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Miami: Reports from the Campaign Trail

More than 1.5 million people of all ages are volunteering for the Obama campaign in this last month before Election Day. Many are doing this close to home–making calls from their local campaign office, organizing fundraisers in their neighborhoods and going door-to-door on their blocks.

Others have left their day-to-day lives behind and traveled as far as 3,000 miles to join the largest campaign effort [www.washingtonpost.com] in U.S. history, a feat made possible in large part by technology.

I have had the opportunity to speak to several of these volunteers throughout the country and I’ll be sharing my reports—in their words—in this blog. The first interview is with Kale Williams of Berkeley, Calif. who is a volunteer for the Obama campaign in Miami, Fl.

JW: Who are you, where are you and how long have you been there/plan to be there?
KW: My name is Kale Lukert Williams IV. I am in South Miami Beach, Fl. I’ve been here for almost three weeks and will continue to be here till we win (knock on wood).

JW: Why did you decide to join the Obama campaign?
KW: I have always been incredibly cynical and jaded when it comes to politics. Politicians have always struck me as only slightly above lawyers on the list of people the world could do without. It always seemed to me that no matter who I voted for, my life would stay, more or less, the same. The business I was running began to suffer when people stopped being able to pay for the houses they should never have bought. I decided to look for something more secure and found a position with a well established company. I put in a couple months with said company and was laid off about a month ago. Instead of getting another job with a struggling company, I found that in listening to Barack Obama speak I, for the first time, had a smidgen of faith in the words of a politician. For that reason I began my sojourn to Florida.

JW: How did you make that happen?
KW: Not having a job or any savings, I drafted a solicitous letter which I sent to just about all of my friends. In it I described my situation and my aspirations. I asked people to give what they could, and to send it along to anyone who might be interested in contributing. I ended up receiving donations from approximately 44 people. The donations were large and small and ranged from money to a computer to a car to use during my stay to a place to stay to tickets to a concert that I went to as a send off before my departure. I was flattered overwhelmed and humbled by the response, but mostly inspired by the belief everyone who donated shared. That belief being that something has got to change.

JW: What was your most surprising discovery since working for the campaign?
KW: Coming from the Bay Area, I have been astounded by how divided our country really is. I have always known that the bay is an almost impenetrable bubble of liberalism, that being said, I don’t think I was adequately prepared for dealing with so many people with such differing beliefs from my own. Everyday I am still left jaw agape at people who can still be undecided in a race like this.

JW: Describe a typical day for you:
KW: Today I woke up around seven, brushed my teeth, put some cream cheese on a bagel, ate the bagel and checked my email. I had gotten an email from my “field organizer” (closest thing a volunteer can have to a boss) telling me the plan for the day. I was to finish calling the people (had about 300 left out of the 1200 I had been given on Tuesday) on my list of potential volunteers. I was calling them to invite them to an organizational meeting we were having the following day at a local Haitian restaurant called Tap Tap. I started the list on my own, but as the day wore on I had a few volunteers wander into our office. I gave them a quick crash course on making the calls and parceled out my list to them. Once the list was finished, I thanked them and sent them home, except for one who I then trained to enter the data we had generated making the calls. Then I went to get my lunch (at 5 o’clock) which was a delicious slice of chicken Parmesan pizza. Now I am answering these questions. After I am done with this I will go onto our database, enter the potential attendees as confirmed, count up the number of calls we made today, figure out how many people we talked to and what the result was and report that information back to the field organizer. Then I will drive home, eat dinner (usually around 11), probably have a beer and half a spliff and call it a day. Also you can insert the words “Then I had a cup of coffee” after every other sentence in this answer.

JW: To what extent has being on the inside of this historic presidential campaign made your more optimistic or cynical?
KW: My optimism has grown in normal people being able to affect things larger than themselves. My cynicism has grown about peoples motives for seemingly altruistic behavior. It seems that everyone who is a paid staffer or a volunteer is looking more at how this experience will look on thier resume, than what a victory for our side would mean for the future of our planet. There are a lot of “type A” personalities in this sort of work, so a person like me is bound to get rubbed the wrong way from time to time.

JW: What are the top three nuggets of wisdom you have gained from this experience that you hope to bring back to your friends/family/community back home?
KW: 1. Any one can become a people person. My first cold call was a studdering, stammering mess of verbal refuse. Having done it for a few weeks now, I can now draw some of the most stubborn people into a productive conversation. It just takes practice.

2. People in Miami are very attractive, as long as you don’t talk to them.

3. If you go out canvassing for more than an hour wearing a hat and sunglasses, you will get a very odd shaped sunburn on your forehead.

JW: Describe the kind of people who are volunteering with you:
KW: All kinds. I usually spend my mornings with a group of older women with whom I discuss the campaign happenings since I saw them the day before, how Miami used to be, how terrifying the future must be for me and if I’ve met any “nice” girls yet. In the afternoon the average age of my co-volunteers drops a few decades and we talk about how terrifying the future is, why we are volunteering and what comes after the election.

JW: This campaign has generated incredible momentum from the beginning. What will happen to all this energy once the election is over? Let me re-phrase that: What do you hope to see happen to all the energy and what do you think will actually end up happening?
KW: I’m hoping that the Obama campaigns use of the grassroots model will be an inspiration for campaigns of the future. Using interpersonal connections between people strikes me as much more effective than an inundation of media ads and stump speeches. I hope that the change Mr. Obama keeps touting as the basis of his candidacy, will not become another forgotten campaign trail promise, but if the past predicts the future, my faith is far from resolute.

JW: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
KW: Get a life nerd. Who reads blogs?

–Jamie Wong