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November 4, 2004


Mourning in America

get out the vote volunteers

I was part of a delegation of 5,000 New York City volunteers in Pennsylvania on Election Day. [more crowd shots here and here].

We started off with encouraging words from Russell Simmons and the Reverend Run [blurry pic], and then were dispatched in 15-person teams to "unlikely voter" areas of Philadelphia. Federal regulations prevented us from endorsing a specific candidate (we could only encourage people to vote), but people leaned out of passing cars and screamed "Keerrrrrrrrryyyy!" at us anyway. Each neighborhood we went to was covered in Kerry/Edwards posters. Some of the posters on porches were the size of highway billboards.

Almost everyone we spoke to had already voted. "I voted at 7 this morning!" they said. Or, "Honey, I was there when they opened!". Or "I brought my neighbors!" A few had just come home from work and were on their way to the polls. "I've got my registration card right here," said one man, flashing it at us. When we ran out of doors to knock on, one of the women on my team marched into a bodega and came out with two young men in tow, who she personally escorted to their polling place. One group arrived to find a two-alarm fire in their canvassing area. They made sure everyone standing in the street had voted. Even the woman whose house was burning was on her way.

This week I'm pretty disillusioned with the Democratic party, but I'm not disillusioned with Democratic values and ideals. I don't think Americans voted for George Bush because they're stupid or because they're gullible -- I think they voted for Bush because they want what the Republican Party promises. A majority of this country wants Reagan's morning in America, where babies play on the lawn and young couples get married and start investment accounts. I want that too, but I also think babies should have health care, and that it's okay if some of those young married couples are gay.

What George Bush didn't explain to voters is that creating that America means developing an informed worldview. It means helping people less fortunate than you. It means being tolerant of people who are different. And as much as Bush needs to learn that, the Democratic party does too.

I'm not excusing 51% of voters. I'm still deeply disappointed in them, and frightened by the growing conservatism in this country. But I don't believe that John Kerry lost because he used big words and complex ideas. I think he lost because he (and his party, and the media, and yes -- even his "working class" running mate) talked down to that vital 51% of Americans. During the campaign, Kerry could never convince that vast red voting block he didn't think they were a bunch of stupid hicks. When Democrats made fun of George Bush for his stupidity, it resonated with voters who identified with having their lives and values made fun of by rich liberals.

Americans are cynical about politicians -- rightly so. If this election has shown us one thing, it's that we can't depend on our political parties to include or inform us. It's criminal to spend $600 million on political attack ads in a country where children are hungry. We need to forget about the rich Republicans and the rich Democrats, and spend the next four years talking to (not down to) other voters.

That's why all the volunteers making phone calls and pounding the pavement made such an impact on this election. Voters talking to other voters about how we're going to fix this country make a difference. Individuals and grassroots movements, not political parties, are what's going to turn this country around.

I'm proud of all those Pennsylvanians who got involved this year and turned their state blue. I just hope they stick around for the next four years. We need them.

MoveOn has posted this statement that might make you feel a little better.

categories: Politics
posted by Emily at 5:27 PM | #

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