Sunday, October 26, 2008

Election fever in Bethlehem

As we checked into the hotel, the receptionist asked what had brought us to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
“We are here to help out in Barack Obama’s campaign,” I said, not quite sure what response I would get.
Back home, an admission of political activism is treated either with a bored “really?” or worse, down right hostility. I was in for a big surprise.
“Really ma’am, well let me give you a discount on your room. I hope you have a good time,” he said, grinning broadly.
Welcome to the United State of America, where the whole nation is gripped by the titanic battle between Senators Obama and McCain.
With only days to go to polling day, the pace is frenetic in Obama’s campaign office in Main Street.
Bethlehem is in Northampton County, a key district. The polls show Obama has a big lead in the state, but news that John McCain has decided to abandon several previously Republican states and try and grab Pennsylvania’s 21 electoral college votes has brought a new urgency to the campaign.
Nothing is being left to chance.
Volunteers are busy calling voters or knocking on doors to remind them to go out on vote on November 4th.
The three field officers, Ken, Ryan and Katie are organising their teams for the last big push which begins next Saturday.
“Get all the sleep you can,” Ken told us at a training session last night, “because next week, we aren’t going to go to bed.”
And throughout the day a steady stream of people pop in, looking for badges, t-shirts, yard signs, anything so they can show their support for the dream ticket of Obama-Biden.
I spent this morning with Marion, a great grandmother, collating canvassing packs, stuffing them full of leaflets explaining Obama’s plans for economic recovery.
With Wall Street in free fall, a recession looming, nothing else matters. This election is not about Sarah Palin’s wardrobe or McCain’s foreign policy experience. It is the economy, stupid.
Tomorrow I will hit the streets for the first time. Knocking doors usually holds no fears for me. My first election was in 1983 and over the years I have encountered everything, from dangerous dogs to naked men, even a few Tories. But I worry that my Scottish accent will confuse the good people of Bethlehem.
“Just speak slowly,” Ken advises me, so for the rest of the afternoon I am going to practice my script: “Hello, I am stopping by today because the election is just around the corner, and I want to do everything I can to earn your vote on behalf of Senator Obama.”
Doing everything I can has meant spending the last of my savings to fly out to the USA for three weeks to help elect the man I believe will change, not only the United States of America, but the world.
Not since 1997 has an election mattered so much.
If Obama wins, the USA will be able to hold its head high again, with a President who understands how the real world works. Not just because his mother was from Kansas and his father from Kenya and he went to school in Indonesia and Hawaii, but because his policies and values are what the world needs now.
My mother texted me this morning to ask if I would get to meet the candidate.
“No chance,” I replied, “but I don’t care, I am having the best experience of my life, and on 4 November, things really will start to get better.”

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