Saturday, March 29, 2008

rainbows & butterflies

Last weekend I went to Philadelphia with one of my friends from high school and we spent two days volunteering on the Obama campaign. I can’t tell you how exhilarating it was to know that I was finally putting my money where my mouth is and doing something on-the-ground to help this man win.

We arrived at the Philly HQ just in time for a rousing speech by Congressman Elijah Cummings from Maryland. He talked about the impact and inspiration of Barack Obama’s vision. And then he said it was not enough to be inspired – you had to get out and do something to support the campaign. And then, it’s not enough to support one person’s presidential bid – you have to get out and do something to improve your own life. I can’t lie – both B and I had tears in our eyes.

The Philly HQ saw us arrive: two preppy, but decidedly coloured girls, and promptly asked if we’d be interested in canvassing in North Philly, in the projects. Dude, I was so down.

We went with three others – stopping first for espressos – then rolling in in a BMW SUV driven by a smooth-toned, elegant, older black man, and accompanied by a late 30s/early 40s female white lawyer from NY and a 30-something Hispanic woman, also from NY, who had also done canvassing work in Rhode Island. There was a journalist from Vanity Fair in the elevator with us doing a story on New Yorkers coming down to help before the Philly primary.

The response to our door-knocking fantastic. One group of idlers outside a boarded up house told me and B that we had “a lot of heart coming up to the hood.” They said we “must be getting paid a lot to go door to door in the projects.”

That’s when I told them that we were doing it for free – we believe in Obama so much that we would drive down, three of us from NY and one from Canada, to help the man win.

One woman wanted to know if felons could vote in the primary. Yes you can! One teenager shouted to her mom that some workers from the “black man’s campaign” were there to register her to vote. One young under-ten year old girl saw B and me coming up the drive and said to her friends: “they look so pretty”.

I don’t think it’s that we were particularly hot. I think we just struck an interesting picture – two yuppie women of colour, holding campaign signs, standing talking to groups of men over loud base and hip hop, meeting up with colleagues coming out of the odd crack house or two…and smiling radiantly like we’d never been more happy to get out to work.

For that alone I’m glad I got out on the campaign trail last weekend. I’d forgotten what it’s like to feel ecstatic about a project. And I’d forgotten how infectious and powerful that feeling can be. So even if some of the people we registered don’t get out to the primary to vote; even if some residents fail to notice the Obama signs in the front windows of their neighbours’ homes – there are still young girls, ex-cons, and up-and-coming strivers who now know that there’s a candidate for president that will send campaign workers to their hood.

There’s a candidate out there who is so inspiring that volunteers feel it’s worth driving across states and countries to stump for. There’s a candidate out there who speaks to the urban elite and the disenfranchised both.

And we can’t wait for him to do something positive for the country as a whole.