On the Ground in Durham County, NC.


Deborah Ross

On a cerebral level, we understand very well how this campaign is being conducted, the way it’s driven by sophisticated data analysis, the debate strategy, the messaging, the appeals to specific demographics, the employment of wedge issues.  Now that early voting has begun in North Carolina, the HRC campaign reviews daily reports from the Board of Elections, adjusting the canvassing packets to exclude those who have already voted so as not to waste any effort.

We also understand the issues, what is at stake at the political level of this campaign. Our hearts tell us another story of a flawed system and a flawed candidate.  There is so much more that needs to be done to address the issues that neither candidate is talking about, not to mention addressing the very framework of political thought and action. Even the candidate we are choosing is regarded by many as  an obstacle to the creation of a world that truly works for everyone.

There is no doubt that many people who have come through the downtown Durham office from out-of-state, places that are either solid blue or solid red, to become involved in the epic consequence of this election, have a high degree of emotional involvement in the outcome. They wouldn’t be here otherwise. There is also a significant degree of sublimation going on, putting emotion, one’s doubts and feelings about the Democratic candidate aside for the time being to focus on defeating the threat that Trump represents. If and when Hillary is elected, there will be screams of joy, tears of relief and a massive outpouring of gratitude for the sustained, focused execution of the strategy.

The campaign is also about much more than two candidates or who has the most effective strategy to win. It’s ironic that while so many understand the grave threat to democracy that the duopoly represents, so many are willing to fight so hard to preserve that tenuous and frequently suspect construction in the name and form of Hillary Clinton, the lesser of two evils.

Durham County is the most progressive in the state of North Carolina. The population is only about 300,000. There are 120,000 registered democrats, less than 30,000 registered republicans and 60,000 registered independents. The rest are unregistered. Obama won North Carolina in 2008 by a mere 13,000 votes out of 4.2 million cast. That was two votes per precinct. He won Durham County by a margin of 76,000 votes. It may be that close this year, but nothing is being left to chance. Either way, Durham County is one of the most important in the state.


Jason Collins


We like to say that we are here to “turn North Carolina blue.” What does that mean? Blue. A vague word that encompasses so much that remains unexplored and unspoken, a rudimentary signpost for the ongoing efforts undoubtedly necessary to create and protect a sane, sustainable, life-affirming world that leaves no one behind. We are already at great risk of failure. The task of articulating that vision lies before us, tapping the power to manifest it, taming and focusing the creative energies that must be awakened, the capacity to imagine what is possible and the translation of that vision into realities on the ground. It’s already happening everywhere, but this campaign has turned out to be a huge distraction.


Michelle Kwan

Meanwhile, we are coming down to the wire. Even as Trump implodes, as the most sordid details of his criminal past emerge (why are we not surprised?), the Democratic ground game is cranking up in every battleground state. With persistent vote suppression strategies potentially bearing fruit, we take nothing for granted.

How does that work, exactly? Teams of volunteers have been leveraged to recruit more volunteers for several months, registering voters, offering opportunities to active Democrats to help in many ways. Now we move into canvassing, a focused, intensive effort to knock on doors, disseminate information about early voting and to bring people into the polls to vote on election day itself.

There are eleven offices in Durham County alone running canvassing operations. Out of my office, on a single day, 40 volunteers knocked on 1800 doors. Phone bankers made over 1000 calls. This weekend we will do it again. I am told that what we are doing now exceeds what was done in 2008 or 2012 for Obama. That’s how intense it is.

The office hums with scheduled volunteers arriving, training, data entry, deliveries, drop-ins, phone inquiries, rescheduling for future shifts. Communications back and forth up and down the chain of command are constant. We’ve also had a steady stream of cheerleader visits by celebrities from the entertainment and sports worlds making the rounds to campaign offices statewide, many of whom have personal relationships with the Clintons stretching back many years.


Angela Bassett

For Grant Hill, a former NBA player from local ACC powerhouse Duke University who campaigns with Tim Kaine, it was his mother going from Louisiana to college at Yale and landing in a dorm room next to Hillary Clinton. For Jason Collins, the first NBA player to come out, it was meeting Chelsea at a freshman party at Stanford University.

The entire Clinton family has campaigned in North Carolina more than once. Barack and Michelle have been here and will be here again before November 8. Joe Biden is also due in the next couple of weeks. We want North Carolina!

This type of campaign activity does not happen on the west coast, except perhaps in individual congressional districts. Living in those places, I might never see a canvasser, a campaign office or a campaign visit by a candidate. Here, it’s like having actual seasons to the year. The diversity of views is in front of you every day in normal activities. Not that there are many substantial interactions, but in this state right now there is a sense of urgency I have never seen before and which would be extremely unlikely in California.

canvassing-suppliesAmidst all this intensity, I also have a sense of being subsumed, descending ever deeper into a familiar and seemingly welcoming medium, like an ocean depth, starting in light, then gradually chilling, only to be arrested by a startling realization that I am lost in darkness. I have given my body to the process, my intellect to the existential combat of this campaign. But the heart knows that “winning” is a mere crack in the door of what is possible, not to mention what is necessary. It is a beginning, not an end.  What we barely dare to entertain is still the real objective, knowing that though the tears may come in deep and sharp bursts upon completion, the celebration will be short, for there is so much more to do, so much to account for and so many to be held to account, including ourselves.

If the House is not captured by the Democratic Party, the Republicans lie in wait, ready to launch new and endless investigations into the past of the first female president, not to mention resuming ones already years old. Yet the top of the agenda has to be how to regard and what to do about the Trump phenomenon, the voiceless, the angry, the lost and the left behind. They are us and they surely represent the dark and restive American shadow. Time to look it in the eyes.

7 thoughts on “On the Ground in Durham County, NC.

  1. Thank you for doing what you are doing, Gary: not only living the American political process at its height, the presidential election, but also reflecting on your activities and sharing those reflections with us, your readers. I have heard so many Americans complain about our system (they should), point out its deficiencies (there are many), and then declare that they will not be part of such a corrupt system, a system full of deceit and hypocrisy, and that politics is dirty and all politicians are crooked. But ours is an experiment in self-government. If the governed are themselves those who are to govern, then unless we all participate in the political process, the post of governing will be wanting, and others will step in to govern us. That’s the darkness I see. There’s nothing easy about self-governing.

    Liked by 1 person

      • And I believe that we could keep all the sociopaths out of office if all of the non-sociopaths got involved in the political process. It’s no longer enough to tell people they have to vote, although we must do that vigorously at this stage in the electoral process; but we must start getting the people involved in the action of politics on a day-to-day basis. The founders of the USA used to say: Vigilance, constant vigilance. Now we must add to that: Political action, constant political action.


    • I’m certainly not the first to name it. It is the denial and repression that drive our imperial reach, our “exceptionism,” the tribalism we are seeing now. It’s what creates Trump-ism.


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