Ohio University has the same characteristics of Cornell, except Ohio makes Cornell look like it’s on steroids. So instead of walking up Libe Slope I’m walking up this miniature hill that my other friends from Texas on the Athens team think it’s the biggest hill they’ve ever climbed. They haven’t seen anything. I’ve also learned that I’ll be working with Washington County to organize people. Washington County is the next county to the right of Athens County and borders West Virginia. Marietta is its most populous city of about 16,000. Problem is it takes 1 hour to drive there, so my gas costs have just increased. Otherwise, I’m excited. I’ve already scheduled two volunteers, registered four people and set up one house meeting to discuss the promises of the Obama campaign.
Today was the first day of actual grassroots activity. The Obama campaign asked us to hold voter registration drives. We had two-and-a-half-hours to reach our goal of registering 7 people. My group was responsible for a stretch of 3 blocks along High St. which is in downtown Columbus. Now even though Columbus is the capital of Ohio as well as the largest city in Ohio don’t fall under the assumption like I did that Columbus must be like New York City or Washington, DC in terms of pedestrian traffic or activity. In reality, downtown Columbus on a Sunday afternoon looked like New York City in the movie I Am Legend, and I was Will Smith. Absolutely deserted. I must’ve walked 4 miles in a circle; I swear if I walked straight I would’ve reached Ohio State. I had conversations with and talked to 25-30 people. My end result was 0 registries. I was kicked off the property of an Episcopal church even though I believe I wasn’t on their property. Sorry Mr. Layperson for trying to enfranchise members of your congregation. It’s not like I went to them. They came up to me to ask to fill out the form. Maybe the guy didn’t like me because I was Catholic. I almost had one. I met a homeless guy by a bus stop. He wanted $.54 for a bus ride. I told him I didn’t have any money (I really didn’t. I didn’t plan on bribing people to register…I think that’s illegal anyway) but if he’d like he could register to vote. He gladly accepted. Problem was he was drunk. So his handwriting was illegible. I saw him stumble twice. So I told him that he could sit down and I’d fill out the form. That led to another problem of his lack of knowledge of his street name and zip code as well as many other pieces of information. So I decided trying to sign up a drunk homeless man wasn’t going to work out. I met this other homeless man. Very nice, having a smoke. He said he wanted to register. I told him he could put the homeless shelter as his address. So he started filling out information, stopped, and told me he had to turn himself in two days from now. Another disheartening blow. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be out by November 4th. We still talked about how both of us hated Bush and the war in Iraq. I left smiling and laughing, but without a completed registration form. Those were my two best chances. This one very well dressed man going to a play at the Palace Theater, which is one of the nicest theaters in Ohio, was walking with his family. I thought it would be a nice civics lesson for his kids to have a volunteer approach him to ask about registering to vote. He, very smugly, brushed me aside. I later overheard him say to people he was standing in line with, “They’re supporting that Muslim guy for president. I was shocked, not because of the statement (it’s expected) but because HE said it. I guess that was a prejudiced decision on my part. Just because you’re well-off, or at least show the appearance of being well-off doesn’t mean you’re informed…or have half a brain. How I wish that the homeless guy about to go to prison magically swapped places with that “rich” a**hole.
On another note, my host family was nice enough to drive me to Ohio State University, what will be the new Columbus Clippers stadium, and the Columbus Blue Jackets arena to give me a tour since they know I love sports. Their son pointed out the Horseshoe with its gigantic stained glass windows (amazingly beautiful), the basketball arena, and the academic part of the campus. In all honesty, I have to give OSU the edge on quality of the football stadium over Michigan. But UM definitely gets the nod of having a nicer campus. Of course Cornell has the best campus of all three hands down. Not even close.
The first day of training was exhausting, but a great experience. The people (volunteers and staff) were extremely nice and very well organized. What was even better is that the conversations we had were so stimulating. Aside from cracking political jokes that made us look like nerds that should be at politico.com I was able to get to know people who were just as excited as I was explaining how they were feeling on super Tuesday at 2am in the morning when the race was decided to still be a stalemate, or during the Indiana primary when it all came down to Lake county at 2am as well. At Cornell I have my select friends where I can explain my excitement about these nights, but even they weren’t up that late watching the returns come in or deliberately put off their homework just to hear Chris Matthews’ analysis or see John King’s smartboard. Here, it was like everyone was doing the same thing. Ask what they thought about Lake County, Indiana, some random story about a guy in one of Obama’s stump speeches, and they could tell you without thinking twice. If I were to yell “fired up!” in some classroom at Cornell a handful of people would’ve responded with “ready to go!” Here it was almost everyone in the room! Barack Obama himself even had a conference call with all 3000 fellows across the country who were training today. It was quite an awesome experience. Even more energizing is that I found out I’ll be headed down to Athens, Ohio for the next six weeks to organize volunteers there and do Get Out the Vote campaigns. Athens is in southeast Ohio where Kerry lost the counties there on an average of 60-40 in 2004, but I’m still fired up, ready to go! Except I can’t quite go yet. I still have two more days of training.
The drive took 9 hours, most spent on Route 80. By 6:15pm I reached Obama’s Ohio headquarters in Columbus, OH. On the way I mistakenly thought the Columbus Crew stadium was the Horseshoe (where Ohio State plays football)…big mistake in Ohio (I’m trying to keep my Michigan Wolverine allegiance a secret, kind of like I kept my democratic affiliations on the DL in high school). It was ironic that the Obama office – small, but homey – was directly across the street from the Ohio Republican office (not to be mistaken with John McCain’s headquarters, which I haven’t found nor do I plan to take the effort to find), but not so ironic that it was big and beautiful seeing that the RNC has all the money. At Obama HQ I met several others who were volunteering like myself, one from Louisville, another from Nashville, a couple from New York, and another from the great state of New Jersey.
A Google Maps print out was given to me. These were the directions to where I would be staying for the first 3 days of the program in which they are to train me for whatever they want me to do. Bear with me, at this point I know as much as you. The family I am living with is extremely nice. I am sleeping in one of their son’s bedrooms. All I know is that he is not here, I think still at college. They bought me pizza and cooked me brownies. I can only consider myself lucky I am living with such nice people, but hope that a big bowl of salad comes around eventually seeing that the last thing I want to do is gain 15 pounds while working for Senator Obama. For now the calcium enhanced orange juice I drank with my dinner will have to do. Tomorrow (Saturday) starts my first training event. 8:30am to 8pm, how am I looking forward to it. Note: That is not a sarcastic comment. I am really looking forward to learning how to campaign for my guy. That’s right. Obama is my guy…well Michelle’s technically.
And what a great day to do it on, the start of the Democratic National Convention! This summer I volunteered for the Obama campaign in Ohio. I’m from Jersey but thought of the excitement that working in THE electoral state would bring and decided I’d drive to Ohio to work there after I was notified that I was accepted for an Obama Organizing Fellows position. Throughout my six weeks in Ohio I kept a journal fully intending to use the entries I wrote for my Cornell blog as well. I didn’t write one for every day but I did keep a steady rate of 2-3 per week, sometimes more. As a result, for the next several days I will be posting blogs that are about my experiences working for the Obama campaign in the Appalachian (southeast) region of the Buckeye State.