SixFifty

lessons from America

A volunteer’s view of an Obama rally

Lightening does strike twice.  Denver has now been the venue for two record-breaking Obama events: the first the nomination acceptance at Inveso stadium, and now Sunday’s campaign rally which attracted a staggering 100,000 people.  And I have been there both times.   For the Convention I was part of the audience.  This time I was that, plus – along with a thousand others – an event volunteer as well.

We gathered in our designated group at 8am and were given our final instructions.  We were tasked with being some of the first points of contact rally-goers would have, as the made their way towards the park and the back of the queue to get in.  

  

The aim was to give everyone “sign in slips” to complete as their ‘ticket’ to get in.  But this wasn’t just a passive data gathering exercise, though it served that purpose too.  But it went further.  The idea was to engage people in a conversation and encourage them to sign up as volunteers for the campaign: willing to door knock and phone bank in the final week of the election, and – preferably – to take some or all of election day off to help with the crucial Get-Out-The-Vote activities. 

That wasn’t even the end of the key messages we were asked to get across.  For this event was primarily a push for people to early vote.  Colorado opens up certain designated polling stations the week before election day, and allows its citizens to vote in any of these locations in their county.  We had lists of early voting places in Denver County to give out to locals.  Moreover – and this is the really clever bit – a government office (the William Webb building) was open that Sunday, including the hours after the rally, just one block from the civic park where Obama was speaking.  So it was also a case of letting people know they could early vote straight after the rally, when they were all fired up.

 

So those were my tasks from 8am til about 11am.  I did have a short break and wandered along some of the ever-growing lines of people waiting expectantly and excitedly to get in to the rally site. 

 

And along with the crowds of supporters, inevitably there were people trying to promote various local / state ballot initiatives and also a handful of anti-Obama protestors. 

 

By 10.30am capacity had already been reached and so people were spilling over into any available spots. I took the chance to walk up to the State Capitol building, which was the highest point nearby and offered a great view of the crowds gathered below.  Numbers of people were taking advantage of its position and were viewing the rally from there, even if Obama must have only been a tiny dot to them.

  

At 11.30am all the volunteers gathered again at our original meeting spot and made our way over to a special entrance where we could still get access to the event.  Security was tight, with airport-style scanners and even things like apples and other items that could potentially be lobbed at Obama were conviscated on entry.   On the plus side, it gave me ample opportunity to chat with fellow volunteers in the queue – including one woman who was really putting her heart and soul (and virtually every waking minute) into the campaign; and a veteran who was proudly wearing a ‘Republicans for Obama’ t-shirt and happily defied sterotyping.

 

It was taking so long to get us through, that the last groups of volunteers – myself included – only just made it into the park in time for Obama’s entrance.  And for the first few minutes of his speech I was stuck miles from the main stage, unable to make my way through to the area reserved for campaign volunteers.  Some of the other volunteers were cursing the disorganisation of the campaign at that point and it was very frustrating. 

Thankfully, though, everything worked out and we were able to make our way much closer to where Obama was speaking.  So I ended up having a much better view of proceedings than I had done that night in the stadium at the Convention.

  

Obama’s speech itself was – by his standards – fairly perfunctory.  There were some longer segments on the economy, but otherwise it was a standard stump speech.  I guess I had the luxury of having heard him live at the Convention.  My favourites parts of his speech at this rally were his riff on “there are no red states or blue states, only the united states of america” and an emotional bit towards the end giving some historical context to Obama’s candidacy and welcoming new generations and new immigrants to these shores.  And he gave his useful powerful closing lines, rallying the army of footsoldiers and voters stretched out before him. 

(NB. You can see the short clips I took of parts of his speech here)

As to be expected, there was plenty of cheering and shouting both during Obama’s speech, and immediately afterwards … which was all happily lapped up by the media.

 

As the crowds started dispersing, I wanted my own mementos of the day; of having been there for another historic occasion.  So cue some cheesy shots:

   

My thanks goes to the two girls who took some of those photos of me, and whose placard I borrowed.

Exiting the park, my duties done, there were other more energetic and hard-working volunteers who were doing that all important task: signing the way to the early voting polling station and encouraging people to make that few minute detour to do vote there and then.  I gave the sign-holders a deeply felt “keep up the good work” type comment, as I was impressed at their stamina and enthusiasm after such an early start to our volunteering day.  

 

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October 30, 2008 Posted by | On the Campaign Trail | , , , , | 2 Comments

Reimagining the west

I’ve just spent a long weekend in the mountain west.  Denver and its immediate environs aren’t really typical of the rest of Colorado or the other western states, but I got some kind of snapshot of politics in an area trending more Democratic; or at least purple.  Colorado has a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Senator (hopefully soon two).  Brian Schweitzer, Dave Freudenthal, Bill Ritter, Janet Napolitano, and Bill Richardson are all Governors of western states.  Likewise Jon Tester, Max Baucus, Ken Salazar, Jeff Bingaman, Harry Reid and Ben Nelson are Democratic Senators, serving rural, western constituencies.

However, the perception amongst the media and voters is quite different.  As reported in a Daily Kos post earlier this month:

“Far too many voters out here in the middle, they’ve just come to accept without question that they and their neighbors are all Republicans, that their own senator or governor is just an anomaly, and that Democrats have been utterly irrelevant to their lives. The Democrats are those people out on the fringes (literally, on the coasts) of the country. Slowly, and increasingly, Democratic candidates across the region are working to change that mindset.”

The Democrats, because of past policies and strategies and personnel, have been portrayed as the party of urbanites, as opposed to the party of the rural west. As the Daily Kos article explains:

“It all came down to the Democrats wanting to take away your guns and your land to give it to some kind of bird or something that nobody had ever heard of. Once those beliefs about Democrats had been established, the rest was easy. Democrats were portrayed as only caring about urban America, and worse, wanting to impose “urban values” on the rest of the country.

The way the national Democrats, pre-Howard Dean and the 50 state strategy, approached the region left little for a Democrat out here to hang on to.  … Along the way, the Democrats that live in some places out here, who have lived out here all along, lost heart. They stopped meeting, stopped talking to each other, forgot that other Democrats even existed. They didn’t dare talk about politics in public settings. This was true even in the Clinton years, when prosperity reigned.

Since Schweitzer’s 2004 election, the purple has been spreading, and with it a growing conversation that reminds people that they don’t have to be a Republican. It’s a conversation spurred by having someone like Gary Trauner showing up on your doorstep. By having someone from the Scott Kleeb campaign call to ask what you’re concerned about in this election. By having a presidential candidate actually come to your state.”

The energetic campaigns in Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada are reminding people who might not have seen a Democrat in decades that we don’t have horns and forked tails. And that we might just have some good ideas on how to fix the mess that one-party rule has gotten us into.”

We’ve had the same problems in the UK: where the Labour party is sometimes seen as as the party of metropolitan areas and the (former) industrial heartlands, and the Conservatives are the party of the rural and outer suburban areas.  And it can be very hard to change perceptions, even when the facts on the ground aren’t so black or white (or red and blue rather).   But the right candidates and the right strategy – and even the right kind of voting system – can have a real effect: the electoral map can be re-imagined.

October 30, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Indiana irrelevant no more

Somewhere just beyond the Rustbelt and not quite to the corn fields of Iowa lie a proud and peaceful people: the Hoosiers.  They have suffered and been ignored for a long time.  And they have taken this with quiet dignity. Until now they have taken the logical path of resignation and acceptance of their fate.  It is not in their character to be like some of their more noisy neighbours or even subscribe to the Todd Palin school of secessionist thought.  All they want is a bit of love and attention; a good listener; someone who is willing to put in some investment of time and money to show that they are serious in wanting their votes.   And it appears that finally, this year, they have found that one.  

Or to put it in slightly a less whimsical fashion:

“One noteworthy feature of Indiana is that it has had rather low turnout in recent elections, perhaps because neither party has really bothered to campaign there. As such, likely voter models which are rooted in past voting history may be unreliable. And according to Tom Jensen, Obama has a 68-24 lead among voters who did not cast a ballot in 2004. These are the sorts of statistics that the Obama campaign is looking at, and they’re why they remain very engaged in the Hoosier State.”  (Nate on 538:)

Chalk up one for the 50 State Strategy. Indiana is just further evidence of that old adage: uncompetitive elections and/or taking voters for granted often leads to lower turnout.  Where as competitive elections and/or actively pouring resources into campaigning and getting out the vote encourages higher turnout. Obviously we still await election day itself and the results to bear this out. So Hoosiers, it’s over to you ….

October 30, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , | Leave a comment