A few weekends ago, I volunteered for a voter registration drive being organized by the Barack Obama campaign. It was an interesting day.
I'd never done it before, so I had to get a bit of instruction on what to do. The Obama staffers I worked with, a group of uncommonly intelligent and personable young men and women, were pretty patient with my questions, and walked me through the process.
In particular, they told me that we were registering any and all voters. Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, we were providing a service that day to get as many people registered as possible. The main thing they wanted to express was openness and inclusiveness, so anyone who wanted to register would be registered. This is significant, because in talking to some people afterward, I was met with a lot of cynicism about whether we were actually willing to register anyone but Obama supporters. The truth of the matter is, with most of the people I signed up, I didn't tell them who I was doing the voter registration for, and they didn't tell me who they were supporting. I wasn't wearing any Obama pins or shirts, we didn't have a table, or anything. I was just a guy with a clipboard full of voter registration forms. If they asked, I'd tell them, of course, but the vast majority of the time, political leanings were not even mentioned during the act of signing up people.
In addition, the campaign staffers made the point that one thing that would solidify someone's distrust of the Democrat party would be to sign up with a Democrat registration drive and not turn it in, and conversely, if a Democrat helps a conservative sign up, it might break down stereotypes and help us reach across to other constituents. It's clear that they're not just interested in doing what it takes to win this election. They're taking the long view, which is a good sign.
I was also impressed with the people I met. Many, many people were already registered, and a lot of people thanked me for just trying to get people registered. People from all walks of life, who drove up in a Prius, an Oldsmobile, or a bicycle, valued the role of voting. It was pretty heartening to see how many people took it seriously and how many people were genuinely appreciative of what I was doing.
Of course, there were a couple of uncomfortable moments.
I talked to more than one college-age young woman who "just wasn't into voting." This is sad, especially considering McCain's obvious misogyny. This is the man who referred to his own wife as a "c**t" in front of reporters, remember. Not a lot of respect for women in that man, despite the politically-calculated choice of a woman for VP, a cynical attempt to grab expatriate Hillary supporters who haven't been paying attention to what McCain actually does with his political power.
I also got a little vitriol from both the left and the right.
I talked to one woman who told me that yes, she was registered, and that there was no way in hell she would vote for "that fascist Obama." Fascist, really? I don't think that woman has read Obama's position papers on his web site - the legislative work he's done has clearly been democratizing work, rather than supporting fascism, such as requiring new standards for making the government's behavior and spending open to public scrutiny ("Google for Government"), and limiting the power of lobbyists (see his political ethics reform plan for more). And she especially hasn't paid attention to McCain's voting record over the last several years, which really has been sweetheart deals for corporations. My guess is that she was a disgruntled Hillary supporter, but I really don't understand how someone who supported Hillary would take it out on Obama by voting for McCain. Unless the only reason she supported Hillary was because she was female, it doesn't make any sense. Vote policy, not plumbing.
On the other end of the spectrum, I talked to a, shall we say, forthright individual who, when I asked him if he was registered to vote, told me that it didn't matter whether he votes or not because the outcome of the election could never subvert God's will. He went on to say that he looks forward to my destruction at the hands of his God. And then stormed away. I watched him go, thinking, "yup, it's probably a good thing you don't vote." It's been a while since someone has launched into the whole "my god hates you" thing against me, but it's always a surreal, depressing, and saddening experience, no matter how many times I get it.
But all in all, it was a positive experience. I personally signed up people who may not otherwise have voted. I spurred people into taking part in the political process. I don't know how they're going to vote, but the mere fact that more people will be voting because of me is a good feeling. It may not make a difference in the final count, but I'll at least know I was part of the solution and not part of the problem. And even if my guy loses, at least the winner will have been selected as a representative of more people than he otherwise would have been.