I first got contacted by the Obama campaign some time in Spring 2007 for a donation. I refused, not because I didn’t support Senator Obama but because I thought it was too early for a Presidential campaign.
After the primary campaign was over, I signed up online to volunteer for the campaign and soon received a call to do voter registration with the GA-400 for Obama group. So one Saturday morning, I went to the Roswell Farmer’s Market where the group was meeting. Someone from the group told us the basics of how to register voters, went through the registration form etc and sent us on our way in teams. I was paired with two others to go to Sandy Springs.
We drove to a strip mall and stood in the parking lot in front of Whole Foods, asking everyone if they were registered to vote. The reaction we got varied from person to person. Most people just said they were registered and thanked us. Others just tried to ignore us. Some said they were Republicans or supported McCain. We also ran into some Obama supporters who seemed excited to see our Obama buttons and shirts. A few people were rude as well. One woman told us she had complained to the store management because our Obama paraphernalia was screaming to her or something. So we were asked by the store to move and we went to the next strip mall and registered some voters there. We also handed out a few voter registration forms to people who wanted them for someone else. Overall, it was a decent experience for about 3 hours of work, though we didn’t get too many registrations. That was expected since most people up here in north Fulton are already registered. It’s in downtown and south of the city that there are a large number of unregistered voters.
Georgia is a very red state — Kerry lost 41%-58% to Bush in 2004 — but the Obama campaign is the first Democratic Presidential candidate to compete here since Clinton won here in 1992. There has been a large number of staff and thousands of volunteers plus 40 offices.
So I joined the local neighborhood team here in Milton organized by Alex from the campaign staff. We have had several meetings to decide our course of action, recruit volunteers and have fun.
I have been to two more voter registration events. Once our local team took Marta to Five Points. As I got on the train, someone saw my clipboard and the voter registration forms and asked me for one so she could register. We actually registered quite a few people on the train ride. Then we stood outside the Five Points station and asked everyone if they were registered to vote. Later we tried to register voters in Underground Atlanta, but it was almost deserted there and we didn’t register anyone until the mall security asked us to leave.
On the Friday before Labor day, I was in Atlanta and so I joined a group registering voters in Westside. We registered a few voters, but someone stole a volunteer’s blackberry.
We have also organized several phone bank meetings where we call voters. We have called Democrats to firm up their support. We have called Obama supporters to ask them to volunteer. Also, we have called voters who could be persuaded to support Obama.
Last Saturday, we went door-to-door canvassing in teams of two. We printed out maps and voter lists and knocked on doors. We asked them about their Presidential preference and gave undecided voters some campaign literature about issues they might be interested in. It was a pleasant experience. Most McCain supporters were very nice to us too. Only one person told us not to come campaigning to their house.
While the Obama campaign is moving some staffers out of Georgia and into more competitive states, even more local offices are opening and the volunteer network is still in place and we are still registering voters, making phone calls and going door to door.
Volunteering for the campaign has been an interesting experience. I’ve met a lot of people who are passionate about politics. Also, I have been amazed at the way modern campaigns work in a systematic fashion with a lot of available data. I think Alex related an anecdote about Abraham Lincoln sorting voters into different groups based on their support for him and then targeting voters to move them to the next group which was more supportive, e.g. from supporter of other candidate to undecided or undecided to leaning towards Lincoln, etc. So this systematic approach has a long history, though now we have computers and databases. BTW, if anyone has a reference for this anecdote, please let me know.
Please do donate to the Obama campaign (US citizens and permanent residents only).