Aaron Kiersh ’08
Sat., Feb. 9, 11 a.m.
…somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike…
This is a business trip. No fun, no frills. Five hours in the backseat on this chilly Saturday morning. My only company: Dad behind the steering wheel, an iPod blasting U2, and the trusty laptop. We are headed to Virginia to volunteer for a certain presidential candidate competing in this exhilarating 2008 campaign. Miles of open road lay before us-still two hours before we hit Baltimore-and I can see the future of this deadlocked race unfolding in front of me. Or so I think.
Sat., Feb. 9, 6 p.m.
Okay, the hotel reservation is made and the bags are dropped off. Now it is time to get some work done. We make our way to the campaign headquarters located off Route 1 in this lower-middle class suburb of the nation’s capital. This neighborhood has special significance to me. As a committed student of voting demographics, geography, and the results of recent elections, Northern Virginia has become one of the most crucial swing districts in the nation. Home to an expanding immigrant population, African-Americans, as well as whites of every religion and social class, Alexandria, Arlington, and the surrounding Fairfax County region helped turn Virginia blue in two recent races. In 2006, two Democrats, Governor Tim Kaine and Senator Jim Webb (in a particularly narrow fashion) both prevailed in a state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1964. (More on this, and how it will shape the Democratic primary slugfest on Tuesday, later.)
We make some wrong turns but eventually find our destination, campaign headquarters for this small region, in the back room of a municipal building all but abandoned on this Saturday afternoon. We collect the address lists of registered voters needed for canvassing. The volunteers thank us profusely (“You came from Connecticut to help out?!? Thank you soooo much…”). We wait for tomorrow to perform the laborious task of door-to-door activism. But why not? That is where the real fun is, participating in the political process on the ultimate grassroots level. For a obsessed political junkie like myself, there is nothing more thrilling. Even if the door is occasionally slammed on my face, or not even opened by the resident staring me straight in the face through the window. Anyways, there are two major caucuses/one major primary tonight. You could not pay me to keep my eyes off CNN.
Sat., Feb. 9, 11 p.m.
Night in the nation’s capital. Seven months from now, America will decide who is to occupy the White House, the imposing monument that looms only blocks away from me right now in this DuPont Circle hotel, for the next four years. Tonight, Washington State, Louisiana, and Nebraska all decided resoundingly that Sen. Obama should represent the Democratic side of the 2008 contest. With this region’s primaries approaching in only three days and now attracting the media’s focus, the two separate realities of power and public participation-occasionally locked in conflict against each other-are converging rapidly before my eyes. It is a struggle to convey in words the profound emotional engagement I feel for this contest.
Sun., Feb. 10, 12 p.m.
I woke up two hours ago anticipating a long day of canvassing in the suburban neighborhoods outside of Alexandria. After breakfast at the venerable D.C. soul food joint, The Florida Avenue Grill, we made our way across the Potomac into the Old Dominion, past Mount Vernon and into our target zone. (The historical connections to the present and future are just overwhelming in this political nexus, this cradle of American history-stretching from the nation’s founding through the Civil War and into recent times. Anyway, back to the future.)
Here we are, going door to door. I ring every bell on this quiet cul-de-sac. Maybe 40% answer. I ask if they are voting on Tuesday, if they are Democrat or Republican, and proceed to offer the case for why they should support my candidate. Some smile, possibly encouraged by a fresh, youthful face involved in the process, regardless of whether they adore or despise my candidate. Others are indifferent, tell me they are “in the middle of something,” a convenient catch-all phrase. Still more blatantly ignore me, even after I ring the bell and knock on their door several times. No worries. I take it in stride.
This community strikes me as a mirror of contemporary American society, or at least what I-a white, young, affluent Connecticut liberal-thinks America should look like. In the same town where the T.C. Williams Titans once captivated imaginations-later immortalized by the 2001 film “Remember the Titans” -and hinted at the possibilities of a truly integrated American society, whites, Asians, blacks, and Latinos really do live side by side. I am not familiar with such diversity living in an overwhelmingly homogeneous white community. But walking around this average, middle-income American neighborhood is a refreshing experience. Politically, there are definite lines drawn. Unmistakable Southern accents proudly assert the word “Republican.” The single woman living on the corner, a true-blue Dem. My job is to sift through this demographic mess and pick up some votes! What a task!
Sun., Feb. 10, 4 p.m.
Okay, enough. My legs cannot stand it anymore. I have covered at least seven streets in the past few hours, sufficient to fill eight sheets of canvassing information. Maybe I’ve picked up five votes, definitely reminded a few others to go to the polls, reassured some bedrock supporters, and surely informed a great deal of folks that an election is happening! And you can be a part of it! Oh well, it is time to go home. Time to let the pundits shriek the night away and countdown the remaining two days ‘till the Beltway/Chesapeake/Crabcake/Potomac Primary throwdown. I hope I turned the grand state of Virginia my way.