Bill Maher in Real Time at Cornell

He garnered some attention with his comments about Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary. Tonight, Cornell alum Bill Maher brought that comedy to The Hill in Ithaca.

Chastising Republicans (and Sarah Palin), religion, values voters (and Sarah Palin), movie sex (not sex in general), and Sarah Palin was common throughout the night. Asking McCain supporters to identify themselves by cheering and then chastising their candidate’s, well, lack of appeal in everything was prevalent. This same principle was implemented with us religious people in the audience by asking those who thought Noah’s ark actually occurred to clap (I did not because I don’t, but the guy next to me did). The following 10 minutes was then dedicated to Maher’s view on the absurdity of religion. Despite my strong devotion to the Catholic faith (DYK: Maher was raised Catholic), I couldn’t keep myself from laughing a couple times. It’s all right to poke fun at yourself, and in some cases I couldn’t agree with him more. I did feel bad for the person sitting next to me, the one who clapped for Noah’s Ark, so I refrained from laughing/clapping several times during the religious diatribe so as not to offend him. Though thinking about that now, it’s kind of ironic since the whole night was dedicated to offending people lacking Bill Maher’s views.

The Culture War was on display tonight, one-sided though it was. The college educated liberals voicing their side of the argument, in a hysterical way. 

Life in Collegetown

Now that my life on the Obama campaign has been exhausted I guess it’s back to talking about Cornell, which is what I’m supposed to do anyway. 

For the first three years my home at Cornell has been in a dorm. Looking back it’s been a good decision, fewer responsibilities in terms of trash/recycling, food, rent, distance of walking, bills, ease of access to a wide range of friends, others to clean up for you, etc. This year, as a senior, I figured why not follow the crowd and, as 90% of seniors choose to do, live in collegetown. Good decision as well, just a different lifestyle and one that needed adjusting to. There’s more freedom, a feel of ownership over something (your apartment/house), and a convenient location “next to it all.”

Living in collegetown balances the requiements of daily needs like cooking dinner with the responsibilities of a college student (homework, extracurriculars) and the fun of businesses geared towards college students to give a nice balance and a hint of what part of living on your own in the real world feels like. Just right now, you’re on training wheels because, well, you’re at college. Can you get in more of a bubble?

The Last Day

July 26

Tomorrow I travel home after meeting up with a friend to see the NFL Hall of Fame. This fellowship has been a great experience, enjoyable, educational, and rewarding. It has also taught me community organizing is not my thing. Walking up to strangers on the street and seeing if they’re registered to vote or asking people I’ve never met to give the campaign money, food, desks, or anything really is not my strongest suit. Another reason is because I hate calling people over the phone. Over the course of 6 weeks I’ve made at least 3,000 phone calls.

Going into these calls I expected to have a negative reaction, some to be misinformed (religion, family, race, etc.), and others to be apathetic. I did not expect for people to cling to the falsities and slander about Obama that has been circulated throughout the nation as steadfastly as they did. Even after explaining all the evidence as to why such absurd rumors are infallibly wrong, too many remained loyal to their erroneous mind-set. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a quote from Martin Sheen’s (I will always know him as President Bartlett, except for his small role in The Departed) commencement address to the Notre Dame Class of 2008.

Arrogance is ignorance matured.

Every one of my disappointing phone conversations that ended with something similar to, “I don’t vote for Muslims,” just added heaping amounts of validity to this statement.

Below are some of the more memorable, sometimes comical conversations we had with residents of southeast Ohio. Many were shared with me by other organizing fellows. The rest I experienced myself. The extremely threatening, racist, profane-ridden, obnoxious voice mail left on a fellow’s cell phone has been omitted from this list.

He’s a Muslim.
            You didn’t like his pastor though.
That anti-American guy, no.
            But Muslims don’t have pastors.
Yah, but his middle name’s Hussein.
 Barack Obama has close ties to Iran.

         How so?

Because his father was from Kenya.

            They’re two separate countries.

They’re close to each other.

            Kenya’s on another continent.

They’re both over there.

Obama’s mother was a communist and Obama wants to change the national anthem to “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing”. (Sidenote: I actually like that song)

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. Click.

He chose his Muslim name.

He’s going to start doing drugs in the White House.

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.
            She’s not running anymore. It’s Barack Obama.
Who’s he [Obama] running against.
            John McCain.
Then I’ll vote for him [McCain].Click.

John McCain you dumb ass.

I’m not voting for that bastard [Obama].

He [Obama] wants all of us to speak Spanish.

I wouldn’t vote for Obama if he was the only black guy running. (I believe this person meant, if Obama were the only person running for president, he wouldn’t vote for him because he was black.)

Do you know who you’ll be voting for in November?

            Hillary Clinton.

Well she’s not running anymore.

            Who is it then?

Barack Obama and John McCain.

            Who’s the democrat and republican?

Barack Obama’s the democrat and John McCain is the Republican.

            Then I’m voting for Obama.

Roughly paraphrased conversation that lasted about 50 minutes:
I have two kids, I’m a single mom with a job and my Medicaid and welfare benefits are getting cut. I can’t even bring them [her kids] to a doctor.
            Well Senator Obama as President would push for… (Went on to explain the policies that applied to her).
Well I plan on voting for McCain.
            Might I ask why?
Because he has more experience.
            I gave a counter viewpoint that experience doesn’t necessarily make someone a good leader for 5 minutes.
Well I still think he’ll be a good leader because he has more experience.
Ok that’s understandable. But even if McCain’s experience will make him better, he’ll just be better at making policies that make you worse off.
He’ll still be a better president.

(I guess not everyone votes by their wallet.)

Finishing

July 23

For the last week I’ve been assigned to create a slide show on Obama’s rural policies, the critiques of them, and how they contrast with John McCain’s rural policies. I enjoy this kind of policy analysis (seeing that it’s also my major) so I find it very relaxing that this is my assignment for the last week. I’m almost done. I’m just working on finding the distribution of funds to each county in Ohio that was given to the state under the Secure Rural Schools Act. The slide show will be given to the regional field director (I’m in region 4) who is in control of 11 counties, all of which are in southeast Ohio. The presentation will be used for future field organizers who will be assigned to the future and any volunteers or voters who want/need to learn more about Obama’s rural policies.

We also started the process of moving into our permanent office today!!!! Finally, after five and a half weeks we now have an office. The official opening ceremony will be on Sunday (the day I leave). The irony makes me chuckle. Oh, and Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, will stop by to give a speech. Once again, I chuckle. At least I get to see what the office looks like.

Terry Anderson (again) and Zack Space

July 19

This morning we canvassed in Nelsonville, OH for Senator Obama as well as Zack Space who is the Congressional representative of the 18th district, which encompasses almost the entire eastern Ohio border. Canvassing involves walking door to door (like a salesman) asking who people are thinking of voting for and if there were any issues or questions they had about a candidate. It’s a pretty effective strategy. When people are home they almost always answer the door and rarely refuse to answer your questions. It’s getting them at home that’s the hard part…also not drenching in sweat when it’s 92 degrees outside. For our efforts we received a thank you from Rep. Space, just another notch in my belt of shout outs I’ve received (woohoo!).

 

In the evening we made another outing to Terry Anderson’s house (the reporter who was kidnapped in Beirut). Free dinner, can’t turn that down. It was the only time so far that we’ve been able to relax on the campaign. The three of us went swimming in the pool, ate food, and took a nap on the couches. Very relaxing and refreshing. Fired up and ready to go for the final week of the fellowship!

Winding Down

July 17

There are nine days left of this fellowship. We’re starting to realize that. Spending six weeks 24/7 with each other really creates a tight bond so we’ve been cherishing every minute we have when we’re not working. They’re very rare though. For example, tonight at midnight is the premiere of The Dark Knight. How I would love to be there. Instead we’ll be registering voters who are waiting in line. I think it’ll be pretty cool asking people if they’re registered to vote in the pitch black in the middle of a strip mall, but it would be pretty cool and a whole lot more relaxing to be sitting in an air conditioned movie theater getting ready to watch what is acclaimed to be the best movie of the year, tied with Wall-e.

A 7:45am Stroll

July 14

This morning I was invited to take a walk with three senior citizens. Every morning at 7:45 on Monday-Friday Robert, Gifford, and Li casually pace around their neighborhood talking about everything that goes on in the world. They stop for coffee at Robert’s house and then continue walking and talking. I was asked to come along because I had called Robert during one of my phone banking rituals to learn more about the community. He said that I should come and join him on his walks to properly discuss southeast Ohio politics. I couldn’t help but take him up on his offer.

 

What I experienced was something much more. Robert lived through the Great Depression, was a history professor at many colleges in Ohio, has a PhD in Education Administration, and was a superintendant at several school districts across the country before he retired. Gifford was a Cornell grad!, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was taken as a prisoner of war in that battle, and during that time met Kurt Vonnegut. He saw the firebombing of Dresden and wrote letters about his life while a POW. He also has a degree in International Relations and was chair of African studies at Ohio University. Now he is a professor emeritus. Li fled China before World War II, intended to go back but never did because it became a communist country, and made a life for himself in America. He was an engineer, but now is retired. I can’t imagine a more respected trio of people, a group so knowledgeable yet down to earth and “cute” in that “old person” way. We talked about the consequences of unfunded mandates, Barack Obama’s experience, what leadership means, the troubles in the world today, the similarities of life before the Great Depression and its characteristics today, and history (my favorite part of the meeting). Forget about the politics the best part was talking to people who lived the history I was taught. There is nothing better than discussing the Great Depression with a person who’s father was a flower farmer in southern Ohio during that time and chatting casually about the Battle of the Bulge with a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge! These are the experiences that make this fellowship priceless. It provides the much needed refreshment from the ignorance, racism, and self-centeredness that’s otherwise encountered.

Persuasion Calls

July 9

Call time in general is very difficult as I’ve mentioned many times. Persuasion calls are probably my favorite part of call time though ‘favorite’ is probably a poor word to use seeing that I need to prepare myself a half hour in advance to get through the 4 or 5 hours of call time that night. Persuasion calls or intended for voters in counties outside of Athens that have in previous elections. Our goal is to identify who each person is voting for, the issues that matter to them most, and possible persuade them otherwise if they’re undecided or just shed light on the issues or Senator Obama if they are confused, think he doesn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, etc.

 

Tonight’s call time was interesting because I was making calls to residents of Perry County, which is a very rural, very poor county bordering Athens. I was lucky in that almost everyone I called was very polite and several were Obama supporters. Several others leaning towards Obama or undecided were interested in talking with me about the issues, which led to a very calm, enlightening conversation. What struck me the most however was that many people I talked to expressed their feelings to me simply because no one else of importance would listen. By no means am I important in regards to influence in the Obama camp, but they perceived I was since I always identify myself as being with the Obama campaign. These feelings were all about the economic struggles they were facing because of job loss and rising prices. I couldn’t do much more but agree and sympathize with their struggles. One woman really put it succinctly. She said that she was unemployed, her husband was unemployed, her sons were looking for jobs, and that she had nothing to look forward to. “Nothing to look forward to” is a phrase that stuck with me and continues to do so because I think that’s the tipping point in which people begin to lose hope. I’ve always been one for the present, never wanting to count down days until a really exciting event or overlook what’s going on in the now, but that comment made me realize that I might be focused on the present because I do have something to look forward to. I have a future that I can shape. Hopefully, I never have to tell myself I have nothing to look forward to. That is something I fear, and will strive never to come close to validating that statement.

The Offering

July 6

I was officially offered a job on the campaign when my 6 weeks as a fellow is up. I told them my mind wasn’t completely made up but that I would almost certainly go back to college to finish my senior year and graduate. A feeling of success filled inside me when I received the offer. I must be doing something right even though there are many days where I feel as though what I did wasn’t enough. Nonetheless, going back to finish college is what I want to do (and obviously that’s what I did). I have a great job in which I’ll be a student manager, great friends who I want to graduate with, and my year set in terms of room and board, classes, finances, etc. At least I can say I was asked to stay on the campaign. There’s some bragging rights right there.

Meeting Terry Anderson

July 5

We’ve attempted to register voters for a combined 30 hours over the past 3 days. Sometimes we see the fruits of our labor and other times there’s absolutely no reward for the time we’ve invested. So when we were told that we’d be taking a break and visiting journalist and former marine and politician Terry Anderson (the one who was kidnapped in 1985 in Beirut) I could not be more excited…until I saw the food he had prepared for us. I then became ecstatic. Eating a home cooked meal after 3 weeks of Buffalo Wild Wings, pizza, Chinese food, and other sorts of cheap stuff cannot be described in words alone. Now add dining with Terry Anderson and at 12am I’m not going to even try to put my feelings on paper. Our conversations were great. He opened his entire house to us. He explained his experience running for the state senate in a district that votes for the 3 G’s (god, guns, and gays). He told us about ethics, politics, and daily life. It was wonderful to have such discussions and especially listen to what he had to say. As part of our goodbyes he gave each of us an autographed book of his memoir, “Den of Lions”.