I’m sitting in a cafe taking a quick break from phone-banking. Did three hours this morning and my next shift is starting in a couple of minutes. I’m based in the Minneapolis downtown Obama office and its busy: maybe 20-25 people plus more coming and going. There’s a dedicated call centre a few blocks away, but there’s a wider variety of activities in the office I’m in. I’ve been put to work calling older people (more likely to be in during the day) to ensure they know where their local polling station is and to encourage them to vote not just for Obama but also for Al Franken for Senate and Keith Ellison for Congress. I’ll update on my progress later. And on the positive reactions I’ve got from other Obama volunteers.
I can’t cover all 50 States on my trip, as much as I’d want to. So instead I’ve enlisted a few people to offer their outsider perspectives on the election where they are. We heard first up from Pennylsvania. Tonight is Virgina”s turn. I’ve just received a report from a friend from London who is over on the Eastern Seaboard keeping an eye on matters election-related. This is his personal take on Virginia, one of the key battleground states:
“I can report that the Democrats are cautiously optimistic about winning the state for the first time since the 1960s. I visited one of their phone banks in Richmond and it was totally buzzing with activity and everyone was up and motivated, and there were even a bunch of Malcolm wannabes from the UK volunteering their assistance instead of having a proper holiday. The Republicans on the other hand were less co-operative and wouldn’t talk to me.”
“I was really surprised to learn that when you register to vote you also register your party affiliation (which in most states enable you to vote in the primaries). Doesn’t that mean everyone will know how you’re going to vote? I can just imagine the outraged phone calls now. The Tunbridge Wells telephone exchange would never cope.”
“In Virginia all voting will be on touch screen voting machines or optical scan ballot papers. The voting machines look really modern and impressive. I must say I’m coming round to the voting machines if they have proper security. Unfortunately they won’t let you spoil your ballot paper so you can’t scrawl all over it which is a real shame in my book. Virginia has banned any new purchases of them so eventually they will be phased out.”
One of the organisations that has best utilised the Dean (and now Obama) campaigning lessons on using the internet and mobilising activists has been Avaaz.org. As their website states, they are “a new global web movement with a simple democratic mission: to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want. “
They have produced a short video clip which explains the importance of the election to the rest of the world, and why people around the globe like America and want it to play a positive role in world affairs / issues.
When I initially received an email about the video and the accompanying petition, I was sceptical about how this ad might be perceived in the US. Another ‘Guardian letter-writing in Cook County, Ohio’ episode was my first thought. But I am more reassured having read the email fully and seen this explanation Avaaz offers:
US Avaaz members have asked for this help. The ad doesn’t tell people who to vote for, but its overriding message of tolerance, diplomacy, human rights and equality is unmistakable. If the ad hits the media airwaves, it will reach the nation’s undecided voters just as they are starting to tune in, and are determining which issues will underpin their vote.
I am yet to be convinced that their idea – of making it a global youtube hit that the US media will report on and a million or more American voters will watch – will actually work. I hope it does, and I’ve signed the petition too. But the video does make the case more eloquently and visually appealing than I could ever do about non-Americans’ motivations for taking an interest in these elections and the hope for a better relationship with the US ahead.