Monday, October 11, 2004


Racine, Wisconsin. 24th Ward.

We’ve all seen neighborhoods like this. Built in the 60’s as the middle class first began to sprawl out from the center of town, the one story ranches and split levels spread out along winding streets and irregular blocks. My family lived in a neighborhood like this until I was 4. I remember the sidewalks, the neighbor kids, the car ports. Some of the houses are run down now, others are meticulously kept up, or added on to. Many now have wheelchair ramps where the stairs once were. Roosevelt voters. This may be the last time we can count on many of them.

Fall is here. The grass is still green but the leaves have started to turn. Halloween decorations litter the front lawns, store bought and homemade. We walk the streets, ringing every doorbell, except the houses with Bush/Cheney signs. There’s no sales pitch, not in October. “Do you know who you’re voting for next month?” With us or against us. We mark the sheet, next to the address: 1 for Kerry supporters, 2 for Kerry leaners, 3 for undecided, 4 for Bush leaners, 5 for Bush people, Nader people, non-citizen, not voting, other. In August, the list went up to 7 . . .

If you’re a 1, we offer to sign you up for an absentee ballot. 1s and 2s will be contacted again, and we will drive them to the polls November 2. At this point, we don’t have time for 3s, but we ask them what their issues are. Health care. Education. The loss of jobs in Racine: “This used to be a huge center of manufacturing,” an older woman tells me. But she’s “not sure we were completely wrong to go into Iraq. We have a long tradition in this country of helping people in trouble. And those people were in trouble.” 3, 3, 3 . . . we have them on the issues, but . . .

They told us there weren’t many undecided voters left, but that's not true in the 24th Ward. A swing neighborhood in a swing county in a swing state. Gore won Wisconsin by 5,000 votes in 2000 – that’s one vote per polling station. We lost Racine by 2500. Less than 79 votes per ward. If we can close the gap, the state goes Kerry. The neighborhood is surprising. Integrated, about a quarter of the voters are non-white. Blacks and Latinos are 100% 1 in our tiny sample. Whites lean slightly Bush. One South Asian guy who’s dressed like a pimp is a 3. The overall advantage seems to go to Kerry, but there are so many 2s and 3s. Only one 4 – you either love Bush, or you don’t. If you haven’t decided to vote for Bush after four years, you probably won’t in the next 3 weeks, not without bin Laden’s head on a plate. If they vote at all, 3s will break for us. I worry that we should drive them to the polls, too.

Republican yard signs outnumber ours 2-1, because we don’t have any more to give out. The campaign has made a decision to focus its money on GOTV (get out the vote) instead of signs and stickers. They believe the “campaign” is basically over; it’s the ground game that matters now. If we can get our people to turn out, we will win. The dawn of no-excuse absentee balloting means that we are trying to bank absentee votes now. The paper trail makes it harder to steal the election, and guarantees that voters who become sick or die or change their minds in the next three weeks will still count for us. I worry that yard signs would reassure neighbors that it’s okay to vote for Kerry, other people support him too. I wish I’d brought my own up to give away. Bush might poll 5% on my street if he has a really good day. But we’re not a swing state. That’s why we came up, 35 of us on a yellow school bus, to the nearest swing state to knock on doors in a strange neighborhood on a beautiful fall Saturday, with the OSU-Wisconsin game in full swing (Wisconsin, 24-13).

This is a whole different world from the blather saturating the airwaves. Democratic consultants generally take a cut of advertising spending since they own the companies that produce the ads. Joe Trippi made six figures off of the Dean campaign. I worry that this biases the strategy towards too much towards advertising and not enough towards building an effective organization. I worry a lot these days.

But I’m not going to worry sitting on my ass anymore. This year I gave money. This year I wrote letters to the editor. This year I did phone banking. Now I’m going door to door. The most striking thing about this campaign is not negative advertising or the incompetence of the press. The most striking thing about this campaign is my transformation from an observer into an activist, from a consumer into a citizen and a Democrat.

Since 9/11 we have turned into a nation of sheep, cowering against the fence, bleating for someone to protect us. We’ve been infected by a poisonous individualism, we believe we should be able to take care of our own lives without anyone’s “help.” Confronted by threats beyond our control, we look around for a cowboy, a bigger, stronger individual to kick the bad guys around. A pitiful band of losers and fanatics has this country terrified. We are afraid to fly or take the subway. We hoard duct tape and food and bottled water just in case of another attack. We have the resources, the money, the power and yet we are week, blundering, desperate. Because we are individuals. Because we are consumers. Because we believe that if we look out for ourselves and our own, it will turn out the best for everyone. And it won’t.

But there’s an alternative. We don’t need to be protected and we certainly don’t need to be saved. We can look after our communities instead of just our homes. We can get involved. We can take power. If we have a stake in it, we need to have a say in it. So stand up, join, organize. As long as we are sit on the sidelines, the privileged few will continue to manipulate us with fear, to make us weak so they can hold onto their power and privilege. Will we win this year? Hell, I don’t know. But either way we will carry on the fight. Join us. Do something. Because the “Global War on Terror” is not going to be won by soldiers and mercenaries and secret agents who do our fighting and our thinking for us while the rest of us duck and cover. And it can’t be lost by a nation of citizens who stand together and fight.

If we as a nation can get rid of Bush, we will realize that we are not powerless, that it matters what we do. And then you won’t hear “I’m afraid I’ll die,” and “who can protect us.” Then you’ll hear people say “We are strong” and “What can I do” and “Let’s roll.”


Speaking of elections, they had some in Afghanistan the other day. A couple thoughts:

1. No big boom – actually about 10 police and 25 Taliban were killed in clashes, but as far as I know no civilians were killed in attacks. Pretty good for Afghanistan.

2. Fraud – As has been observed elsewhere, 10.5 million voters registered even though there are not that many eligible voters in the country (Afghanistan is very young, there are maybe 25 million people but perhaps 9 million are adults) and most women did not appear to show up at the polls. Obviously many Afghans were double-registered, Chicago style. The mechanism that was being used to prevent multiple votes was to mark people with indelible ink so that they could be identified as having already voted (why not a sign that says, “Taliban! Please Shoot Me! I Voted Today!”). The ink didn’t work, it was easy to wash off, so presumably there was a lot of double-voting. Who was running this thing, the Florida Board of Elections?

3. Boycott – the 15 other candidates are refusing to recognize the outcome because of the widespread fraud. It is actually not clear that double voting affected the outcome, since no candidate other than Karzai had anything approaching nationwide support. Overall, the election was a sham and after reading about it, I suspect that the parliamentary elections, which have been postponed until Spring, will never happen.

I am encouraged that the Taliban was unable to make a strong showing, but I continue to feel that the real threat to stability is not the Taliban, but the regional warlords and the heroin mafia. And I worry about the weakness and lack of legitimacy of Karzai's regime. But I'm hopeful that after 23 years of civil war, the Afghan parties will be too weary of war to start another one.

Does the Word "Duh" Mean Anything to You?

The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University said that instead of striking a blow against Islamic extremists, the Iraq war "has created momentum for many terrorist elements, but chiefly al-Qaida and its affiliates."

Jaffee Center director Shai Feldman said the vast amount of money and effort the United States has poured into Iraq has deflected attention and assets from other centers of terrorism, such as Afghanistan.

The concentration of U.S. intelligence assets in Iraq "has to be at the expense of being able to follow strategic dangers in other parts of the world," he said.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?