Friday, November 7, 2008

Battleground State Diary: VICTORY! And Change!

"I woke up this morning, feeling brand new
‘Cause the dreams that I've been dreaming has finally come true….
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for." — It’s A New Day, Will.I.Am and Pres. Elect Barack Obama

E-Day. This was the moment we’d been waiting for throughout the past four years. We needed change in the worst way for some time, but only recently had it finally worked its way up the food chain to affect even the corporations that Washington dotes upon. Now that their bottom line has been impacted, it finally dawned on the American media: we’re in a disastrous, one-sided economy. Change was needed desperately.
4:45 came way too early for me, and I was kicking my butt for not falling asleep right away. But Tuyen and I made it to the staging location on time and sat in as our Red Team captain, Dayton’s former mayor Clay Dixon and Larkin from Montana gave us our marching orders. As it turned out, our location managed to get enough folks in to cover the two positions – Line Manager and Houdini – at each of our precincts for Canaan’s territory, and I gave our volunteer coordinator Tim a high-five.

As a result, Tuyen and I were sent out to the Trotwood office to work the Line Management at a location that was going to have their assigned Line Managers come in an hour after polls opened. We made the trip and immediately noticed it was even colder than in town. After a short visit at the Trotwood Obama office, we drove back to our assignment at the Trotwood Library.
The first thing we noticed was it was colder out in Trotwood than it was in Dayton – low 40’s. And being a typical Houstonian, I wasn’t dressed for Ohio in my vest and short sleeve top. The adrenaline flow kept me from really registering the cold as I normally would.

The next thing we surmised was that the line was about a 45 minute wait due to three of the ten computer voter machines being inoperable. Yet everyone in line was affable and determined, with the only one leaving the line vowing to return after she took her daughters to school. We spent the first hour of the day as the sun rose in Western Ohio, chatting with the voters, and I (with my button festooned vest and Obama “Vote Today” cards) kept the folks happy and in line.

About 45 minutes into our task, one of the couples who’d finished voting took pity on me and returned with a jacket! Sometimes having the handout mementos pays off! After our assigned Line Manager and Houdini arrived, Tuyen and I headed back to Dayton and down to Canaan for the next assignment. And immediately upon arrival, I stepped wrong on a curb and bent back my toe – the sore toe, of course. More pain for election day – perfect!

We learned all line manager teams had arrived, so we weren’t needed for those assignments, we would instead switch to Blue Team and canvass door-to-door to ensure everyone had voted. But before going out (political junkie as I’ve become) I had to hear the first news reports coming in. They weren’t good omens: Wake County NC (home to Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s opponent, democrat Kay Hagan) had problems throughout the county with none of the ballots being able to be read … and in Florida, nine trash bags full of voter registrations were found tossed on the side of a highway.

The ditched registration / voter suppression issue touched a nerve with me. Two days earlier on Northcrest, Shannon Bledsoe had noted that she had registered at apartment she shared with her boyfriend, had not voted, but was not on my list of unknown voters. She was curious why she wasn’t on the list. I’d urged her to vote early and demand a provisional ballot, gave her the name of the law (the Help Americans Vote Act, or HAVA) that mandated officials allow her to do so, and then gave her the 866-OUR-VOTE phone number and instructed her to get in touch with whomever collected her registration and challenge her provisional to ensure it was counted.

Shannon wasn’t sure who registered her, but she believed it may have been ACORN. It was illegal for ACORN to toss away any registration collected even if suspicious (voter suppression), so they flagged it. It must be equally illegal for authorities in any state to summarily toss all such registrations without verification for the same voter suppression reasons. After hearing of Florida, adrenaline was back and my toe pain disappeared. I needed to move!

"It was a creed written into the documents that would declare the destiny of a nation. Yes We Can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail for freedom. Yes We Can." — It’s A New Day, Will.I.Am and Pres. Elect Barack Obama

Tuyen and I, and teammates LaQuinta Eldridge and LaTeah Jackson hit the road to familiar environs – those same dangerously neglected apartments on Riverside near Shoup Mill! I began wondering if they kept giving these to us because no one else would walk them. As Tuyen correctly noted, these were exactly the people that needed to get out and vote, and needed change – and she was right!

At one point, I encountered an 81-year old man in a neighborhood adjacent to the apartments – Mr. Brock – who told me he was not going to vote because he couldn’t stand in line for any length of time. Per his report, when he called election officials to see if he could have a seat while he waited for his vote, he was told there would be no chairs at the precinct locations. Incredible!

Again I had to invoke HAVA, and instructed him that he should demand a chair – the pollworkers would have chairs, and they could easily be ousted from one of their chairs for a period of time (they sit most of the day anyway!) They should offer him a spot in the line, and call him when his spot reached the front of the line. They couldn’t disallow a voter because of their physical disability.

After walking away, I caught myself second-guessing whether I’d just offered Texas voter law or HAVA, so I had to call former mayor Dixon (Red Team Captain) and verify, then gave him Mr. Brock’s phone number and the voting location for his precinct. Hizzoner confirmed what I’d noted, and was going to make the calls and take care of the situation! Problem-solving on the run? Yes we can!

Both LaTeah and LaQuinta ended up twisting ankles and we had to leave them behind at Canaan. So Tuyen and I took on our next precinct. Again we were at the Northcrest and Norris apartments, as well as Foxton. The residents, overwhelmingly African-American and all economically challenged, knew us well by then. We were like mini-celebs, high-fiving kids, chatting with others like we were old neighbors and enlisting others to volunteer. Once again on Norris, I had no less than three other residences, some of whom noted they were not on my list, had not voted yet (indicating they should’ve been listed), and reporting they had just registered a month earlier. Again, I had to do the HAVA instructions about provisional ballots, calling 866-OUR-VOTE and challenging to make sure they had votes that counted.

Whether this was input operator error or registrations that were simply disallowed because of incidental suspicion unrelated to these voters’ apps, it was burning me up by the minute. Now I began worrying about how widespread this was, and what impact it would have on election results. We need a state ID-voter registration law federally. Make it uniform and eliminate the confusion, arbitrary decision-making and typo-related disallowances. It will also encourage all to have state identifications (which should be a no-brainer anyway).

Over the course of the day, Tuyen and I tackled eight precinct turfs in total. In Meadowdale, I was a bit unnerved by having two African American residents – one eighteen, one nineteen – answer the door and (when I encouraged them to make sure and vote), responded with apathy and blank stares. They were registered, they could vote for their first time in a historic election … and it seemed not to matter to them! For me, that renewed the urgency and helped me put the left foot pain out of mind again. My confidence wasn’t failing, but the worry was ramping up a bit now.

Another of our precincts we drove had us paired up with a longtime resident of that neighborhood off of Main and W. Nottingham. She helped us for that period and gave insight into the neighborhood – but I still had to navigate while driving. At one point she even noted I knew her neighborhood better than she did. After those three days, I feel like an old hand at northwest Dayton and Harrison Township.

Tuyen and I took our last precinct to canvass at 6PM. It was already dark, but thankfully it was one I’d door-hanged on the day before. We finished that up and made it back to Canaan at 7PM, only a half hour before polls closed. There wasn’t anything to do but stand around and eat more chips, candy, cold pizza or cold chicken – something we’d had in abundance over the last few days. As we were too keyed up to eat, Tuyen and I began helping tear down and hauling out the remaining door hangers, flyers, signs, etc. I collected a few of the posters and push cards for mementos, as well as a couple Obama Phone Bank Team buttons, as well as a Obama Comfort Manager button (which I would leave with our kind hostess, Cyndee Montgomery).

Once we broke everything down, we began saying our goodbyes, taking photos and exchanging contacts with those not going to the campaign’s election night party. Our team: Mike from Austin, and the Houston folks, Laran, LaTeah and LaQuinta, Tobi Myers, Tuyen and I departed Canaan Community Center for the last time and made the short drive downtown.

Conveniently, our party location was the city’s hottest club a half block away from the downtown Obama headquarters. As fate would have it, it was also Dayton’s drag bar – though the nicest one I’ve ever seen, quite impressive! A tranny-girl Obama delegate with predominantly straight Dems, celebrating the election in a drag club … ironic, yet fitting! One of the local Dayton volunteers who canvassed and arrived downtown with, Laran piqued my tranny radar as well. I didn’t want to ask, but I also noticed she was staring at my button-laden vest and noticing my Tranny Triangle button. In fact, there was an even taller girl in the club who may well have been as well … or maybe I was the only T girl there.

It didn’t matter though. This night was for the entire nation, whomever and wherever we were. We anticipated a nation that was no longer ruled by exclusionism. This would be a party where everyone is invited!

“Hello, Chicago. If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer…. It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.” — Pres. Elect, Barack Obama

As the results began initially trickling in, the club got louder and the crowd got ‘crowder’. There were banks of TV screens everywhere in the club – a perfect venue for election night! As folks came over and introduced themselves, all we had to do was mention Houston. We were oblivious to the notoriety we enjoyed throughout Dayton until then. Everyone had heard of the bus from Houston, even the folks in town from other states! We got to regale them with the story of our 26 hour bus ride up. We were sorta like Dayton’s cavalry, riding to the rescue! Now it was only a matter of seeing the results of what we’d just finished.

There were three or four eastern zone states that I watched for as the results came in. McCain would not capture any of the Kerry states at all, including Pennsylvania (the numbers weren’t there for them). So it would be either Virginia, Florida or Ohio that would elect Obama. The obvious northeastern states were the first declarations for Obama. Then crucial Pennsylvania came in blue – there was no way for the rest of the state to overcome the populous Philly region. That left only the one of the other three to come in (knowing also that New Mexico and Nevada were likely to come in blue as well). We watched the numbers come in early, with McCain leading in Virginia … but then the northern counties came in. Obama was winning Virginia – end game for McCain.

While I was upstairs exploring the club’s vacant second floor, I heard a roar outside and discovered what it was – Ohio was called for Obama! McCain would not win without a major upset out west. Then came the second blast from the crowd when they showed the counties that went blue. Dayton and Montgomery County were the lone blue county in a sea of southwestern Ohio red. We’d not only won the state, but our collective efforts won this crucial county – one shrouded in controversy during the secretive ballot count in 2004. We kicked butt!

While mingling through the party, we also got a chance to meet others assigned to the other three city quadrants and around the rest of the county. I met a mom and daughter team who flew in from Northampton, MA to work the weekend, and we immediately hit it off. A short time later I met a team of folks flown in from Sonoma County, CA who did likewise. Later I met a couple guys who’d flown in from New York City to help out.

We’d all come the opposite ends of the country – east, west and south – and ended up in heartland’s Ohio. We were all from non-battleground states, working to win a critical battleground state. Unlike their states though, Texas’ situation was quite the opposite as we’d have no victories for our party back home. There was some guilt I felt in not staying home and fighting, though I couldn’t single-handedly overcome those numbers the red-meat folks generate. We did good, though.

One of the California volunteers noted that when her team was getting assignments, her local team lead kept turning down a number of northern and northwestern precincts as “they were too dangerous.” She let me know that they’d heard about “the bus from Houston coming up” and instructed them to assign those precincts to us, confirming what we were suspecting. Ultimately, that was probably best. We were undaunted with wherever they sent us, whether it was Joe The Plumber-land, or blighted urban enclaves, we were there to get the job done. And Yes We Did! Not only that, we were notorious in our “dangerous” precinct turfs!

Obama racked up 207 electoral votes rather quickly, but then .. the McCain states in the south starting coming in – from fifty-something to 125 in the central zone states. Then everything hung up, nothing moved … although Florida was leaning Obama, Virginia was in the win column and North Carolina and Indiana were not looking red. McCain’s aides issued a statement saying they didn’t see any path to victory. Shortly before the west coast polls closed, John McCain came on to deliver a concession speech. After the initial hush, the club’s crowd heard McCain’s crowd boo him when he spoke about supporting Obama as our new president. Afterwards, there was nothing but club crowd noise, and I never heard what McCain said or registered how his crowd responded.

Once the western states closed and the exit polls reported, the roar in the club was deafening. Obama captured the entire bank of west coast states, hands down, and about the same time, New Mexico finally declared Obama as well. Game over, we had our 44th president! Watching the reactions on TV was amazing. Shots of Keshumu, Kenya where Obama’s family lived showed the entire village dancing through the street. Shots of Harlem and Atlanta’s Morehouse College showed election night crowds in jubilant celebration and a number of African Americans collapsing in uncontrollable tears of joy. I then looked over to see a mirror image, LaQuinta from our team was leaned over the pool table, broken down in tears as well.

“But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you.” — Pres. Elect, Barack Obama

Seeing how it affected LaQuinta was one of the most touching images, along with Jesse Jackson standing in the crowd with tears streaming down his face (especially poignant considering his own controversy during the Obama campaign). Watching Oprah, enrapt in Obama’s speech with teary eyes, leaning on the shoulder of a stranger in front of her. Even watching Mike from Austin, a 50-something white accountant, wiping tears from his eyes, and looking back at the TV screen images of cities around the country, and around the globe, people enthralled with the election results and riveted by the acceptance speech in London and Paris.

It wasn’t just America, but the entire world waiting for the pall of the past eight years to clear away, for the fear and the hatred to crumble into dust, for the unease and hardship to evaporate, and for the ugly America to disappear, replaced by what we used to be and always knew we were – a respectable and respectful nation of promise, of goodwill, of justice and of hope. And with this election, we once and for all signaled to the world that our promise of opportunity for all wasn’t mere sloganeering, but was truly something America stood for.

“Living in America - eye to eye, station to station
Living in America - hand to hand, across the nation
Living in America - got to have a celebration.” — Living In America, James Brown

It happened right before our eyes. All the years of the barrier of “not being people like us” and “never being good enough” were disintegrated as easily as when Barack Obama walked through that curtain and took the stage, delivering what was truly a presidential speech. In fact, it may well go down as one of the greatest presidential speeches of all time. This was a moment for the ages. Yes we can have egalité!

Veni, Vidi, Vici – we came, we saw, and we conquered Montgomery County for the Democrats. We met new friends on the bus and all across the country from our common cause. Yet while watching celebrations and partying ourselves, in the back of my mind I couldn’t shake the thought that we were 1,000 miles from home, giddy from victory, and left our local races down the ballot to falter. There is new hope across the country and even across the world, but I fear hope will visit Texas last. We are the dead end.

We left Ohio early the next morning, precious little sleep, groggy and hung over from the night before, on the bus back to our partisan war zone where we’ll still face hate, disenfranchisement, inequality and voicelessness. And it’s time for me to hit the job trail and hope it won’t be a long drought before working again. Houston isn’t the best part of the country to be a transgendered job-seeker.

But we worked hard, we succeeded and now we and Ohio can be proud of our accomplishment, and the country and the world can celebrate. Driving through Kentucky that crisp morning, even the trees seemed to be celebrating in bright red and gold.

“I gotta keep moving
With the white lines on the highway,
Watchin' every mile go by –
The silos and the by-ways.” — Gotta Keep Moving, Kellie Pickler


Bruce Kettelle said...

Vanessa, Thanks for coming to Trotwood to help out. The results were staggering. Obama received 84% of the vote here. Yes We Can!

Vanessa Edwards Foster said...

Hey Bruce ... actually I didn't even finish my post (hit publish inadvertently). It's done now.

And wow ... outstanding! Yes we did! Y'all kicked ass out there!

I can't claim credit for Trotwood as we were only fill-in Line Managers for one hour -- we were in the Northwest Dayton segment, roughly between Salem and Dixie Dr. If you hear what those numbers are for that area, I'd love to get those and post them to this article. Thank you!

Bruce Kettelle said...

Vanessa, If you recal the precinct numbers you can see all those results at just follow the election results link.

Thanks to everyone else that came to Trotwood and Ohio.