to Maryland after two weeks on the road in traditionally Republican territory, I jumped at the chance to help Barack Obama. It came in an email – a last call for help – from, a political action group organizing grassroots support for the Illinois Democrat. Its volunteers were holding telephone-calling parties aimed at states still up for grabs in Tuesday’s election, recruiting other volunteers to make get-out-and-vote calls and knock on doors this weekend.

I signed up for the party at Cindy Barracca’s house (more about her name later) in a suburban neighborhood near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Fifteen people were sought to make calls, and 14 had already signed up. But only eight actually turned out, some bringing snacks like chips, salsa, veggies and sushi.

Not that there was much time to eat. We were handed “Recruitment Calling Training Key Points” advising that many of the people being called will appreciate the offer to get involved, if they aren’t already booked for the effort. It also emphasized that callers should “sound natural,” “make it fun and easy,” “make it concrete” and “be confident.”

I rehearsed the calling “script” with another calling-party newcomer, including what was described as “the hardest and most important part” – “The Ask.” That is, asking a stranger to take action to get out the vote for Obama.

Then we all got to work with our cell phones, each of us handed three sheets of names and phone numbers of people who have supposedly in some way already supported Obama, 14 calls on each sheet, a total of 42 names.

Most of my 42 did not answer, and we were not leaving messages for their answering machines; a few numbers were wrong or disconnected; half a dozen of the people said they were already signed up for Obama volunteer efforts this weekend; and a young woman named Jameel was walking her dog when she answered. And after we chatted briefly, she wanted to volunteer – and all I had to do was call her back in 20 minutes with the details of the time and place for her at a Raleigh, N.C., field office.

After completing the calls, we dialed in to a headquarters automated recording system to report results on each person who answered – indicating “no” for those who could not volunteer or were already participating this weekend, identifying wrong numbers or people who did not want to be called again, and identifying those who would come out Saturday or Sunday and the time slot each would fill.

Of the 42 calls I made, one volunteer signed up -- for a Sunday shift.

The others at Cindy’s party also snagged a couple. And across the country, there were countless other parties with volunteers recruiting other volunteers to go door-to-door or make calls aimed at getting out the vote.

It was like tossing a stone in a pond, and seeing the ripples spread in all directions.

In 40 years as a journalist, I’d never been able to get involved in politics – only observe and report. And there I was on the edge of the pond, and sensing how deep the water, how deep the determination to change the direction of our nation.

Cindy Barracca said it was the fourth party she has hosted – and that she found great personal satisfaction in doing what she could for Obama.

In one session, she noted with amusement, a woman she called asked, “Are you the candidate’s wife?” Between the Cindy and the Barracca, the woman just got a little politically mixed-up by the names.

I mentioned my passing encounter with the McCain bus, and Cindy also had one to tell – from a Tuesday three weeks ago when she found herself following it in the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. “It was going slow,” she said, offering that as “a metaphor for something.”

After emerging from the tunnel, Cindy said, she passed the bus “so they could see my Obama stickers.”

About this blog

If you’re new to my blog, and unlikely to be reading back to its earlier (but very entertaining and worth-the-time) entries over the past four weeks, I’d like to re-introduce myself – David Ettlin, sunk to this opinion game after 40 objective years as a reporter and editor at The Baltimore Sun.

Since retiring in the Buyout Class of 2007, I’ve written half a dozen pre-season baseball stories for the competing Baltimore Examiner, filled in as an editor at the Baltimore Business Journal and Maryland Daily Record, written the cover story for the inaugural edition of the latter’s free monthly publication Exhibit A, and contemplated getting off my duff and writing a novel.

You can turn me up through a Google search doing a YouTube video about the first real tragedy I covered as a young reporter; telling tales at Stoop Storytelling (in June 2007 as Audience Storyteller No. 2, and as a featured speaker in that December’s annual “Holidays from Hell” spectacular); as a byline on a bunch but nowhere near all of the news stories I’ve written; and in tales of past lives by people who knew me back when.

I’m aiming to produce original material here, rather than (allowing for occasional exceptions) reporting what others are writing on the Web, and occasionally sharing the space with my wife and best buddy Bonnie Schupp, whose photographs grace many of the postings.

And I hope, if you enjoy this blog, that you send the link to your Web pals:

Thanks for visiting!

Coming soon in The Real Muck: Voices of America

No comments: