in my small suburb north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It's a small (about 13,000 people), but strongly Democratic suburb (roughly a 2-1 Democratic advantage) in every election. Turnout here is generally pretty high (it was over 80% in 2008), but it was still a surprise when I walked in at around 10 a.m. on a Thursday and saw several people voting early and at least 5 or 6 others including myself waiting to vote. The staff there was pleasant and helpful explaining the process and it took me no more that 2 or 3 minutes to complete the ballot, put it in the absentee ballot envelope, sign it and put it in the bin.
After voting, however, I felt the need to do something more. Follow me below the orange Wisconsin cheese curd for my afternoon activity.
Since I had today and tomorrow off from work, I knew that not only did I want to vote, but that I needed to volunteer as well. A few weekends ago, I helped out a neighborhood organization that was going to various inner city Milwaukee markets/grocery stores registering people to vote and registered about 20 people. Well, I reached out to that same organization last night and asked if I could help again.
This time their focus was on getting people to early vote, so I went to a location outside a large drug store chain on Martin Luther King Drive in Milwaukee and greeted people as they came in and out of the store asking if they had early voted yet. If they hadn't, I handed them a nice palm card with a picture of Obama pointing at them with the caption below reading "I want you to vote early". On the back, it said VOTE EARLY, Avoid long lines, Increase voter turnout, Reduce voter suppression and it gave the location in downtown Milwaukee where they could vote with the hours as well. I was also given another handout, if needed, that listed some frequently asked questions on voting, registering (we still have same day registration, thank god) and a couple numbers to call if they needed a ride downtown to the early voting site.
When I got there at about 1 p.m., I quickly noticed a young man with a Chicago Bulls cap sitting in a car, curbside, next to the drug store hawking DVDs. He had a couple customers while I was there, but I quickly knew by the way he talked to various people coming in and out that he was someone who knew a lot of the people in the neighborhood. I found out during the 2 hours I was there that he was 28 years old, had moved from Chicago to Milwaukee about 7 years ago. When I told him I had moved from there a little over 2 years ago, he immediately asked if I liked Milwaukee. I told him that I do for the most part, but I do still miss Chicago. I found out that we lived in the same neighborhood in Chicago (Uptown) about 6 blocks away from each other. I found out that he left Chicago to get out of the drug dealing business and starting hawking CDs and DVDs in Milwaukee. He recounted that before the economy went south, he could make money quickly and easily selling these CDs and DVDs, but now with more and more people with less and less money, he said he was lucky to make $20 in a hour whereas before he could make 5 or 6 times that amount in a hour.
I was struck by how similar and different each of our lives were. He was black, I was white. He lived in inner city Milwaukee, I lived in the suburbs. I had a "regular" job, he sold "bootlegged" DVDs out of his car. On the other hand, we both lived in the same cities no more than a couple miles from each other in each case. We both were forced to leave our jobs to move to another city, we each had a son to take care of and we each were effected greatly by the Great Recession.
There were also many other people who I met today who stand out in my memory. There was an older couple, probably in their 60s, that I gave information to about early voting. The woman thanked me both when I gave it to her and after she left the drug store. I could see the joy and thanks in her eyes that I was helping out. I also will remember the security guard that I talked to as well. He recounted his many times being stopped by the police for DWB (driving while black), many times while he was dressed in his security uniform. I also admired his ability to stand up for himself on those many occasions. I know that I couldn't have done that myself. Lastly, I'll remember the young man I helped answering his question on if and how he could register to vote since he changed his address since the last time he voted. He seemed genuinely thankful for my explanation of what he needed to register and determined to go down to register and early vote.
There are many reasons why I voted and volunteered today for President Obama, but I think one of the most important reasons is I believe, like the President, that when we deal with people as individuals and with respect, it makes us individually, as a people and as a nation a better community. When we stay in our little cocoon and fail to deal with each other as fellow human beings, we make it easier to demonize each other, think "they" are less than us and as a consequence we begin to divide each of us and ultimately we become a divided nation as we are now. I refuse to follow that route and I know the President does as well and that is why I will be doing as much as I can to make sure we re-elect him in the next week and a half.