Barack Obama is no longer the icon of this presidential election. He has been quietly replaced by a widowed Indian immigrant mother from Fleetwood, Pennsylvania … at least for me. This is how that happened.
I became an Obama precinct captain in San Francisco less than 24 hours after Clinton fatigue hit me like a Wal-Mart truck. That was still my motivation when I flew 1,875 miles to Corpus Christi, 13 days before the “Texas Two-Step” primary caucus.
But while in Texas I realized Barack Obama was the strongest (“I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq!”), and became convinced that he was by far the best candidate in the race.
That is what, 13 days before the Pennsylvania primary, got me to fly 2,929 miles to JFK Airport and then take a Bieber Tourways bus 110 miles to Kutztown, PA – population 5,067.
In travelling the almost 5,000 miles for the Obama Campaign, I didn’t see much scenery. I was busy making calls, literally running from house to house on the weekends and entering data when I finished calling or I got back to the office at night.
It’s the people who stand out.
Nancy: Who was, in both San Francisco and Corpus, the caring house mother and calming “adult in the room.”
Sarah: The LA fashion designer who, at the peril of her business, skipped REAL Oscar Parties to be with us, and who helped clean the Corpus Christi office bathroom on the night of the broadcast.
Warren (aka “Montana”): The young progressive cowboy from Missoula who hitched a ride with friends to Vegas and then took a very, very long bus ride to Corpus Christi.
Kathleen: Who drove me and Montana down the highway and out of Port Aransas during a tornado warning.
Joel: The former telephone sales-rep who I actually think persuaded more people to vote for Obama than probably any other volunteer in Berks County. He would always show up in a coat and tie, including the days that we got him to physically canvas.
Maureen and Barbara, the mature duo, who drove to Kutztown from D.C. to spend four days knocking on doors in their running shoes telling people how “We’ve lived and worked in Washington for decades, and we’ve never seen it like this. We need to move on as a country. Now!”
But the one that stood out most, and still does, is Mrs. Trivedi.
A couple of weeks before the Pennsylvania primary, one of Mrs. Trivedi’s doctor sons (the one in D.C.) wanted to travel back home to help with the election. She decided to help too. And one day, about a week before the election she walked into the office without me noticing.
I was then startled by a quiet voice.
“Hello, I’m Mrs. Trivedi and I’m here to help you.” (Seriously, that’s what she said.)
I smiled, introduced myself, and then showed her how to use the phone and she went at it. She completed several dozen calls and dutifully checked the appropriate boxes on the tracking sheets and then went home.
She was back the next day, but the campaign had changed to a longer “persuasion” script, and by the time Mrs. Trivedi got through it, a whole lot of people had already hung up.
“It’s my accent,” she said.
It seemed that way to me too, and it bothered me. I knew the reaction of the people she was calling. While it wasn’t really racism, it just seemed a little too much like it.
She kept going, but was getting disheartened and I gave her some tips and encouragement and kept listening in the background while my heart continued to break. I imagined that, in rural Pennsylvania, in an area that was once a pretty active Klan location, that it might have been something she had endured before.
Finally, it became obvious that my verbal “tips” were ridiculously confusing, so I asked her to take a break and I typed her a much shorter script that identified that she was a local.
“Hello, my name is Mrs. Trivedi and I’m calling from the Barack Obama office here in Kutztown. How are you doing today?”
Simple. People started talking to her again.
What impressed me was how dignified she was through the whole thing. But it was also the fact that she didn’t blame the people that were hanging up on her. She didn’t attack them and say they were ignorant or intolerant, and she didn’t give up either. She just kept going.
Mrs. Trivedi didn’t need to do that. Making political phone calls is hard. Making political phone calls in rural Pennsylvania with an Indian accent is harder. She just didn’t need to do it. But the fact that she did it for days demonstrates that SHE has confidence in this country. SHE believes in it, no matter how consistently imperfect it can be.
The fact that people did start talking to her again is also important to me. It wasn’t the person (Mrs. Trivedi) or the people (the registered voters) that were the root of the problem. It was simpler than that. It was just the script. The “system” was the problem.
It would have been easy for everybody to give up somewhere along the line. But by making a simple change to the system, things started to work again.
Kindness, dignity, persistence, purpose … that’s the kind of country I want to live in. Mrs. Trivedi is the kind of person I want engaged.
There is much talk about the divisions in the Democratic Party, but without this extended primary season there would be dramatically fewer motivated grassroots-level activists prepared for the fall campaign. The Obama campaign especially got huge numbers of people involved, new people, in nearly every state. What has happened is that there are now thousands of individuals that have never – and I mean never – been involved in the process before who are now trained and motivated.
Those individuals are not part of the recalcitrant system. Instead those individuals are now beginning to challenge it. That deeper, grassroots change is what gives me an increased confidence in the future of this nation. It really does. The Democratic Party may or may not have been strengthened by this process, but our democracy itself has definitely been strengthened.
Whatever happens, this country is better because Barack Obama, the community organizer, decided to run for President.
Being with all these other volunteers, assisting them and learning from them, simply witnessing them come alive and feel they can really actually make a difference … has been amazing. It is, by far, one of the most moving and rewarding things I have done in my lifetime.
I’m back home now. This past Saturday I trooped around San Francisco neighborhoods registering voters for seven hours (Hayes Valley, Civic Center, a smattering of SoMa), approximately 1.5 miles from my apartment. I was doing it to move the country forward, and because I want Barack Obama to be President.
But I was doing even more so because I can’t get enough of getting people involved … people like Mrs. Trivedi. They’re out there, and now, so am I.
Jay Jonah Cash is a local writer who likes to travel the country and redecorate campaign offices in his spare time.Filed under: Archive