Me and Barack

26 Nov

This is a picture of Barack Obama with the grandparents who raised him.

On the Sunday before the election I sat in a building owned by the plumbers’ union in downtown Ithaca, NY.  The room was full of people with cell phones  and lists of names in Ohio and people like me who sat in front of computer screens that had software dialing Ohio phone numbers for us.   My mother grew up in a Republican household in Lakewood west of Cleveland and I was seeing the place names of her childhood appear one after another on the laptop in front of me: Rocky River, Bay Village, Cleveland Heights, Westlake, and Cleveland were only a few of them.  My grandparents had helped out at the polls during the elections of the past.  I wondered how they would feel about the fact that I was campaigning for Obama, and that their daughter, a lifelong Republican, had already voted for Obama once.  And not only that, but that they had a granddaughter named Gillian, a resident of North Ridgeville, Ohio, and not yet born during their lifetimes, who had voted for Obama, but then I thought again and remembered George W. and Sarah Palin and realized that they probably would have been proud of us.

The phoning process was an interesting one and yielded both good and bad results.  Our New York phone bank started with Pennsylvania, a swing state the Democrats were worried about at the time.  We would sit for two hours in the home of a fellow Democrat, sequestered in a back room, eating cheese and crackers, drinking Diet Pepsi, and dialing sometimes questionable numbers in that we sometimes talked to people who would never have considered voting for Obama.  This was before the advent of computer dialing and the lists gave up a strange mixture of people.  We talked to Democrats who were still fairly friendly at the time, Republicans who often weren’t, and Independents; what with all the wrong numbers I even called an emergency line.

When we shifted to Ohio, everyone was exhausted with the process.  We made calls all over Ohio, especially in Cleveland, a big target of the Obama campaign, but this time we seemed to be talking to Democrats for the most part.  Obama supporters made an effort to be friendly with comments like: “We appreciate what you’re doing,” but it was evident in their voices that they were dragging.  We had been given instructions to talk to any adult in the house, as long as we had the right phone number and to record that person’s name.  One man asked me testily why I wanted to know his name, then warmed up when I said I wanted him to vote for Obama and gave it to me.  However, even among black voters, Obama had his detractors.  A couple of them said they’d been disappointed and were not sure whom to vote for.  Cleveland’s housing market has been one of the worst in the country, so that may have been part of the problem.

About halfway through my calls on that last Sunday I started to get calls from central and southern Ohio, and then the name John Glenn appeared on the screen.  He was one of the big heroes of my generation, possibly more so than Neil Armstrong, and the speaking voice of  the man on the phone was mellifluous like that of  Glenn.   Glenn lives in Ohio and was a Senator from there for many years.  “Are you the John Glenn?” I asked.  “No, I’m not,” he said and chuckled.  “Are you planning on voting for Barack Obama?” I asked.  “Yes,” he answered.  However, he didn’t seem all that familiar with Senator Sherrod Brown, who was running for re-election, either because he couldn’t hear me or because he wasn’t John Glenn , who would of course have met Brown.  Nevertheless, I remained hopeful until the end of the call.  I finished with:  “Are you sure this isn’t you?”  “Yes,” he said, laughing, and  we said goodbye.  I checked Gallipoli, Ohio, the town that had appeared on the screen when I was talking to Glenn, but I couldn’t find any information on John Glenn, the astronaut, living there.

Another call made me feel just the opposite emotion; with this one I felt frustration.  Many people used their answering machine to screen calls, so I would leave a message encouraging them to vote for Obama.  One woman returned my call in the middle of my appointment in a beauty shop.  She was screaming so loudly into my cell phone that the hairdresser suggested I hang up on her. The caller said I was too young to understand what was going on in politics and that she received her information from a political scientist at a local university.  I told her that I was fifty-nine and well-educated, but couldn’t put a stop to her spiel.  She wouldn’t stop talking about the black nationalists, whoever they were.  I finally managed to stem her onslaught and hang up.

*                  *                   *                     *                *                   *                   *                     *                      *

Barack Obama first came into my life more as an idea than as a person when my mother and friend Denise were reading his first memoir.  I already knew of him as a politician, but he came more forcibly into my existence as a writer whom two people I admired had read–he was less a physical presence than a creation of reported speech.  I have since read some of the two memoirs myself, filtered as they were through David Maraniss’s biography: Barack Obama: The Story and I think I have the basic facts of his life down.   I  know I can never really know everything there is to know about someone I have never met.

Although he always emphasizes his physical self with the many references to basketball in his interviews, Obama exists more firmly for me in the spiritual realm as an intellectual.  The graying of the hair and the deepening of the lines in his face have not erased the cleverness of his speech or his ability to comprehensively synthesize difficult material.

I am one of the groups that were so important to his election–that of single women.    Despite that truth, I have never before analyzed myself that way, as part of that category, but I suppose it makes sense.  No, Mitt Romney, Obama did not bribe us with “gifts”–we responded to his common sense ideas about healthcare, his strong sense of the significance of equal pay for equal work, and the practical way he went about rescuing the country from descending into a deep depression. There are many other reasons too numerous to list.  I like to think we single women, many of whom have turned down unsatisfactory marital prospects over the years, are more likely to know a douchebag when we see one and we recognize that Obama is emphatically not one.

When I first started participating in the phone bank, I was motivated by the fear that Mitt Romney might overtake Barack Obama.  I like to think that the network of calls from Obama supporters across the country made a difference, and that the four undecided people I talked to in Ohio were convinced by me to vote for Obama.  Sixty-eight percent of single women voted for Obama.  Thankfully we were accompanied by many others.

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