I've voted blue my entire adult life, but I have to confess, it was George W. Bush who really turned me into a Democratic activist. In 2004, I spent the day before the voter registration deadline at the Space Needle and Seattle Center, signing up last minute voters. I put the call out for volunteers to help: I got four. We worked all day, and got 35 new registrations.
Sure, every little bit helps, but for a blue, blue city like Seattle, it was disappointing. As bad as Bush was, people still weren't motivated enough to get out and volunteer, contribute, or support Kerry to the degree they should have. Christine Gregoire won the election for Washington Governor by a razor thin 133 votes (on the third recount), and Darcy Burner was barely edged by Dave (Third)Reichert in the 8th District. It was disheartening to say the least, but admittedly Kerry was not the most motivating candidate we could have nominated.
Read below the fold for details on the amazing experience that followed.
Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I decided to make a similar effort, this time on the University of Washington campus the day before the voter registration deadline. I posted the event on Obama's website, and within 9 days I had seventy volunteers to help. Seventy. I didn't know any of them, as I live on the east side of the state. They were strangers -- other Democratic activists as fired up for Obama as I was, and willing to get out and do something about it.
I arrived Thursday night to my friend's house in west Seattle, about 30 minutes into the Palin-Biden debate. We laughed at the TV for a while, then hit the hay for the early morning that was to come.
Arriving at the U of W campus at 6:30 AM, I started carting the tables and chairs, clipboards, pens, forms, umbrellas (this is Seattle, remember), tape, cookies, you name it, over to our main registration site in front of the Student Union Building.
By 7:30, my first shift of volunteers had arrived. College students, grandmas, a professor, three women who took the day off, and get this ... three high school students who skipped class to come work for Obama on a Friday.
We had so many volunteers, we also branched out and sent 12 workers to Seattle Central Community College, which has a high minority population as well as many other blue-leaning citizens. Another volunteer who I had never met, Harriet C., coordinated everything on that site. We set up three other tables around the U of W campus, in Red Square, at Drumheller Fountain, and Suzallo Library.
We were not the only group there. Sororities and fraternities had set up booths, and had rovers with clipboards asking anyone who walked by whether they were registered.
I had even been warned by the local U of W coordinator, Alyson, that we may not have many sign ups, not because the students weren't interested, but because the vast majority were already registered. This rang true throughout a cold, rainy day on campus, as about 90 - 95% of the students we talked to told us they had already registered, though many still thanked us for our efforts.
But students the world over are motivated by deadlines, and the "LAST CHANCE VOTER REGISTRATION" signs we brought were working like a charm. Shift after shift of volunteers would show up, blanketing the campus and weaving into the crowd during class changes.
By the end of the day, we had registered a grand total of 337 people, more than TEN TIMES the number we had signed up in 2004. I would have been happy with 50, but the huge numbers of forms we were collecting kept my spirits up throughout the whole soggy day. Think of it - this small group of people from all over the state had almost tripled Governor Gregoire's vote margin from 2004, at the exact time when she is locked in another tight race with the same opponent, wannabe used car salesman Dino Rossi. Two Rossi volunteers set up a booth right next to us, and were, shall we say .... quite lonely. We were so busy, I didn't even have time to take photos for this diary -- a truly wonderful problem to have.
I also had the opportunity to speak with with Hillary, a 22 year old volunteer and graphic design major who told me, in between voter signups, how she is traveling to Ohio this month to canvass for Barack. I also met Jillia, a young twenty-something actress who came to the mid morning shift and works in a local theater ensemble. She had just moved from Minnesota, and maintained her absentee status there so she could help Al Franken and Barack Obama win the state. All of the volunteers told me similar stories of how they had come to support Obama - heard him at the 2004 convention, had never been so inspired by a candidate, believed for once in their lives, and felt privileged to be able to participate in this movement. In short, all of the things that had motivated me as well.
For a guy from the Republican side of Washington State, the entire day was absolute therapy for my blue brain. The ground game in Washington State for the Obama campaign is absolutely unprecedented. The GOTV efforts, particularly those directed at young people, were highly organized ad technically state of the art. There is no way we will lose this state, and I believe, no way we will lose this race.
Now more than ever, I am convinced that young voters will turn what will already be an Obama victory, into an absolute landslide. I'm hoping that will be enough to propel Christine Gregoire to another term as Governor, and Darcy Burner to victory in the 8th, carried by a blue tidal wave of youth that no one saw coming.
The day wasn't over. I packed up everything, dropped off our forms at about 6 PM, then drove back to my friend's Seattle home for a wine fundraiser for Barack - talking politics with friends, drinking really good wine, and sending a bottle home with each person who donated more than $30. My volunteers kicked in $125 to me before I left U of W for the day, and added in to our party proceeds, we raised a total of $900 for the night.
I crashed into bed at about 1 AM, falling into a deep and peaceful slumber, knowing that I and my new friends are doing everything we can to assure the coming of the revolution that will be November 4th.
And so as I finish this diary, I'll raise my wine glass one more time, to all of the volunteers and donors, nationwide, that still give me hope.
Last Chance Voter Registration Drive Coordinator