This past Saturday my wife Joyce and I flew to Ohio to spend a few days campaigning for President Obama. Our friends Tom and Lynn King had agreed to house, feed and provide us with a car. The campaign prepared an aggressive work schedule for us in the town of Bryan, Ohio, located in the northwest corner of the state.
Sunday morning we arrived at the local headquarters in Bryan. Our assignment: canvass as many as 70 houses along the tree-lined streets of the town, speaking only with Democrats or independents. The route was mapped out and well defined. Our introductory remarks were explained. Identify ourselves and our role in the campaign, solicit support and opinions from the voters on the campaign, enlist them to vote early and ask if they would want a sign in their yard.
The first couple of houses were difficult. No one was home at the first house. At the next house we woke someone up who had already voted. A teenager answered the door at the next house and said he wasn’t sure how his parents would vote. Hopefully the Obama sign in the yard offered a clue. Then we met a woman who couldn’t open her door for fear her dog would escape, but confided she was a strong Obama supporter.
Later in the day, Joyce and I started to hit our stride. We weren’t offended when someone said they weren’t interested. We just filled out our form and moved along. One woman begged us for an Obama sign and we were happy to oblige. Some people had moved, and the new people had nothing to share. One young man raved about Obama’s support for gay rights, while his partner slept in the next room. Another man wanted to confront us on the Affordable Care Act, but we refrained from lengthy discussions. You either were with us, or not.
Cross-country locomotives rumbled through town. Bright orange and yellow-leafed trees were outlined against a dramatic blue sky. The Sunday afternoon grew warm. Bryan, Ohio was still and silent except for the sound of our feet crunching on fallen leaves. The sound of another approaching train rose in the distance.
We finished our first 50 houses and took a break for mid-afternoon lunch at a local diner. Back at headquarters Amanda and Thad praised our efforts. Thad likened our canvassing to a ripple in a pond; each person we contact may talk another person into voting. After an hour or so more of pounding the pavement we enjoyed more talk, more emotion and felt more sense of urgency. This election is critical. Women’s rights are on the line. Look at what the president has done overseas. Check out the improvements in the economy. How impressive is the health care act, the stimulus package, the Lilly Ledbetter law.
Toward the end of our shift we stopped at a house where a new voter lived, a 19-year-old. Her mother answered the door; the girl was at work. We chatted with the mother who shared that her 91-year-old grandmother had lunch with Barack Obama in 2008. Her photo was taken with the president and it now is featured at the end of a new television ad for the Medicare program. She glowed with pride. We were moved by the experience.
Joyce maintained a tally of the houses we visited. We knocked on 69 doors and engaged 26 people in conversation that first day. That’s a contact ratio of 38 per cent, which is pretty impressive. Every vote counts, especially in swing states like Ohio. Every vote counts in Massachusetts, especially in the senate race.
We found the experience of walking along tree-lined streets to be a refreshing, rewarding experience. Corn fields surround the town. Locomotives roll along the tracks. The townspeople are hospitable, friendly and concerned about this race. For a couple from Martha’s Vineyard to share a few days in the Midwestern town of Bryan, Ohio has been heart-warming. We feel a kinship with middle America. We have a sense of the challenges our country faces. And we have a newfound awareness of how we are all in this together. The importance of the re-election of President Barack Obama will have a profound impact all across America.
While many people have thanked us for our efforts, both on the Vineyard and in Ohio, we didn’t go in search of gratitude. We were fortunate to have the time and opportunity to go west for a few days. We are proud of our effort, fortunate we could scramble the time and money to be part of the campaign. We are grateful to our friends, Tom and Lynn, to accommodate us. In a larger sense, we are proud to be Americans, part of a population afforded the opportunity to be part of the effort to bring about change, to improve the country and participate in this uniquely American experience.