Reporting Back From Erie

by Cara on November 3, 2008

in 2008 election, activism, Barack Obama, Democrats, politics

Canvassing Erie, Pa was contradictorily both really exhausting and really energizing. It was a strictly GOTV (Get Out The Vote) operation, meaning that we were done trying to convince people to be on our side — the goal was to make sure that the people who are on our side cast their ballots.

This is something that, traditionally, Republicans have been much better at. You know how it often happens that Democrats poll higher, but Republicans win anyway? Well, it’s not all cheating — it’s also the fact that Republicans are great at making sure that their voters get out there and make good on their word, and Democrats are more likely to not show up for a variety of reasons. Those reasons include: an inflexible schedule, a lack of transportation, not knowing where to vote, not knowing if they’re registered properly, showing up without proper ID (and not having time to go back), or just plain feeling like their vote doesn’t matter.

These are all problems, and ones that we were working on fixing this year — by knocking on the doors of our supporters’ houses, asking them if they plan to vote, reminding them where their polling place is, reminding them to bring ID (even if they won’t end up needing it), offering them rides to the polls, and all around affirming that their vote matters, and we need it to win.

We were canvassing in an inner-city area which just so happened to be Obama country.  Lawn signs and window signs everywhere, and people were stopping me on the street as they walked by to chat, or even slowing down their cars to shout out words of encouragement.  As it turned out, a lot of people weren’t sure about where their polling location was — and though I’m sure some of them would have asked around and found out, others wouldn’t have and might not have voted.  Several first time voters or recently moved voters didn’t know what kind of ID to bring, and we were able to let them know.  And because the polling location was only a few blocks away from every house we visited, the four people in my group knocked on over 200 doors and only ended up finding a single person who need a ride.  But it’s always better to ask than not ask — especially because a few blocks can be a long way for people with limited mobility, and because we did find one person who might not have otherwise voted without the assistance!

I learned two main things about voters in (this part of) Erie, PA: they’re enthusiastic and they’re anxious.  The first is obviously great, and the second I hope will be a positive in the end as well.  If people are anxious, I want it to motivate them into knowing that their vote matters.  I got a lot of people telling me how ready they are, and that they’re really looking forward to Tuesday — which is precisely what we want.  And I also got several people asking me nervously something along the lines of “how do you think he’s looking?” or “do you think he’s going to win?” or “he’s going to win, right???”  I had a standard answer, and it was more than just a line because I really do believe it: “he’s going to win as long as you get out there and vote.  Obama has the support he needs to win in PA, but it doesn’t matter how much support he has if people don’t show up — so make sure that you do.”

Frankly, I think that we’ve got PA — and I know that McCain needs it.  McCain knows that he needs it too, which is why he’s putting in such final effort in a state that few people are expecting to go his way.  Right now, one of McCain’s main hopes is that Obama supporters in PA stay home.  I really feel, and I think that the GOP does too, that if strong pockets of Obama support like Erie turn out, we’ve got this state and we’ve pretty much got the election.

The Erie office was really nice and very cool.  There’s one picture above, and some more below.

All around the outside of the building, there were signs in the little windows up top that said “YES WE CAN,” surrounded by other signs that said things along the lines of it “it was the call/rallying cry/mantra of [X groups/people that accomplished something Great].”  They kind of sent little chills up my spine.

Below is my favorite set: “It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballots; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountain- top and pointed the way to the Promised LandYES WE CAN.”

And here we are, weary and at the end of a long day but still pumped!  My Rochester team was so much fun, we worked really, really well together, had an all around great time and did some amazing work.  I feel so good about  it, and I’m lucky to have met the three people below and everyone else who I crossed paths with.  From left to right: Maria, Tucker, Renee and me.

We’re going to win this thing, people.  I can feel it.  I could feel it in that volunteer center when it was so full you could hardly walk around.  I could feel it when I talked to voters and saw a higher concentration of lawn signs than I’ve ever seen in my life.  I could feel it when we drove around town looking for lunch and kept seeing other Obama volunteers knocking on doors, or when we kept running into an independent converted ice cream truck, driving around neighborhoods and blasting Obama speeches out the speakers.  Tomorrow night, we can make sure that things change.  But as always, that’s no reason to be complacent.  Volunteer here. Make calls on your lunch break or when you get home from work.  I’ll be spending the day tomorrow making calls to verify that people voted and still making sure that they don’t need a ride. You can join me.

Yes, we can do this. Together, we will.  And tomorrow, I want to be able to say Yes We Did.


1 jimjay November 3, 2008 at 12:24 pm

What a great post – thanks.

All the best from over here n the UK – we need you to win this one for us!

2 Tali November 3, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Great, thanks Cara, I’m sitting here in my school’s library, in the middle of everyone, crying like a baby thanks to this post.

I’m in Boston, so I’m heading up to New Hampshire tomorrow. These pictures look identical to the Manchester state headquarters. It’s amazing to think of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of offices like these all across the country, filled with people working tirelessly. I can’t vote, so it’s been these people in these offices keeping me sane throughout the last year.

Thank you. Thank you for taking your own time to travel to Pennsylvania, and thank you for writing about it, and thank you for writing about all of this for the past 20 months.


3 Fellow-ette November 3, 2008 at 1:19 pm

Awesome! We were in Center City and West Philadelphia this wknd. Very similar experience–enthusiastic folks eager to vote and honking at us, etc. I’m hopeful.

4 kate.d. November 3, 2008 at 1:44 pm

fantastic! i’m headed out to virginia to GOTV tomorrow….which is good, b/c i probably would’ve exploded into a fiery ball of nervous energy if i had to sit in my office all day :)

5 Ouyangdan November 3, 2008 at 4:54 pm

Great and important work, Cara!

6 Melissa November 3, 2008 at 8:09 pm

You are doing great girl! Thank you for all that you are doing. We are almost there. Tomorrow, indeed.

7 Renee November 3, 2008 at 11:41 pm


What an impressive blog. Thanks for writing it! Can’t wait for tomorrow…

Your Erie buddy,

8 SunlessNick November 4, 2008 at 1:42 am

You rock, Cara! And I join with jimjay in wishing you well form the UK.

9 Renee November 4, 2008 at 3:19 am

Your tireless dedication never ceases to amaze me. I will have all of my Cannuck finger and toes crossed for you tomorrow.

10 Sweet Machine November 4, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Thanks so much for this post–I grew up in Erie in the 80s and early 90s and I knew a lot of kids with conservative parents. I’m glad to hear your optimistic report from my former hometown. My fingers are crossed!

11 mire November 5, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Thanks for your service!!!

I have been so happy over the OBAMA landslide!

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