Letter from Amy Stone, Oct. 26, 2004, followed by Oct 31 (Halloween!), election day, and post-election updates . . .
Our own intrepid reporter taking responsibility
for regime change
Just one more week until Election Day (assuming recounts and challenges don't go into spring).
Ed and I got to Akron two weeks ago to work for the Kerry Campaign and we'll be here through the election. (Ed called Kerry headquarters last month, asked where we were needed and they said Ohio, so we're here, staying with buddies from my Baltimore days.)
We're fighting for the Kerry vote door by door - canvassing and giving out Kerry-Edwards lawn signs to all who express interest (contravening the Summit County Kerry campaign headquarters policy of NO LAWN SIGNS without coming into HQ - they want to get people to sign up as volunteers). We figure this campaign is being fought lawn by lawn. . . .
We're working our way through rich and poor neighborhoods -- all heavily into Halloween decorations - tombstones, skeletons rising out of the earth, ghosts hanging from trees, and in the midst of all this creepiness, the Kerry and Bush signs. Part of a very scary season.. Even the mansions along Merriman - former homes of the Firestone and Goodyear top execs and scientists - Halloween mix includes Kerry & Bush lawn signs.
Our first day canvassing in a rundown old Firestone neighborhood, met up with a shockingly overweight female for Bush, who told us the End of Days was upon us, she expected to be caught up in the Rapture, and she had inside information that Osama had been working with Saddam Hussein but she couldn't reveal her sources. Too bad she's not logical enough to figure if the End of Days is nigh, there's no point in voting, even if it's for Bush.
Kerry HQ, Akron, seems impressively well organized under Laura, 30-something high-energy blonde, buxom, very smart. She had worked for NOW Legal Defense and is on loan from Hilary Clinton's office. Had been working for Kerry since the NH primaries. She's been going on adrenalin overload since we got here and emphasizes the importance of FOOD for the campaign workers. We are a well-fed operation with donations of bottled water, lasagna, brownies, donuts. Though we're in the land of Krispy Kreme, Laura doesn't know how you can fight an election battle without Dunkin' Donuts. But donations from West Point market (the upscale food purveyor down the road) always welcome.
We have Alison, the 20-somethingTruman Scholar "devoted to a life of poverty" (in Laura's words) organizing the canvassing and Tona, big, black, great smile, smart, organizing the volunteers. I keep being surprised at all the out-of-state volunteers. The New Yorkers look just like everyone else. We keep getting thanked, blessed for coming to help on the campaign. We tell them, "Thank goodness we're not needed in NY."
Then there are the middle-aged-men at computers working the data. We've finished the door-to-door canvassing identifying Kerry, Bush, undecided voters (amazingly enough, still some of those - disturbed about Bush but not sure of Kerry.) and now the data is being digested for pinpointed phone calls to GOTV - our mantra: Get Out the Vote. Final door-to-door and phoning next weekend and Monday. Then election day, Ed & I and the other people at the polls will report the names of people who've already voted (once people vote, their names are posted); we'll give the names to runners. Back at HQ, their names will be removed from our target list and those who haven't voted will be phoned, canvassed. Hundreds have volunteered to drive people to the polls. So far, only 6 people want rides.
The polling places themselves could be a mess. Ohio Sec'y of State J. Kenneth Blackwell (worse than an Uncle Tom - he's a black Republican conservative who's doing everything possible to throw out the Democratic new voter registrations - starting with saying that new registrations not on sufficiently heavy paper stock don't count, invalidating registrations on computer downloaded forms - that obstruction of voting rights was reversed. ) And now Republicans have challenged thousands of new registrations. Overwhelmed election officials are holding mass hearings in local convention centers (250/hour) for people to defend their registration. The Democrats are demanding that the Republicans personally justify each challenged registration.
And a never-used 1953 Ohio law allowing voting challengers at the polls to challenge would-be voters re: address, age, citizenship is now up & running with both Republicans and Democrats registering their poll challengers.. (The bad Republicans in one county reached an agreement with the Democrats not to have challengers then sneakily registered their challengers. Dems got word of this and managed to scrape under the deadline registering their own challengers.)
Meanwhile, we've found the good coffee (across the street at Angel Falls), the good sushi (Sushi Katsu, made by Tony, a Japanese-Italian imported from Japan for the Firestone executive diningroom when Firestone was Japanese owned; Firestone left; Tony stayed). We've made our virgin shopping trip to Target, and have our daily drive from our buddies to HQ through glorious fall foliage.
Peter Jennings broadcasting from Cleveland last week said a big issue for locals was 9/11. We sure haven't heard that in our canvassing and phoning. Unless you consider general underlying fear. Last week Ed & I visited the Canton art museum after hearing Edwards (what an effective speaker) address a not-overly-filled Canton convention center (a small place). The museum's most memorable artwork was a small creation of a blast-from-the-past homemaker busily vacuuming the carpet in her pink & pretty livingroom with securely chain-locked front door. The little room was surrounded by demons, madness, an alligator under the floor, evilness cracking through the pink walls. Maybe that's the kind of fear that's going around. More from the trenches anon.
Oct 31, 2004:
Ed and I and about 200 others (one/Summit County polling place) have gotten our assignments as poll counters on Election Day. We have the relatively innocent task of reporting back at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (when polls close) the number of people who've voted. And throughout the day, writing down the names of those who have voted (names posted on the wall by the Board of Election people at each polling place). Runners (running around in their cars) then bring the names of those who've voted back to Kerry Akron HQ, where they're crossed off the (by now highly-refined) list of Summit County (Akron) people planning to vote for Kerry. People still on the list then get phone calls or door-to-door knock & drag visits urging them to GET OUT TO VOTE.(We are still phoning people who say they're undecided or, the woman who's not voting for Kerry because Kerry's wife is a communist. Yeah, right, Teresa, the billionaire communist.)
Our tools for the poll counter job: two pencils (so we can write leaning up against the wall - though our host is ready to supply us with his astronaut pen that writes on an angle?) and a cell phone. Ed and I have fine-tuned our equipment with a pencil sharpener from Whelan's (our competitive edge). We'll each be at polling places in Green, a mostly white berg southeast of Akron. Our buddy Walter will be in quaint and delightful Hudson, northeast of Akron (also mostly white), the original home of Western Reserve College. So we'll probably miss out on long lines of angry people whose voter registration is being challenged by Republicans. (The old law allowing 2 challengers from each party at polling places will get a federal [George W. Bush-appointed] judge decision by Monday. At the moment, the black, conservative Republican Ohio Secretary of State (co-chair of the state's Bush-Chaney operation) is switching sides and now opposing the challenger law; the state attorney general (also Republican) is in favor of the law. Both men are interested in running for governor.
In quieter times, we'd be hearing about Ohio's Issue 1 - a constitutional amendment that the state will recognize only the union of one man and one woman (too bad Mormons) as marriage. Ohio already has a defense of marriage act restricting marriage to one man and one woman and preventing the state from recognizing other unions performed in other states - hey, what more do you need? But there has been concern that Issue 1 would get pro-Bush voters out.
On Saturday, Michael Moore was speaking at Akron U., getting students to work with ACT on his "Michael Moore Slacker Uprising Tour 2004." What's inspiring is people just jumping in to take action for a Kerry win. Moore was speaking because Akron U. prof. Susan Speers invited him to speak to her Introduction to Theater Through Film class as guest lecturer. That way, no charge for the A.U. 500-seat auditorium, though Speers personally paid for 5 security guards. I thought the guys in the black suits and broad shoulders were a Halloween put-on, but Michael Moore is scared. As he said -- the Bush people made one film attacking Kerry and six attacking me and my film. "I have a dream, but it doesn't take place in Akron." (Phew.)
And today the freak show hits Akron - Newt Gingrich, Zel Miller, Shawn Hannaty, Bill Bennett, Ollie North "And other obnoxious rich, white guys" in the words of the "Come Picket the Bigots!!" flyer given out after Michael Moore's appearance. And the Rev. Jesse Jackson is speaking at a Baptist church this afternoon. Bruce Springsteen and John Kerry (in order of draw) in Cleveland Monday night. Walter & I may join the mob.
Warm weather. Big bright moon expected for Halloween. The teen waitress at Aladdin, the Middle East restaurant across from Kerry HQ, is dressing as Tinkerbelle since her 2-year-old brother is a Peter Pan fanatic. Her sister is Wendy. Her father is Captain Hook. Thankgod for Family Values.
Diary / Election Day - Nov. 3, 2004
It's probably over here - 8:55 p.m. The polls close at 7:30 but anyone on line by then gets to vote, no matter how long it takes them to get to the front of the line.
Ed and I were poll counters in the quiet, quiet town of Green in the southeast corner of Summit County (Akron's county). Total of 600 registered at my polling place; 2,000 at Ed's. Our job: check the lists of everyone who's voted - by law lists must be posted though poll workers disagree on whether outsiders can copy down the names or just look at them; cross off the names on our fine-tuned list of likely Kerry voters; then give the list to the runner to bring back to HQ for the people at the phone banks to call those who haven't yet voted. At least where we were - a Baptist church and a junior high school, a steady flow of white voters; one Democratic Challenger (a high-energy Iranian-born woman who's a Kent State grad and who got involved in the election via Move-On); no Republican Challenger. The major excitement at the Baptist church: Because of the unexpectedly large turnout (300 voters by midday - the same number as their entire turnout in 2000) the election crew ran out of the "I voted today" badges. Big disappointment among the voters.
At least in our little corner, no hint of the politicking and adjudicating that's been going on right into Election Day: 1) J. Kenneth Blackwell, the black Republican conservative Ohio Secretary of State and party operative, decided that people not receiving absentee ballots would be allowed to vote a provisional ballot (once cast, a ruling is made on each and every provisional ballot - good luck). 2) A Blackwell ruling denying media access to voting places was reversed with a stirring defense of a free press by the judge. 3) A federal appeals court ruled that the 23,000 voters whose registration was challenged by Republicans could not be denied the right to vote. 4) An early Tuesday-morning federal appeals court decision that poll challengers ARE constitutional. (I will spare you the details of Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell being defied by the State Attorney General who argued that poll challengers ARE constitutional when the Secretary of State wanted the law declared unconstitutional - after he'd been pushing for poll challengers as Good For Republicans to weed out those phony newly registered Democratic voters.)
As the rain crashed down, we were told to abandon our posts and rush back to headquarters to be dispatched to inner city polling places to beseech voters to remain on line to vote - handing out umbrellas and plastic ponchos and the coats off our backs if necessary. At least where we went, none of this was necessary. The people out in the rain were people from ACT and voters' rights groups making sure no one was denied the right to vote. The only trouble at one school was a voting official telling a Kerry campaigner he was too close to the polls. When the Kerry campaigner accused him of being a Republican, the official called the police. But justice is slow (45 minutes) and the Kerry campaigner was gone.
From the micro view, it's all where you happen to land. Our Washington cohort Walter started the day in quiet, genteel Hudson. He ended up rushing over to a black-population polling place in downtown Akron when the electricity failed. The crowd lined up to vote stood their ground, waiting to get into the darkened voting place. The Kerry volunteers rushed in with flashlights and eventual backup from the fire department.
So far Summit County seems to be a Kerry win. Laurie, our Get Out The Vote leader on loan from Hilary Clinton's office, was aiming for 130,000 votes for Kerry. He's gotten at least that here.
The surprise from voting projections is Issue 1 passing - the constitutional amendment making one-man, one-woman the only legal definition of marriage. This could have the unintended effect of ending partnership benefits for non-married heterosexual couples in Ohio - including health coverage and mortgages. Another surprise: It wasn't a straight Bush-Issue 1 (anti-gay) match. More than 30% of those voting for Issue 1 voted for Kerry....
We live in hope that justice and reason will win out in this election, if only by a small margin.
Signing off from Akron.
Diary Postscript / Nov. 8, 2004
So the election's over - especially since few are ready to protest the possibly suspicious numbers in Ohio and New Mexico. Democracy works if there's a clear-cut vote and/or you don't look at the process too closely.
Akron (Summit County) went for Kerry but the voters also approved Issue 1 - the anti-gay Ohio constitutional amendment that may also do harm to unmarried straight partners' health benefits, mortgages and more (though that might not be objectionable to those considering it immoral for one man and one woman to be cohabiting if they're not married. Straights MUST marry. Gays MUST NOT).
Akron Election Day mysteries remain. When one of the Kerry volunteers went to deliver food to the poll volunteers in an African-American neighborhood, she found a long line of people standing in the rain waiting to vote. She went inside, claiming to be looking for someone. Inside: six voting booths and only two people voting. So why the long line No explanation.
The Summit County Republican poll challengers didn't choke off Democratic voters, as far as anyone observed. But the provisional ballots (the paper substitute for casting an official vote if there's a question about the would-be voter's legality) probably won't be counted if the Ohio secretary of state decides they won't make a difference. Does it matter that he's an extreme Republican party operative Probably not.
We live in extreme times. Here today. Gone tomorrow. The Kerry headquarters, in a former video store on West Market Street, no more. The volunteers dispersed - Lori, the cheerleader chief organizer, and Shawn, the chain-smoking, cell-phone earpiece chief operative - back to Washington. The big black kid plastered with Kerry buttons, presumably back to his family. Ronnie, the EPA specialist in water and the economics of water, who carved out a niche sweeping floors, emptying wastebaskets, explaining to feminists that this was what needed to be done and she felt completely comfortable with it, back to Boston. The Hungarian 80something in sagging purple knee-highs and yellow knit cap, who finally found acceptance once she was armed with a dustpan, back to her house around the corner.
So now what Bush is trumpeting the greatest number of votes ever cast for President. True. But Kerry also got more votes, more even than Reagan. So even though the blue states seem ready to fall off into the oceans, Bush did not get an overwhelming mandate. It was 51% to 49% at best.
The Democrats got out the vote but that wasn't enough. It's very possible that faith-based voters outnumbered reality-based voters. That people voting what they perceived as the morality ticket voted against their own economic interests. (One Kerry phonebank volunteer spoke at length with a woman who, after a lot of soul searching,switched from Bush to Kerry. She's Catholic, a single mother without health insurance, and had decided Kerry was her candidate. Then the Sunday before the election, her priest told the flock that economic issues come and go; they should vote for morality. He didn't name a candidate but she knew it wasn't Kerry, and she was in extreme conflict. The phonebank volunteer, truly a moral person, suggested maybe she shouldn't vote for either candidate.)
So now we in blue states and blue counties are feeling isolated, alienated. But the thing is, the country is very split. Millions of New Yorkers chose New York, they weren't born here - and maybe it's time to reconnect with their friends and family back in the red states. Just as we in the blue say those people in the red states never met a gay or they wouldn't be so intolerant, we blue people who never met a Bush supporter until we went to Akron, have got to figure out how to win hearts and minds and votes for next time.
In the words of my friend Tory, "I'm not going to spend time thinking about what lies ahead for us with Bush's election. It will be horrible enough living through it." But once we're ready to stumble out into the Bush triumphal second term, we need to connect with the 51% to make clear for the mid-term elections that economic self-interest and moral values are not in conflict and are not offered to the majority of this country by the Bush Administration.