Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Scorpios

If you aren’t into astrology, you are just going to roll your eyes at this, but I have to say that it is absolutely uncanny how many Scorpios are participating in this election effort. 10.29 was the birthday of Megan, a relatively recent arrival, and 10.30 is Sarah’s birthday. And as many of you may recall, 11.2—Election day itself—is my birthday. There are just so many birthdays in late October in this office, it’s quite remarkable.

Tonight we went out to celebrate Megan and Sarah’s birthdays, after presenting them with cake in the office, which was organized by one of our very cool receptionist volunteers named Stephanie. It is absolutely stupid of me to be going out considering I have to be up and functioning with a full supply of patience in just a few hours, but once we clinked our champagne glasses, it was all over. That stuff goes right to one’s head, especially after a full day in the poorly ventilated copy room.

It was truly odd—Megan, Sarah and I were hoping for an intimate evening, but over 20 people from the office eventually showed up. Even if we lose on Tuesday, we can take credit for a bunch of Democrats actually managing to pay our tab at this very chic-chic restaurant in West Palm Beach. It was just over $700! The food was good, and despite the sign on the door that said “dressed code enforced,” the waiters were unpretentious.

This dinner was by far the more interesting part of my day. I sit in the copy room now, and even if I’m not busy, I take pride in the fact that I’m protecting our resources just by my presence. I made a few forms, and did a number of other things in addition to my usual duties as copy mistress and message guru, but I am trying to steer clear of much of the other messiness of the office. I have learned that I’m still useful even if I’m not always busy. I don’t care to be busy, quite honestly—I have many moments where I’m just counting down the seconds until this thing is over. The only thing I dislike more than grass roots politics is the thought of four more years of Bush! Just 4 more days to go…...

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Do you copy?

The ranks are swelling, and I have moved into the copy room in order to manage our resources and prevent people from breaking the machines. This morning was a nice “worst case scenario”—both the network and the toilets in the ladies’ room were out of order. I got us back online with the phoned-in assistance of our tech guy, and I left the toilet problems to the plumber.

I don’t expect there to be many dull moments from this point forward, though this meeting I’m sitting in right now might just qualify. I have no qualms about not staying until all hours, even though I suppose it behooves me to keep myself as in the loop as possible. There are simply too many people now involved to keep this meeting down to a reasonable length.

The other thing in which I don’t have any interest is the celebrity visits. Today we had the Women’s Tour sweep through, which included Kristen Dunst and Julia Louis Dreyfus. It must be nice to feel as is you can make a contribution simply by showing up and making a few phone calls for the sake of a photo op. People were photocopying their phone banking sheets as souvenirs!

The fact that there are only five days left in this thing strikes me as downright unreal. While I think that our effort is going well, I don’t have any faith in the county to pull off a fair and orderly election. Record turnout is predicted in this county, but that is meaningless if you cannot keep the voters in what are expected to be rather long lines at polling places. I’m convinced that we will not know who will be the next president is at the end of Nov. 2nd, not only because of Florida, but because of other states that may even have worse problems. It will be particularly unsatisfying to go to bed that morning not knowing the outcome. I’m not sure this country can handle another contested election, especially if Kerry wins the popular vote as Gore did, but then Bush is installed into another term by the courts.

But for now the minutiae of print, copy and fax jobs keeps me focused in the moment. Tomorrow there is a rally—Kerry is here in West Palm Beach. It needs to be a success, since it is so close to the election. We’ll see. Things have changed so much from the days when I could work an event—even though those days are not very long ago. Now I just try to minimize their impact on our overall operations.

The meeting is over. Time to hit the road so I can hit the hay, and come back early and start again.

Monday, October 25, 2004

A question of timing

Poor Robert—he is off burning the candle at both ends as he covers for me while I take these few days off. While I won’t have many campaign stories to tell, I do have one from yesterday that I’d like to share. Robert and I left the office for an adventure to the Ft. Lauderdale office, which is the state campaign headquarters. We had borrowed a truck of a friend of another staff person, since we were on a ‘chum run,’ specifically the 4 ft x 10 ft signs. Our trip down 95 was slowed by some rains squalls, though we were back in the sun when we arrived in Lauderdale. In the parking lot, we ran into Jared, the media tracker, who was rushing back to the office because someone had told him that Hillary Clinton was on her way to the office for a visit. Sure enough, the secret service were already staked out in front. She enters the office about 15 minutes later, to great fanfare. I was standing maybe 3 feet from her as she gave a little speech about the importance of the credibility of the election, etc., etc. It is rather a disturbing thought that there is a good chance that this election will be contested in one if not more courts. Is it just me, or is there a general trepidation that the American democracy is in jeopardy, and has been ever since thousands were disenfranchised in 2000 and the presidency awarded to Bush by a partisan Supreme Court?

Hillary’s visit made it so that we were blocked from loading chum into our truck until she left, since her departure point was the back of the building, where we needed to be, too. So we stuck around doing nothing while Hillary had her visit. As odd as it was for me to watch people faun over her, it was even odder to wonder what it must be like to be a political celebrity. It must feel awkward to have total strangers walk up to you and put their arms around you and have your picture taken, right? There go my aspirations for public office!

When we finally got our load into the truck, we headed back up US 1 as essentially a mobile Kerry Edwards billboard. We got some honks of approval, and one thumbs down—that’s pretty brave, I thought. We went over to the Delray Office to drop off some pins, and one of the staff there decided to hijack our truck, and insisted on taking some of the yard signs we were bringing up to West Palm. He was a true asshole about it, actually. While we are all supposedly on the same team, there are some true tensions between the local offices in terms of resource allocation. I suppose it is easy to be selfish when there is some sense of competition between the offices in terms of performance. It was good however that we stopped by, since they were in need of some of the large signs for the Kerry event today. The other staff guy, a campaign veteran, asked nicely for them, and we obliged. We returned much later than anticipated, rather amused at our day’s misadventure.

Robert tells me I was missed today in the office, which gives me hope that I will be able to feel useful instead of just frustrated when I return for the final push. One thing is for sure: this little break is providing an essential attitude adjustment.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Burnout, and timeout

I seem to have misplaced the rosy-colored glasses through which I was looking at things the other day. Might have something to do with the 820 absentee ballot requests I processed and delivered yesterday. After encouraging people to fill out these forms, we promptly turned around and are now encourage them to vote early, with the result that we are creating more work for the already demonstrably strapped SOE, and preventing the people who really need those ballots because they are homebound from receiving them promptly. I recognize that my attitude toward our efforts is as inconsistent as the polls have been in these past months! Part of it sheer fatigue. I admitted complete defeat by exhaustion and went to bed at 10:30 last night. I felt rested when I awoke this morning, but getting enough rest only seems to highlight the mental fatigue I’m beginning to feel in the office. My reaction to the influx of people is pretty much that of a territorial beast who feels its home turf encroached upon, which is not a good sign, considering that the chaos and numbers of people will probably increase ten-fold everyday from here on out. Robert and I are attempting to inspire, or even spur, the planning for Election Day, since we don’t have a do-over if we find ourselves unprepared.

Today we experienced a special perk (the usual perks are free doughnuts, as if working hard demands that we eat poorly, too) of a visit by Gloria Steinem. I thought that was pretty darn cool, and I’m sure I’ll manage to embellish the experience into a nice yarn for my kids and grandkids. I made sure to shake her hand. The actress Wendy something from the TV show Just Shoot Me also dropped by today, but I don’t know her from Adam, so I just went about my business. Something for everyone, I guess.

I’ve been showing up early the past few days and getting the receptionists set up. We finally seem to have enough bodies to manage the number of calls, which is nice. When I checked the voicemail at 5:30, there were only two messages, both from one guy who’d called at 8:15—well before the office opened, and just minutes after Robert had checked from the house just after 8am. So we are answering enough calls, and/or people are no longer leaving messages. It is clear that now we have an adequate system in place—but when early voting began five days ago, we were floundering. Which is why I’m hoping that we can anticipate our needs on Election Day and get it right the first time.

I may also be feeling burned out in an attempt to justify the fact that I’m going to take a few days off. A friend of mine is coming down here on Sunday and I want to enjoy his company as well as the natural beauty of this place. It is a pity to be cooped up all day in the chilly office. Despite being overrun by strip malls and never-ending highway construction (as governor when your bro is the president, there is no shortage of federal money heading your way), Florida is actually a remarkably beautiful place, with an incredible endowment of wildlife. It would have been truly something to have been here the land was not so built up. It is such a shame that cars and roads dominate this place. I can understand why the climate is such a draw, but the beauty of this place seems spoiled by so much driving and sprawl.

I’ll be taking a break as the whirlwind of activity intensifies. John Edwards was here today, Hillary Clinton is here tomorrow, John Kerry is here on Sunday, Al Gore is here on Monday, and Bill Clinton on Tuesday. Welcome to Florida, where even if they can’t count your vote, both sides want you to cast it.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

And then time stood still....

Today the clock in my car broke. It’s not a new car, so most of its parts are from 1989, which makes events like this not so surprising, but it’s always weird how things just go from working to not working all of a sudden. Something invisible just breaks or shifts and what used to be simply is no longer. Call me superstitious, but it seems like there is change in the air; like my clock that simply gave up on the time, so the world seems to be full of uncommon events: the Red Sox are 3 outs away from a historic comeback and World Series appearance. Could a Kerry upset of Bush be far behind?

Today was my first official early shift, where I left for the office alone at 8am, and came home alone around 8pm. Robert left a bit later and came home a bit later. It makes us both more productive, both at home and in the office. I’m exhausted, however, and I won’t be able to pull this off for even 13 more days without some sleep. The office is really humming along now. It seems to have reached almost a critical mass, where it seems like there are enough people around to do the necessary tasks. The mood is very upbeat.

It seems as if the absentee ballot request crunch has ended—today I only took in about a dozen requests. Our rides-to-the-polls program is now up and running; granted, it’s a few days late, but better late than never. Of all the things I have learned over the last month, one of them is that things happen, but not always exactly when you would have ideally wanted them to happen. But the bottom line is that we are getting the job done. I was thinking how many hours all together all of the volunteers will have put in over the course of the campaign, and it is pretty astronomical. The kind of willingness that so many people have shown to give of themselves and their time makes me believe that the spirit of democracy is indeed alive and well in this country. It really is amazing on a certain level to build an office that is overwhelmingly full of volunteers. I feel quite privileged to be a part of it.

And Boston is going to the World Series. See, miracles do happen!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Top of the ninth

I don’t know what has more tension, this presidential election in Florida or game six of the ALCS! They might have to send those cops on the field down here if things go badly on Election Day. Robert and I are rooting for the Sox, because it is more fun than rooting for the Yankees, but these long games are keeping me from fulfilling my promises to go to bed early! Baseball however is a welcome distraction from our presidential playoff….

I’ve been reading the New York Times the past few days, including its endorsement of Kerry published on Sunday. I don’t think I should allow myself to speculate about what will happen should Bush win or steal another term, but it is hard to avoid falling into a depressed state about this whole thing. We turned in over 1,000 more absentee ballot requests today that have a good chance of not being mailed in time. Actually, the push for voting by mail has been so big that I have a feeling (based on some evidence of this) that many people submitted more than one request, which actually hurts the entire process by creating more work for the overwhelmed SOE. And on top of that, we are encouraging people to go vote now even if they have requested an absentee ballot, meaning that many people could receive their ballots after they have voted, and thus (we hope!) not use them. One only hopes that the out-of-state requests get where they need to be in time, since those folks have no other options.

Early vote continues to proceed, despite problems at some locations (the Boca Raton location didn’t open this morning, though I never heard why), and lines everywhere. The office keeps adding staff people of various sorts from various disciplines (press, legal, etc.) and volunteers are beginning to stream in more steadily. We have made much progress on our voicemail issues, having dedicated 3 of our 5 hard lines to answering incoming calls. It has really helped—after not checking for a day, essentially, we only had 6 messages. I almost cried I was so happy when I found that out.

The absentee ballot requests should hopefully stop coming in, and they have been taking up the majority of my time, so it will be interesting to see what I will end up doing in these final two weeks. Whatever it is, I’ll do my best to keep you posted. For now, I’m off to bed—an ex-Oakland A, Keith Foulke, just got the save to force game seven! Amazing!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Let the voting begin

So here we go! Robert and I ended up at ground zero of early voting today, since we pulled into the SOE’s [Supervisor of Elections] Office bright and early just as the doors opened. We got to see Kerry’s airplane on the tarmac on the way over, and we swung back around after picking up a camera at Walgreen’s. Silly, but we can’t help ourselves.

Despite the fact that already several problems have emerged here, I find myself feeling upbeat about this election and especially about being here. One of the county early locations had computer problems, which only added to the problem of a long line and slow voting—there were only six machines. It is difficult for us to push early voting when LePore is not willing to respond to the demand. More troubling to me are the absentee ballots. A volunteer who was returning requests that he’d went and gotten signatures for was told that it was unlikely they’d get ballots. It’s as if LePore can just decide that she doesn’t have to do her job for whatever reason she likes. Maybe she’ll decide to go on vacation and cancel the entire election. It’s unbelievable to me how difficult this county makes voting. Here are some of the more perturbing things I’ve discovered about absentee voting:

1) As detailed above, the ballots aren’t mailed out early enough, or quickly enough after requests are received.

2) They cost 83 cents to return, which means a trip to the post office for exact postage, or 3 first class stamps (wasting 28 cents). You can also turn bring them to one of the Supervisor’s offices, and we are collecting them at our office as well. But the Dems are so freaked that we haven’t delivered them yet, since there is some worry that the Republicans will try to use some wording on the state website to try to claim that they cannot be delivered by a third party, even though the SOE accepts them this way without question. The law is clear that anyone can deliver them (they are sealed, after all), but after 2000, the paranoia is palpable. But the point I want to make here is that our absentee ballots cost one stamp. They are 5 by 8.5 inch envelopes, whereas the Florida ones are those big manila envelope size, since they contain a secrecy envelope with the ballot inside the outside envelope that identifies the voter. We had 20 initiatives on the ballot, but they still managed to fit them on one piece of card stock that folded into its envelope. Florida does a bilingual ballot, but it still seems to me they didn’t try hard enough….

3) They tell you to fill it out in pencil, or “with the implement provided,” which is never provided, whatever it is. Now I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sit well with me.

4) It’s the craziest optical scan system I’ve ever seen. Instead of filling in bubbles like on standardized tests, the ballot has a series of broken arrows next to each candidate or yes/no initiative. To vote, you are supposed to complete the arrow by making a line in the space between the two broken pieces. Can anyone say confusing? I learned about this today because a guy called our office confused about it. I could see why. Everyone is nervous about screwing this up. We know how much is riding on the outcome.

5) There are no ballot stubs. Now this is just plain idiotic. Every absentee ballot I have ever used has had a part you tear off to keep as proof you voted. This county has nothing.

After 2000, I knew that the problems in this county were real. However, being here has brought the difference between places like Alameda County and Palm Beach County home to me in a way that reading about it could never have done. It is the ultimate irony to me that the Supreme Court pretended to make a decision about equal protection in 2000 when voting procedures across the nation are so disparate and so obviously inferior in many places. It doesn’t seem like rocket science to register voters and hold elections. If one county in one state can do it, why can’t all of them? After all, if we can’t manage to have free and fair elections, our country is history. I predict a revolution if as many people are in effect disenfranchised in this election as were in 2000. I’m ready to go to the streets if Bush is re-selected….

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I am my own wife, Florida style

Where do the days go? Time is really beginning to fly now, and there is none to spare for feeling upset about mismanagement, etc. There is only time to try to manage as best one can the latest eye-rolling crisis. The office is beginning to fill and hum with activity. Granted, chaotic activity, but activity nonetheless. Today Robert and his friend Rich broke down the wall that separated our space from the adjoining empty retail space. The wall had been constructed for our occupancy either because the landlord did not want to rent us the whole gigantic lot or we couldn’t afford it. So now we have moved our phone banking next door, which is a relief. It was getting old hearing the same scripts over and over as I sat trying to do six things at once at my desk.

Here are some highlights from the last couple of days:

“Advance,” but not progress. Kerry is coming on Monday, which means on top of everything else, the latest advance team has arrived to usurp our time and resources. We begged them not to give out our phone number as the info line like last time, but unfortunately the crowd guy (one of the advance team, like the motorcade guy, etc.) sees that our lame fax machine is out of order with a replacement coming soon, and decides without asking anyone to make our fax line the hotline. “You’ve got an answering machine, right?” he asks. Nice. We have our new fax, but the line is now attached to the requisite machine that spouts ticket info. I thought that was a pretty dumb move until I saw the flyer. Not only was our office number on it, so were all the other offices’ numbers! Down at the bottom was the lowly hotline number. So we hadn’t saved ourselves a thing—we’d just lost our fax line for the weekend to little or no purpose. This event on Monday is an early vote kick-off, and is being held inside a well-known gated community called Century Village, where you have to be over 55 or 65 to live there. Because it’s Kerry, there will be magnetometers [I just looked that up on the web, and realized that I’ve been saying my own invented word “magnometers” this whole time] and I know all too well how long it takes to move people through. It’s an outside event and it’s early in the morning: doors open at 7:30am. Robert and I are so worried that it will be a disaster that we are reluctant to work the event. And I have a previous engagement of sorts, with the Supervisor of Elections. Which brings me to another episode….

You know we’re in trouble when…. Robert and I have been bringing in the absentee ballot request forms that we get in our office down to the Supervisor’s office all this week. The other day alone I brought in almost 500. This is nothing compared to the record number of requests sent in for this election (I can’t find the newspaper article with the numbers! Grrr!), but it is a lot for me to process. I have to look at all of them to make sure they are signed and at least reasonably coherent. In a bid to encourage people to vote absentee (these votes will provide the only paper trail in the county) many organizations have sent out various kinds of absentee ballot request forms. The Democrats here however are managing to do more harm than good with theirs, since many people manage to fill it out wrong. We got a hundred easily that hadn’t been signed (which we are trying to deal with by mail and phone calls), due to the fact that the part you have to fill out was on the top left of the 4 by 8.5 inch card and the signature place was in the bottom right. I wish I had the resources to put an image of it on the web for you to see. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to fill out correctly, but when you old, or if you aren’t very educated in form-ese, it’s very likely you’ll do something wrong. My favorite mistake is people who fill out the top right hand side by mistake. The top right hand side is for someone who is requesting a ballot for a family member. You write your information as the requestor, and then you state what the “Requestor’s relationship to voter” is, such as mother, son, sister, etc. Many people filed this part out even though the request was for themselves, and wrote the most bizarre things in this space, ranging from the silly “same” or “self” to the strange “none” to the humorous “wife”—leading me to the “I am my own wife” designation of such forms.

One of these correct requests for a family member however caught the attention of a worker at the SOE who was looking through the forms. Robert and I have become familiar with one of the clerks, but by Friday things were getting busy that I was taken aside and some other women dealt with me. They have to look them over to see if they are signed, even though I’d already done that. Anyway, this woman saw one that was signed by a woman who’d written POA after her signature, meaning Power of Attorney. Power of Attorney does not grant standing to request an absentee ballot for someone, so she said that this one wouldn’t be acceptable. Except that this requestor was the daughter, submitting the form for her mother. The fact that she happened to have Power of Attorney was irrelevant, since her standing as a relative allowed her to request her mother’s ballot. I explained this to the woman, who was unconvinced, and went back to check with someone else. She came back and conceded I was right. I was pleased with myself, yet more than a little perturbed that a few day’s exposure to these forms had me more familiar with their rules than this employee. When I suggested to the women hastily date stamping my piles of request forms that things must be very busy, one of them said ominously “you don’t even know the half of it.” It really will be a miracle if things go well here in this county. It will be nothing short of a miracle.

To come back full circle, I asked our favorite clerk Stephanie when would be the best time to come on Monday if I had to drop off ballots. She said first thing, which means 8:30 am, and that means I can’t really work the Kerry event. I fear that the Main SOE office is going to be ground zero at 8:30 on Monday, since that is when early voting begins, but I guess I’ll have to give it a try. Nothing like being in the center of things to make you feel important!

Unhired help. I’ve said previously that the best aspect of this experience is the people I’ve met. We continue to add people from all over the country. Today I spoke to another volunteer who is coming in from afar next week—upstate NY to be exact—and she turned me on to a cheap car rental place, which is just what Robert and I needed. So we will have two cars beginning Monday afternoon, which will allow us to split shifts. On the other end of the spectrum was another volunteer considering flying in from Bay Area. He however apparently had a slightly different idea about things. He needed us to arrange housing, which we do (we use volunteers who offer to host these so-called Kerry travelers), but he seemed annoyed that we hadn’t been in touch with him about a place to stay and whether we’d provide him a car (apparently someone higher up in the organization is making it sound like we are a full-service campaign, which is the funniest thing I’ve heard this week). He asked what he’d be doing, and I mentioned what will be going on, like phone calling, canvassing, visibility, general office help. When I mentioned phone banking, he said in an annoyed tone “if it’s just phone calls I can do that from here, I don’t need to come out there.” I felt like telling him to get off his high horse, and that while it may not be glamorous, everything we do here is important, and if he doesn’t feel it’s worth his effort, we’ll do just fine without him. What is this guy’s problem? Does he want to help, or does he want to feel self-important? Some people. I hope he doesn’t come. I’ll keep you posted.

Time for some much-needed sleep. We did manage to enjoy ourselves a bit, taking a walk out to the beach after leaving the office. The weather today was gorgeous, so a nature break was ideal. Tonight I've spent some time dealing with my other life; for example, I need to get readmitted into Berkeley to go back to the books once this ride is over. Robert is already passed out, having slept through most of the Yankees’ routing of the poor Red Sox. We stayed late last night and got up extra early this morning (thinking we’d leave at 1 or 2, and not at 4). We were the first people there today at nine, which was exciting. I think I’m going to start working 9 to 6 or 7 instead of 11 to 9 or 10. It’s fun being there in the morning—provided you have the energy to get out of bed! How many days left? Whew, only 17!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Beers and Bush

We are watching the debate at the office here tonight. It’s fun, but I’m sure I’m driving everyone nuts with my shout-out commentary. I can’t help it!

I find myself feeling the same way about this debate as I have about the other: Kerry is doing great, and I can’t understand why Kerry isn’t simply trouncing Bush in the polls. Though the trends indicate that Bush is falling and Kerry is gaining, which is very good for us.

These moments of awe over how absolutely important it is to be here, doing this campaign right now provide a drastic contrast to my general feeling of incredulity (and at times, rage) of how hopelessly mismanaged things are. A sort of us-against-them attitude seems to be developing between me and others in the office based on my general distaste for chaos and poor communication. It is oh-so-easy to say ‘we’ll just do this’ without thinking about how it gets done, and by whom. Robert and I have processed and delivered about 200 absentee ballots requests to the Supervisor of Elections office that were about to be the victims of this kind of approach. I spent a bunch of today trying to provide a similar rescue for the poll watcher program; no one had been regularly communicating with a volunteer who had offered to coordinate the certifications of poll watchers, and it turns out she doesn’t have enough people. The deadline for certification is Tuesday, and once certified, these people must participate in a training session.

I’m sure I’m seen as uptight, the one who overreacts to small matters instead of just rolling with the punches. I’m sure they see me as old and rigid. But while the optimism and can-do attitude of youth is wonderful, and probably essential to a campaign, not thinking about how making a decision effects the entire system, and not planning, and not following through on things to make sure they are being done, these are sure-fire roads to failure. And if I get upset about that I think it’s understandable way: we cannot afford to fail here.

It’s almost 12am and we’re still here, and I’m sure we won’t be sleeping in tomorrow. These are going to be 20 long, tough days….

The Midas Touch

Everything we touch improves, some of the young’uns have remarked. Today, we began to touch an essential function of the office: the processing of absentee ballot requests. Incredibly, but almost predictably given the record on such matters, no one had been assigned responsibility for organizing the reviewing, photocopying and delivering and then logging of these ballots. There is a lot of apprehension among folks here about voting. Absentee ballots were supposed to be mailed beginning today. Considering the absentee ballots sent to Robert and myself at our California addresses arrived a week ago, this county does seem a bit behind the ball. Especially if you are out of state, 21 days isn’t a long time to allow for mail both ways and turnaround time. Who can say when the ballots we are still processing and will deliver tomorrow, and the following day, and the day after that, etc., etc. to the Supervisor of Elections’ office will arrive at their proper destinations? We are going to stop telling people to request them on the 18th, when early voting begins, since we feel the need to err on the side of extreme caution.

Despite the fact that we are working long and hard, my frustration and almost disbelief at how unorganized things really are, and likely will remain for the most part, continues to do daily battle with my will to serve the cause. I’m observing more frayed nerves all around, actually, as the days count down. Robert and I have discussed how part of our reluctance to jump into a larger role earlier was an assumption of an organization that just wasn’t there. It took us so long to see and believe it that we let the moment to assume more responsibility and authority slip by. I was so nervous about failing were I too assume responsibility for the big tasks I saw undone; now I realize however the goal is not perfection, and I could have made things a lot better had I been willing to assume leadership. It is a lesson—one of the many—I will take with me out of this campaign.

I’ve got to hit the sack now, but I wanted to end with an update on the office recycling. We drove out to the Solid Waste Authority with my car full of plastic and aluminum, and barely found what we thought was the recycling center. We dumped our stuff where this random employee was using a frontloader to push recyclables into a giant heap in this warehouse. We’re about to leave when these two manager types run out to us and start asking questions. Turns out we had landed in the commercial recycling area, which is run by a private company that gets paid by how much they collect in trucks from curbside programs. In other words, our saving these hundreds of bottles and cans from the landfill wasn’t making these guys money. Ouch. So it appears that other than those random igloos and curbside programs, which aren’t available in many places, in this county Joe citizen is out of luck finding places to recycle. Guess voting isn’t the only arena where CA has the leg up on FL. It makes me miss the Golden State!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Cleaning up after the kids

Everyday, I make some improvements in my own organization as well as that of the office. Today I attacked the copy/supply room, which is usually a blizzard of papers that people print and then never collect. Kerry better win, because our office alone will have caused the death of so many trees that another four years of Bush may well mean the end of the world. It drives me nuts how wasteful certain people in the office are, and how better organization and communication could prevent such needless consumption of paper; but I suppose if trees have to be felled, we can console ourselves with the thought that we are fighting for a better world, not only for trees, but for people, too!

I’m quickly gaining a reputation for being a bit anal; I think I about drove a few people batty today with my insistence that they copy originals (that is, laser printouts) of flyers, instead of copying copies and copies of copies, the rationale being that the quality quickly degrades. I’ve said before that the young people running this operation have a “cram-for-the-exam” attitude, where they don’t plan much in advance, don’t anticipate their needs, and thus don’t have much time or concern with such matters as the quality of the copies they are sending out. If I wasn’t so confident that I was making a big difference, I might feel kind of stupid for insisting on such things. But actually I think my concern for such matters is critical, and my attitude has changed as a result. As I take on more and more organizational challenges, I find myself more willing to fight battles that a week or two ago I didn’t concern myself with at all. I had to turn a blind eye because I couldn’t handle the chaos. Now however I know that if someone doesn’t step in, the crises will be grow to such a proportion as to be completely unmanageable. So I’m stepping in and insisting on a certain level of organization for the materials that we use to distribute information and run the phone banks. Making and organizing materials isn’t rocket science, and neither is cleaning up a messy room, but these humble tasks are part of the victory, a big part.

This evening I found out purely by accident that a volunteer had made us a website, and I jumped at the chance to use it. I have thought several times how useful it would be to be able to publicize over the web. Granted, we live in a county full of elderly who don’t use the internet, but it can’t hurt. I phoned up this guy Joe, and we’re going to met to update the site so that when we publicize it, it will give accurate information. Done well, it will save us time answering easy questions and will hopefully make it easier to get volunteers where we need them without having to initiate by making phone calls. Right now, our only ways of getting information out is by phone and by email, but email is pretty cumbersome, due to a) the fact that we have no server of our own, and use Gmail; and b) the fact that anti-spammer rules limit us to emailing 50 people at a time, so you have to break your list of 1000s of people in to groups of 50. You can imagine how time consuming that is.

While I am thus engaged on these somewhat micro issues, Robert has been doing some major macro stuff, making a plan to build or supply workspaces not only in our office and the adjoining space to it (now empty), but also the offices in Delray Beach and Lake Worth, both cities further south in the county. Between the two of us, I must say, we are a powerful force. We make things happen by doing them, things big and small. We’re in this thing all the way, until the end. We even have a hundred or so plastic bottles in the back seat of the car as we look for a place to recycle them—the igloo by the condo was full today (it’s the last priority I think after two hurricanes). Today, as my final task of the evening, I rounded up all the garbage (a job Robert usually does). I make a damn pretty janitor, if I do say so myself!

Friday, October 08, 2004

Making History

Maybe it is the wine, but watching this debate I felt touched by the profound feeling that I am part of one of the most important moments in recent American history. I am on the front lines of a fight that is too important for all of us to lose. It is a bit surreal to be actually working for a candidate rather than just wanting him to win. But maybe that is the wine.

I’m writing as we’re listening to David Brooks, for whom I have now lost all respect, state that the President “regained his composure” and “won the debate.” Are you kidding? This time we thought that Kerry absolutely routed the president. Am I just so biased that all the spin seems like absolute lies to me? I personally believe that because I am so invested in this thing that I would be less likely to lie to myself about how we are doing. When you are a volunteer, the cause and the candidate are your figurative salary, your inspiration. I thought Kerry did absolutely fabulously. I simply cannot understand why Bush can run for reelection on the platform that you can’t believe what Kerry says he will do. Do we believe Bush when he’s mislead us into war and has not fulfilled promises he made four years ago? How can this country be even debating whether or not this idiot warmonger should have another term? Is Kerry that hard of a sell? I guess I’m just too much of a liberal to even get why there is any contest.

That thought leads me to wonder whether winning will even be good enough. Of course I don’t want four more years of this, but I also don’t like the thought that America is so evenly divided. And what about these people who are undecided? Where have they been? The more comments and spin we listen to here, whether from pundits or “ordinary people,” the more perplexed we are, and the more convinced we are that the press is a bunch of wimps worried about being mean to the President who got pummeled in the first debate, and that most Americans are honestly not very good critical thinkers. Even if we win, it won’t assuage my distaste for the fact that this country doesn’t overwhelming reject Bush’s doctrines of preemptive war, legislating evangelicalism, and tax breaks for the rich (Supply-side Jesus!). Is it that most people don’t mind that Bush could lead us into a nuclear holocaust with his “drive-into-the-brick-wall-and-don’t-blink” policies? Do they really believe that you can fight war for freedom, as Bush has said? Is it just me, or are we not living in a 1984 universe?

I’m perplexed, and I’m mad. But at last, after struggling to deal with the shock of the campaign environment, it feels exactly as good as I always hoped it would to be getting out there and helping Kerry win. It beats being perplexed and mad and just sitting still.

You hear that sucking sound?

It’s the sound of Robert and me being sucked into the vortex of the campaign. It seems unimaginable that only a few days ago I was feeling that I didn’t have a defined role, that I didn’t feel useful. Now I wish I could clone myself! Today we had a 15 hour day in the office, and I was never at a loss for things to do. The snafu of the moment is the following: people have been led to believe, by our own poorly-written phone scripts, that they can request an absentee ballot by phone from our office. This of course is not true—you have to request it from the Supervisor of Elections. (We have forms you can fill in and be sent one, but we don’t send out ballots, obviously.) It is beyond enervating to listen to some poor people fall through the cracks as they leave muffled messages on our machine with their address, and no phone number, believing they have just requested a ballot. So, having learned the lesson of yesterday, I put a stern warning about this on our machine. It is frightening to see how easy it is to make potentially damaging mistakes in this effort. It is a very messy business, this campaign stuff, and to make it even somewhat efficient and effective, you have to be very organized, and we have a couple strikes against us on that front. Robert and I cannot believe how essential to this effort we have quickly become, how much of a difference we make on a daily basis. I guess it was only a matter of ceasing to resist this fact that I was going to inevitably come into some sort of important role, simply because I’m capable and because I’m there. I still get very frustrated, and I’m increasingly assertive in the office, but I know I can’t let that frustration prevent me from just making the effort, from continuing to do whatever it is I can. I’m convinced that everything else I do in life will seem blissfully well-managed and neat in comparison to this campaign.

Hopefully the debate tomorrow will begin to give Kerry an edge in the polls. I don’t understand how the country can be so divided. The news on Iraq gets worse and worse, and yet people seem not to be listening, or for some reason, they don’t mind the fact that we went to war on false premises. It annoys me that this election is going to be close. I also have a bad feeling that things are not going to go smoothly, especially here in Florida. Already a bunch of thorny legal issues with recounts and registration cards have sprouted up, this being in addition to the concern and distrust of the county’s ability to conduct a fair election, stemming from what happened in 2000. It will be some sort of miracle I think if we know who will be the next president on November 2.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Flattery will get you everywhere

The Edwards event was a much less stressful experience, although we thought the advance team made some poor choices. Rallies are standing events, but the idea that people, many of whom are older, can stand for 3 hours on a concrete floor is ridiculous. It’s just unrealistic. The venue size in this case wasn’t an issue, although since the location on the tickets was the same, many people might have assumed that it would be the same room as last time and so stayed away. The best part about the event this time, for me, anyway, is that I got to attend it! I don’t think I’d ever been to a political rally before, unless you count anti-war marches, but I don’t, since I was never into the speeches and it wasn’t about one candidate. He is a good speaker, and we were all pretty pumped up after the debate. I don’t understand why the polls and pundits call it a tie. I think we ought to start talking about the conservative media bias in this country!

We had a nice lunch afterwards before heading into the office. Chad, a staff member who has now taken over much of the organization for West Palm Beach (one of many cities with Palm and/or Beach in the name within this county), has identified me as the flyer queen, so he has me making materials. Tonight he told me that my flyer on early voting (the final locations and times just came out today) is going to win us the election! Chad is very enthusiastic, and he knows how to make people feel jazzed, but he might not be exaggerating too much in this case, as early voting is an essential part of this election. As proof, I offer you the phone call I had tonight. A woman called saying she had gotten a call about early voting (possibly from one of our phone banks, or maybe an auto-dial by the DNC) and called our office to inquire. I informed her that early voting did not take place at her usual voting location, and gave her the address of the early voting location (off the flyer I’d just made) to her. Information is power, and disseminating that information is power in action. I was quite excited and ran to tell Chad after I got off of the phone. I think it must be the fact that there is some leadership in the office in the places where it was most lacking that has me now really into it. I was the one tonight who wanted to stay later than we usually do—we left at 9:20. And we agreed to go in earlier than our late-morning arrival time tomorrow, so it looks like we could be falling into the hours more similar to the younger workaholic staff.

One of our new arrivals, Rudi, who is working with Chad, read me this slate.com post-debate story (http://www.slate.com/id/2107809) that I have to share with you. Apparently, Dick Cheney, when he was trying to deny the entirely true charges against him regarding Halliburton, told voters to go to www.factcheck.com. He really meant www.factcheck.org, since the former was owned by Name Administration, Inc., took the liberty of redirecting that page to one owned by George Soros titled “Why we must not re-elect President Bush: a personal message from George Soros.” That’s just classic. Plus, even the independent site that he meant to mention does nothing to refute the charges mentioned by Edwards. And how about Cheney being stupid enough to claim he’d never met Edwards when there is video coverage of them sitting together at a prayer breakfast? Edwards got a lot of mileage today out of this idea, saying “I bet the Vice President won’t forget he sat next to me last night!” Very amusing.

So the campaign is sucking me in. I felt today at the rally that we’ve gotta win and we are gonna win. Robert and I get lots of positive comments about our Kerry support, usually manifested plainly on us by our pins. If anyone wants a Kerry sticker in Hebrew, let me know. I’m sending one to my grandma.

I realize I might not be getting a lot of regular readers, but I thought I’d mention for what it’s worth that you can post comments to my posts that everyone can see. I’d love to hear from you all!

26 days till VICTORY!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Rally for the Victor!

Go Edwards! While off to a nervous start, I thought he was soon sailing along nicely. Cheney came across as bored and BOR-ING. Now it is of course up to the spin meisters. How cool is it though that tomorrow Edwards is going to be right here! I’m heading the ticket/gate team this time around, but because there won’t be metal detectors, it shouldn’t be as stressful. And the venue is bigger, so getting in at the end should also not be an issue. Several of the volunteers I had last time are going to be in my team, so I know I’ll have good hands on deck. I definitely think the mood will be electric considering Edwards’ performance.

A very busy day in the office, so busy you only have time to try to do and not time to worry about what isn’t perfect—which is good for me. Organizationally, as I mentioned earlier, our phone bank problems that have dogged us are beginning to be rectified, which feels good. Better late than never is absolutely our motto. For a perfect example, I’ll tell you the story of this morning. I shirked my duty of checking our voicemail much of yesterday, and finally set to it mid-morning today. I found it full—80 messages. I soon discovered that what had happened is that one of local pols here, State Senator Wexler, had sent out an auto-dial to his constituents advertising the events, but not giving any details on how to get tickets, etc. beyond giving our phone number. And since we weren’t expecting this, and since no one thought about it, we didn’t have any information on our message about it. So everyone wanted to know how to get tickets, etc. So I set out to listen to and delete all these messages (I had a volunteer return the calls) and—before I got very far—changing the outgoing message to leave the relevant information. It was a little task that went a long way. Now I just have to be vigilant about my voicemail duties. Our phone system is in general is a big pain in the butt. Not only did they only give us one line at the front desk, the four lines that are in the office are on this crappy rollover system, so if the front line is busy, it just rolls over to the other phones in use by the staff and then to voicemail. What you need obviously is four-line availability everywhere, but even though Robert recognized this, apparently there was “no way” to fix it—some order from on high or something. And so we limp on in the communications department as best we can.

Today was an up day for me, but as I think I’ve made clear, this has been a challenging experience for me. It has put me face to face with my limits and discomforts surrounding working in chaos, dealing with all sorts of people, and my anxiety about taking responsibility in an unstructured environment, and my disappointment that I have not found so much satisfaction in my actions, despite my willingness to help the cause. The most rewarding element of this experience has by far been the people I have met, and the pleasure it has been to work with the vast majority of them. It is very invigorating to think that a bunch of strangers from all different (blue) states of the country can come to another state and work together for a common cause. That camaraderie combats the boredom or frustration that often threaten to overwhelm me. And having a beer after a long day while watching Golden Boy debate the butt off the Antichrist doesn’t hurt either!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Like baseball, it's all about percentages

A good baseball player fails to get a hit two-thirds of the time. This is a good thing to keep in mind in terms of this massive and messy effort called a campaign. The world in which I usually dwell, namely that of academia, is artificial in the way the scholar can single-handedly control and manage her work product. This world, and much of the non-academic world, is the total opposite of that blissful reprieve, which is probably why it is so appealing to types like me. I am discovering my truly visceral dislike of tasks that I find unproductive or meaningless. This probably isn’t a bad (or even uncommon) trait, but it certainly brings home to me the fact that I’m no Kerry martyr: I’m not going to turn off my brain and simply “do whatever” in some belief that it will be helpful to the campaign. But I suppose discouraging the performance of such superfluous or otherwise non-efficient tasks, both by me and other people, is a contribution in itself. I keep having to remind myself that any difference I can make benefits the effort, and is thus worthwhile—and for that reason, it is better to use my good judgment and identify important tasks and design efficient ways to perform them.

I’ve been put in touch with this recent Cal grad who is faced with the Herculean task of media tracking for all of Southern Florida. This means finding people to read and log articles from local newspapers, look out for all sorts of negative ads, or other Republican/anti-Kerry materials, like auto-dials, mailings, etc. The campaign is very into something I don’t approve of—namely, delegating problems and not tasks. I suppose though if you sign up to be paid by the campaign, you should expect such. But this poor kid was simply thrown here two weeks with essentially no resources, which, while it may not be unfair or usual for campaigns, it certainly doesn't seem very practical. So he comes to us, of course, since we are the office, and I’m trying to do what I can to contribute to this effort. I’ve started to log the articles from the Palm Beach Post every morning, since we get it here at the house, and I’m trying to find volunteers who are willing to listen to the radio. I listened to a bit this afternoon while I was in the office, and I caught one of our ads—which is what we are doing this week. It irks me that our office is not together enough to just instantly take care of all these things, so I keep having to remind myself that any progress I make, anything I can add, is good. It’s entirely unrealistic to think that every paper and every radio slot is ever going to be covered. But let’s see what we can get. This is the attitude you need here. You just can’t throw up your hands because things will never be done or perfect. You just do it anyway. You do it because you want to win.

In terms of our office, the staff continues to swell. People are arriving from D.C. and we also have two women who seem to be real GOTV (that’s “Get out the vote”) professionals who are ours for the duration. They told us yesterday that as the weeks pass, we can expect to see a flow of random volunteers descend upon our office, since “anyone who cares at all about this election is going to get in their car and come to a swing state.” The electoral system certainly frees up a good number of people in the country from bothering to campaign in their states.

As I mentioned, Edwards is coming to town on Wednesday, and that means I will be involved in another event. It will feel like old hat this second time around. We have passed on our suggestions from the last event, and we shall see if our advice is taken. If Edwards does well in the debate, this rally could be the beginning of a genuine swell of momentum. Let’s hope so!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Like a bridge...

Robert and I attended to some errands in the morning, including stopping at this local greengrocer that has evolved into a gourmet market—meaning they actually sell products I get easily in California and New York. So after weeks of walking completely demoralized through Florida grocery stores, I was ecstatic to buy some of my favorite foods again. Florida appeared to me at first to be a complete cuisine wasteland (though fast food is a heck of a lot cheaper here, and I do have a weakness for Taco Bell…) but it does have its diamonds in the rough. For example, we discovered a really yummy Indian place in a strip mall across from the office. I haven’t gathered the courage to try sushi here, however, lest it disappoint.

We went into the office in the late afternoon to be of use for a few hours. John Edward’s advance team is upon us now as he is coming in for a rally on Wednesday after the debate Tuesday night. Robert saved their butts by catching the fact that they had the wrong day and month on the flyer for Wednesday’s event. These kids work too hard! Also, more and more people are arriving in our office from other parts of the country as the election draws nearer. Things are going to get continually busier, that is pretty clear. I actually figured out today for the first time why I’m not tempted to put in those 15 hours days that are the norm among the staff—I’m just not willing to run myself into the ground to make up for the inefficiencies and disorganization of others. I’m not enough of a martyr to try to lay my body down like a bridge across the chasm. Plus, I know there is no way I could solve everything, so it’s better not to try. Maybe if I were younger I’d feel more driven to live, eat, sleep and breathe the campaign. But Robert and I are content to be effective in the way that we have been thus far—and we are probably more effective because we are not so sleep-deprived!

Friday, October 01, 2004

The first day of the rest of the campaign

Tomorrow there will be just one month until VICTORY! This morning Robert and I stayed home to have a new air conditioner installed. The old one was permanently doomed to burn through a wire due to an old air compressor, so he opted for an entire new system. With my new local cell phone (MetroPCS is playing a large role in this campaign, as the Florida headquarters is buying a large number of phones to use in the coming weeks), however, I was able to be productive from the house. I called about twenty five transportation companies (sedans, limos, vans, buses) looking to find Kerry supporters willing to donate their services to help us drive people to the polls during early voting. Probably many of you are familiar with this process, which has existed in California for a while now. This is the first presidential election it is available here in Florida, so it is a big part of our campaign effort. Essentially what it means is that every day from Oct. 18th on will be election day for us, since our job will be to move as many Kerry voters to the polls as we can. We’ve rented some vans, but the goal is to beg and borrow (we don’t steal!) as many resources as we can.

So I spent the morning getting pretty much nowhere, as anticipated, leaving a lot of messages and such. I took a break—believe me, one of the reasons I took this time off was so I could do things I haven’t done in forever, like read for pleasure, write, etc.—and pulled myself away after lunch to follow up on a few of the calls where I was told to call back and speak to the owner. And it was on one of these calls that I scored—the owner said to me: “I’ve been down to the DEC (Democratic Executive Committee) office three times offers to help—their office is the same building as mine; I’m glad someone is finally getting back to me.” (Note that I was making random cold calls…. But that kind of not connecting the dots is par for the course around here, it seems.) That call made all the other ones worth it. I’m learning that contributing here is not about being “productive” every hour you are working. It is about doing things, however long it takes to do them, however little they seem at that moment. When we finally got into the office (about 4:30pm), and the staff member who’d asked me to make these calls came in, I got to share my victory with him, and later Jen (another fresh-from-college staff member—Harvard, in her case) mentioned she’d heard about my coup and said how great she thought that was. I felt like I’d made a genuine contribution, and I was thrilled. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to feel that way, since everything Robert and I do at the office is something that, if we didn’t do it, wouldn’t be done. I guess I am not used to participating in such a free-form fashion; usually I have a specific project and I go right to work on it, and, while I do agonize about failure a bit, I don’t feel the panic that I’m not in control, that feeling that no matter what I do, I can’t fix it—which is exactly the feeling I’ve been coping with here.

Yet tonight I feel I’ve turned a corner, and it feels really wonderful to be here. I suppose it takes time in any situation to find your place. To be quite honest, I was dreading making those phone calls. But like most things we dread, it is not as bad once you just do it. And it is really not bad when you figure there’s only a month to go, and that there isn’t a better reason to push yourself to do things you don’t like too much than defeating Bush! Also, tonight I got asked by Chad (yes, another 22-year old staff person!) to make a form for him, since Sarah told him to ask me, since I’ve made a lot of flyers and forms in the past few weeks here. It felt really great not only to be asked to do something (since I’m there to help), but to be asked to do something that I’m good at doing. So I made his form. It’s not rocket science, of course, but I guess the point is that I finally started to feel myself as part of this effort, after feeling a bit aimless in the office earlier in the week.

Yes, I think I’ve turned a corner. (About time, too!) Let’s hope Kerry has, too—hopefully the debate results will sway a few more undecideds! Then all we have to do is get all those voters and our base to the polls between the 18th and Nov. 2!