Victory came from the bottom up
by Allen Best
By the weekend before the presidential election, I was starting to feel important. People were at my front door. The telephone ran morning, noon and night. The calls came from Ohio, Utah and California. Everybody wanted to know: "Would I vote, and would I vote for Barack Obama?"
By Sunday, I had taken to answering the phone: "Yes -- and yes."
In fact, I'd entered the Obama camp 16 months ago. My hunch was that his uncommon intelligence and unusual background had created the potential for greatness, especially as a world leader. The mean-spirited, fear-invoking and racist e-mail campaigns by extremists drove me over the edge, causing me to plant an Obama poster on my front yard in June.
Still, I waited to hear evidence to prove me wrong, forgoing early voting and reserving my right to change my mind right up to Election Day. I am an unaffiliated voter who lives in a cluster of precincts that never vote automatically for one party or the other. This is in Jefferson County, the most populous county in Colorado, which was early on identified as a swing state. I like to think of myself as a swing voter.
Obama's campaign had far more firepower, of course. The John McCain team contacted me just once. My questioner sounded lonely and discouraged.
In time, I began to turn the tables as the Obama calls came in. One inquisitor had a strong Southern accent, so I asked her origins. She was calling from rural Virginia, in the Appalachia Mountains. She was being paid, she said, but it was personal, too. She was 46, but as a child she had some friends who were black -- friends who were refused admittance to her house because her father wouldn't allow it. She seemed angry about his bigotry even now. "We all breathe the same air," she said.
Finally, it was Election Day. Leaving the polls in mid-afternoon, I stopped to talk with an Obama volunteer who'd been posted outside to take note of any problems in voting. Inside, an Obama poll-watcher was tracking which voters had cast ballots and crossing their names off a list. Those still missing by late afternoon were to be contacted by the team of 100 volunteers within my neighborhood and reminded of the 7 p.m. deadline. Anybody who needed help would be taken to the polls.
Still marveling at this, I returned home and received an e-mail from Barack Obama at 4:30 p.m., reminding me that time was growing short. Shortly after 5 p.m., the phone rang and it was Obama's voice. There were lots of people helping his campaign, I thought, but they weren't always in touch with each other.
Curious, I strolled a few blocks to Obama campaign headquarters in Olde Town Arvada. It's a barn of a building that probably originated a century earlier when this was a still a small town of farmers and coal miners. Inside, the atmosphere was chaotic as dozens of people milled around, yet the effect was of a well-organized team. I talked with a woman who said she'd never seen a campaign with so many helpers -- and she'd worked in Democratic campaigns for nearly 40 years.
Monitoring his Blackberry as we talked, another volunteer confirmed that the New York Times reports had been correct: This was a disciplined and well-trained effort. In conference calls, Obama had clearly articulated to this team the message that embarrassment-causing shenanigans would not be tolerated. I took that to mean that if Republicans stole Obama signs, Democrats were not to retaliate by stealing McCain-Palin signs. At the same time, grassroots organizers had great flexibility in getting out the vote.
As I left, a young woman walked in. Would it be possible, she asked, to get an Obama poster -- as a memento?
I soon joined a gathering of friends to watch the returns of the night. As the chips and salsa and beer piled up, it began to feel like a Super Bowl party. When I finally got home there was yet another message on my machine. It had arrived at 6:40 p.m., just before the polls closed for good in Colorado.
"Don't forget to vote!" I was told for what seemed the 50th time.
That night, speaking in Chicago's Grant Park, Obama credited his victory to his campaign team and the millions of volunteers who worked on his behalf. "This" he said, "is your victory."
Allen Best is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in the Denver area of Colorado.