I’m an unlikely volunteer for the Democratic party. I was a Nader voter and a Deaniac, and often find myself to the left of the mainstream Democratic agenda. I did throw a Rock The Vote registration and benefit show with the help of some laptop dj friends during the 2004 Presidential election, but that was more of an anti-Bush vote than anything (since Kerry had already nudged Dean out of contention in the primaries by then). Now, Barack Obama has definitely got Kim and I all fired up and ready to go this election year. We went to our caucus and got involved enough to be elected as delegates to the legislative district caucus. We participated in that legislative district caucus where Obama picked up a few more delegates, but did not move on further as many other qualified and active volunteers were selected to go to the congressional district caucus. I’ve been phone banking for Obama and making campaign donations to a political campaign for the first time ever. For the first time in a long time, I’m not just excited about what a candidate is saying, but feeling like progressive change is possible within the system instead of feeling disillusioned. I’ve always advocated for increased voter participation, especially younger voters, and that was one reason I registered new voters four years ago. Obama has proven to be *the* candidate to bring out new voters to the polls and redraw political maps contending with the status quo that the only votes that matter are older, more conservative votes. This election year there are young, energized, active constituencies developing around the country that promise to bring change not just this year, but for decades to come. It’s an exciting time to be involved in politics! So of course I jumped on the opportunity to join a bunch of volunteers to help register more people to vote. A call went out within the campaign to a group of border states volunteers to make sure that Oregon’s upcoming primary is a big win for Barack Obama. He is already favored to do well there, but no state can be taken for granted, and with close elections in other states, and the party’s proportional representation allocation of delegates, a big win in one state could make a big difference in the delegate margin. Since Obama is polling better in rural areas of Oregon than in Portland we decided to target Portland with a voter registration effort. Oregon has closed primaries which mean only members of a party can vote in that party’s primary, so not only were we registering unregistered voters, but also updating Republican and Independent supporters of Obama to Democratic registration so they can vote for him in this primary. Mike Hale of Hale’s Ales drove 40 volunteers down in his big red double decker bus yesterday, and we drew a lot of attention on I-5 as people honked and wavedthe whole way down. Light traffic and good weather made the trip from Seattle to Portland quick and we arrived just after noon at Portland’s waterfront park.
After a brief training about Oregon voter registration, we split up into groups to tackle different areas of town. My group was assigned to the Saturday market, Pioneer Courthouse Square, and Powell’s bookstore on Burnside. So we set off, registration forms and campaign buttons in hand, and started talking to people about registering to vote.
There were a few proud anarchists who taunted us, asking if they could unregister. Oregon’s late primary calendar usually means their votes “don’t count”, and general election night returns usually don’t fare much better for those of us on the west coast (well, except of course California with its large population). So a tradition of rebellion against the two party system has developed, and lots of Oregonians either protest the vote, or protest with their vote by voting independent/third party… a sentiment I don’t totally disagree with. So it was our challenge to convince people that in this close election their votes DO matter, and that if they wanted to register their support for Obama (pretty overwhelming from the people we talked to) they needed to register as Democrats to do so in their state. Walking through the market and on up to Burnside, I found again as I have in my previous travels that the Tibetan sleeve tattoo on my arm is a great ice breaker. Portland is an incredibly tattooed town, and several people approached me, making my pitch to them easier since I wasn’t having to capture their attention from whatever it was they were doing. I had interesting discussions with Portlanders, handed out a lot of buttons, and eventually signed up three whole people (3!) to vote!! I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, and some people in our group did better, some worse, but the group effort and results were outstanding. By the end of the day we had signed up 253 voters and handed out over 1700 campaign buttons. That was just our group of Seattleites… we also ran into some students from UC Davis who had driven up on Thursday to do the same thing. As we shared stories at the end of the day, we found out that one of the other groups from the bus accidentally ran into a rally where Bill Clinton was going to be speaking… the secret service mistook them for protesters and ran them off the block! We think maybe this worked to our advantage, because a couple independent voters saw it happen and registered right then and there, and it also meant that Clinton supporters were focused into one area of the city while we spread out everywhere else to register new voters and update Independent and Republican voter registrations to participate in the Democratic primary.
Exhausted at the end of the day, we set off for dinner, and I figured we’d just grab a slice of pizza and head home. Instead, one of the organizers of the event had planned to go to The Green Onion and invited those of us who wanted to go to tag along. The food was SO good and I was delighted by the Persian cuisine’s natural geographic fusion of Middle Eastern (falafel, hummus) and Indian (basmati rice and lentils) food. The owner (and her cat) were extremely hospitable (the restaurant is in her house) and nobody went back to the bus hungry.
I was hoping to live-blog this on the bus on the way back, but had some trouble with my cell-phone-modem connection and the laptop battery was winding down since I had used it to wrap up some work on the way down in the morning. So I made my way to the upper deck of the bus and was entertained by lively stories as everybody enjoyed some beers thanks to Mike @ Hale’s Ales. We made good time again on the way home, and 12 hours after we had left, arrived back at the park & ride and went for the night.
I had a lot of fun , made some new friends and got a lot out of participating. Super big thanks to Rose, Jen, Jayron and Shannah for organizing and leading our teams around Portland, and to everybody else for having such a great attitude throughout the day (Rob, awesome work on the Obama signs). Can we participate and make a positive change?? YES WE CAN!
Excellent story & pictures, Brian!
I was in Oregon as well, but drove down. I added a link to this post from my post on Washblog.
Great coverage of a great level of volunteerism.
If any one who participated in this excellent event has a bus button they would part with, I sure would appreciate it.