Friday, November 7, 2008
Sweet Virginia is blue, as told by our creative director
Today is a new day for all of us at The Farm, because the country finally switched back to blue! We were especially happy that Virginia switched colors for the first time since 1964, in no small part due to the efforts of our Creative Director, Sharon Rapoport. Here is her Obama volunteer story:
I want to allow all of you a glimpse into what this election meant to us
here in Virginia, but I already know I cannot begin to describe it sufficiently. Anyway, here goes:
We began our work back in May. During the primaries, the sense that something truly historic was happening was immediate and palpable. My hometown, Roanoke, is in Southwestern Virginia, which is very Republican.
We do have a large African American community here, and those two factors have made things interesting. Early work sessions were memorable simply because of the racial, class, and age diversity. We would look around the room into this sea of contrasting faces and we knew already that here-- right here in the Southern state which once housed the capital of the Confederacy-- change had come.
By June we were putting up some Obama campaign operatives in our home who were arriving throughout the summer to help. At that point, we were focusing on voter registration, spending long days in front of Wal-Mart and other very public venues, asking everyone if they were registered to vote, and registering them when they said no. I am proud that our state ended up
registering more new voters than any other, almost a half million.
By late August, we were housing Jay, a (very) young, EXTREMELY earnest 19 year old man (now 20) who was sent from Ohio to run the entire campaign here. He moved into our home with an open end check out. (He's still here, until Saturday).
Though I originally said I didn't want to, I suddenly found myself going door to door, asking for support. We were doing this almost every weekend. Fundraisers were arranged, students were organized, we were becoming an army. Bitter debates were happening everywhere. Signs went up...our Obama yard signs were flanked on either side by McCain Palin signs. The friendly
neighborhood atmosphere was becoming chilly long before the cool weather set in. But we continued to build momentum, adding names to our databases every day.
As a very active volunteer, I was selected to work a Town Hall with Obama in a nearby small town. It was incredible to finally see him in such an intimate setting. This had a roll-up your-sleeves kind of agenda in a very blue collar area...he really had to sell the room. It was riveting.
He signed my copy of his book, which already had a very moving inscription
inside that was written by my 15 year old son, including some very sweet things about me being a cancer survivor. Talk about a prized possession!
Time passed. We worked harder. Speakers came every week. Campaign leaders, Terry McAuliffe (who ran Hillary's campaign), General Wes Clark, Senator Evan Bayh...
I met all of them and was able to hear each of them give very
different takes on why they were supporting Obama and why they needed us to work...yes, EVEN HARDER.
October was a blur of working, canvassing mostly. By now people were either pissed off that we were coming back again, slamming doors in our faces in the name of McCain, or embracing us and asking where to go to volunteer. The international press had somehow decided that Roanoke was everytown America because of our demographics, so they came and set up camp. A columnist for The Guardian from Britain stayed for six weeks to cover the election.
He covered a local pub debate where I was one of the debaters for Obama. Not something I would ever have done before....again, an example of profound change!
In Mid-October, Obama came to Roanoke for a rally. Because I had already
seen him, I wasn't quite as excited about it as before. Little did I know. To see him in that kind of setting was completely different than the Town Hall had been...I get tears in my eyes now when I think of what it was like to look around that stadium and see how moved all these people in my hometown were by this man. It was a rainy, cold day...but he was the sunshine we needed to keep us going for 3 more weeks.
By late October, I was completely obsessed that we weren't going to be able to handle all the new voters on Nov. 4th, so I was writing letters to
everyone I could think of to beg for some provisions. We never really got them.
The day of reckoning finally arrived. My husband John is an attorney, and he had gone through training in order to be a Democratic Party Protect The Vote official at one of the polls in an African American neighborhood. He got up at 4:30 in the morning to be there by 5:00 AM. He had a very full day uncovering incompetencies. One of the things he was dealing with was making sure that people who were being turned away for not being registered or not having the proper id, were able to vote if at all possible. One such man was a 65 year old Indian man who had never voted in his life. He had gone through all the proper steps to register and never got his card. John went through a tremendous amount of trouble to make sure this man got his chance, it took 2 campaign workers and a personal visit from the city registrar...he finally got to vote 2 minutes after the polls had closed. I was so proud of John...he cried later that night when one of the campaign workers told him that this man had, indeed, been able to vote.
I spent the entire day FREAKING OUT. It was raining. In the morning I went door-to-door in the poorest African-American neighborhood -- the projects -- where I encountered 18 year old mothers who didn't want to stand in line for hours getting drenched with two toddlers in tow, and elderly people who said they just couldn't stand that long. We got them rides. We got them ponchos. We bought coloring books, donuts and hot cocoa for the toddlers. I called everyone I knew and begged them to help us. They did. In the afternoon, more houses, more doors, more, more, more. People would say, 'hey, he's gonna win, he don't need my vote!' or 'it's obvious he's in, look at how long the lines are. I got to go to work!'. We said NO HE WILL NOT WIN IF YOU DON'T GO RIGHT NOW AND TELL EVERYONE ELSE YOU KNOW TO GO, TOO! YOU MUST WAIT AS LONG AS IT TAKES!!!! Amongst the volunteers there was such dread and fear that we
literally couldn't look at each other. The reports were telling us that turnout wasn't what we needed. I wanted to vomit. We knocked on well over 100 doors that day and stopped everyone in the streets.
At 7:00 the polls closed. I exhaled, it was out of my hands. I went to several watch parties and ended up in the small pub in my neighborhood with all the Obama campaign staffers and longtime volunteers like myself. My kids were there, my best friend who was a Virginia delegate in Denver and who first convinced me to support Obama, my homies. The first time I cried was
when the initial numbers for Virginia came in with McCain ahead. This cannot happen, I thought. It cannot. Results from state after state came in, we were still behind. F**K ME. Then it was tied. Holy S**t, mother of God...how much more must we endure!
By the time they finally called Virginia, I had already downed enough alcohol that I was practically on my knees. I WILL NEVER FORGET THAT MOMENT. WE DID IT. Everything we had done had paid off. We now had a comeback to the insensitive 'red-state' comments from my friends in New York (easy to say from the armchair). I was in a room of devoted Democrats, converted Republicans, and spirited Independents, a room of black, white, old, young, male, female...a room of sobbing, screaming, sweating SOUTHERN Americans who had redefined patriotism, and I was damn proud to be one of them. YES WE DID.
After all that, you might think that the announcement that he had won was anti-climactic. It wasn't. More screaming, slobbering, hugging, weeping, shouting. Phone calls, texts...free drinks on the house. And then, the speech. Are you kidding me? How does he do that...raising the bar
every time? I wept so much, I needed Gatorade to stay hydrated. Virginia went blue for President Barack Obama.
The morning of Nov. 5 held another first. I awakened with fresh tears rolling down my face because I was DREAMING of being happy. I had never experienced that before either.
And then, I read the emails waiting in my inbox from friends around the world. More tears. To those of you living outside the US, I do have one more important thing to say: you kept us going. We wanted to earn back your respect and your friendship. We knew you were watching,having little to no control over the outcome. We felt that deeply, and we worked not just for ourselves but for YOU. Please believe that...I swear it is as true as anything I've ever known.
Love to all, may this moment be something we can look back on to draw the
strength we will need to help this new leader flourish.