On the Ground: Durham, NC III

Being involved in an election campaign is as close to the bone of politics as I’ve ever been. It’s not the rough and tumble of everyday governing. That’s another story. But here, we encounter the many ways and reasons that average citizens are engaged. There are many who disengage out of principle, safe in their self-contained ideological constructions. And there seem to me an increasing number of those, or perhaps they are simply more visible today since the dialectic between the differing universes of political engagement have become more extreme. The rest of the reasons that people find or construct to avoid engagement or voting are absurdly varied, bizarre and dumbfounding; but in many cases, also understandable. Helplessness, hopelessness and a poisonous cynicism are among the most prevalent.  We have three more days to meet and match as many people as possible to overcome them all.

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones to have seen Hamilton by now. Maybe the soundtrack is as close as you’ve been able to get to the drama of that time. If either of these things are true, you have surely been stirred in a deep way as you reconnect to the forces at work at the birth of this nation, the original idea of it, the roots of its brilliant, humanist vision portrayed in a compelling, poetic and modern way.

Then you might think how far we have strayed from that distant moment….if we were ever truly there in the first place. Personally, I’m torn apart, assaulted, whipsawed between despair, deep disquiet and energized focus.

But that’s our story, isn’t it? Always getting there, never quite there.  Our history is littered with triumph, brutality, imperial reach, invention, exploitation, grand visions, innovation, torment, wealth, war, genocide and restoration. Along the way there have been moments of great doubt about our survival as a nation. But in the end, intelligence, courage and principled action have always brought us through. But still, evolution is a maddeningly slow process. Is it an exaggeration to say that now is one of those portentious moments when we teeter on the brink?

img_1242img_1243The polls have tightened a little, the conspiracy theories have become increasingly bizarre and unfounded. With less than 72 hours left before this election is decided, wild misinformation filters unchecked through the media. Government institutions are being damaged. Trust in government must be at an all time low.

In the chronicles of vote suppression, North Carolina is blazing a new level of cynicism, scrubbing voter rolls of African-Americans through the illegal practice of “caging,” limiting early voting sites to a single location in entire counties for the first week of early voting, relocating early voting to obscure locations unknown and inaccessible to students.

Vote suppression is not merely the officially unofficial practice of the GOP, false news in rural areas of this state also has an effect of suppressing the vote if it references Hillary”s imminent indictment.

In the last week of the campaign, the dark money of billionaires floods to down ballot races, primarily to rescue senate races from the destruction caused by the their billionaire at the top of the ticket. At a moment like this, it’s good to be reminded of the eloquence of our founders:

Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. They are to be the same who exercise the right in every State of electing the corresponding branch of the legislature of the State.

–James Madison, Federalist Papers, No 57

Here in the final days, the final weekend of canvassing, the last chance to roust any remaining democrats from their slumber, the office was alive wall to wall with phone bankers, taking every chair, every space possible to recruit canvassers who will ply the neighborhoods for the next four days.

img_1245One room is devoted to data entry. Another to prepping clipboards for the weekend. In another is a training session for virtual phone bankers. People are coming and going. A bakery is delivering.

That was Friday. On Saturday, for the first shift of the day, we were inundated with over 30 drop-ins and a surprise visit from Roy Cooper, the candidate for governor along with his entire staff wanting to canvas. In the next 90 minutes we issued over 60 turf packs to about 80 people. We had over 25 phone bankers working and a steady flow of drop-ins for both canvassing and phone banking. They came from Durham, Washington, DC and Baltimore. An attorney from DC arrives to canvas. He will be a poll watcher on Tuesday.

Before the next shift was due, we were out of turf packs and have no more room for phone bankers. By the end of the third shift, our supply of turf packs had been replenished and exhausted three times. Phone bankers had been a continuous swarm. The staff was overwhelmed, reporting accurate numbers to the regional directors became impossible. As of 5pm, we’d sent out 170 turf packs and exhausted 70 phone packs. We had knocked on over 3000 doors and made over 5000 calls.

The NC Board of Elections is reporting that early voting exceeds 2012 by 13%. Forty-five percent of registered voters statewide, 3 million people, have already voted. This is an amazing and promising start.

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