A HARDLY COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF GRIEVANCES
"Question. Universal healthcare, does that include vision care? We're all gonna be blind by Election Day."
Maybe if you are working at Obama HQ you have some swank surroundings. I don't actually know, really, but if you have an endless supply of cash, hey, why not? Maybe Obama staffers have Eames Lounge Chairs and are even getting complimentary massages every 3 hours on the dot. Who knows?
Mostly, though, if you are working on another campaign at the moment, the office is probably located in a strip mall. Unless your area is too rural for strip malls, and then you're working out of some storefront which used to sell insurance, or is too urban for strip malls, and then you're working in an office that bears a curious resemblance to The Office office. Wherever your campaign HQ, with little exception, the interior design serves one purpose only, to make you think, "why... yes, I WOULD rather be out canvassing, yes, anywhere but here, I beg you."
Strip mall offices are like garages stripped bare and then crammed with folding tables and chairs and computers and a large ugly couch or two. Right now everything is a mess. There are pizza boxes under the yard signs and t-shirts on the yard signs and coffee on the t-shirts. And paper. Paper everywhere. Being 2008, approx. 8 years after we were supposed to get flying cars, one would expect campaigns, especially those run by netrootsy folks, to be on the cutting edge of technology and greener than an algae farm in May. One would be guilty of acute optimism. Walk sheets, position papers, tally sheets, precinct maps, sign-in sheets, "lit," more lit, donation envelopes, posters, bumper stickers, direct mail, schedules, just stuff, everywhere...
Sure - your candidate recycles. But right now the place looks like your undergraduate dorm room the night before 2 papers and a final exam ... only if your room were in a characterless strip mall and you were not allowed to hang posters of Karl Marx and strew pot paraphernalia everywhere.
I would like to say, "It is ugly, this office." Except, when I think of "ugly" I think of a certain lime green and brown polyester shirt with a psychedelic print, or those pug dogs. Or racism.
I would like to say "It is depressing, this office." Except, when I get there, I am yanked out of my depression by the intoxicating vibe of politics. I am going to change the world! Even if I have to do it from this dank nasty hole!
"No, poemless! You are missing the bigger picture! Democracy is beautiful! Why don't you try some abstract thinking and stop complaining about this office decor!" It is true. The idea is, in fact, so attractive, it makes my knees weak. And you didn't mention it, but the candidate for whom I am volunteering is soooo handsome. But I am talking about the campaign HQ, ok? Freaking poster child for the tyranny of aesthetic mediocrity. They all are. And cold. It's cold in there. Don't those god-awful overhead florescent lights emit any heat? And why can't you hang a proper picture? Afraid you will lose the highly coveted anti-Vermeer vote?
One-stop shopping for all your meals!
When you were a little kid, if someone had told you that you could eat sugary doughnuts and pepperoni pizza all the time, as much as you wanted, you would not even have to eat anything else - you'd have gone berserk with kiddie glee. You might have even peed in your kiddie pants. Well, guess what! Now you can!
Just join a political campaign!
I like pizza. I like some doughnuts. But, I don't really consider them food (unless it is proper pizza, which I am not referring to here). I remember the man with whom I lived in Moscow bring home cheese puffs like he'd just scored a couple of lobster dinners. I watched his eyes grow wide, his brows perk up and a huge grin on his face as he munched on his first cheese puff. "That's not real food," I said. Oh, that was a treat. I had a much easier time explaining that actually, democracy and capitalism are in no way symbiotic systems than I did trying to explain that in America, we have such fat wallets and guts that we often eat stuff that isn't even food because it tastes good, even though, actually, it kind of tastes disgusting. Why do we eat this stuff? Because we can. You can't stop us. We're the greatest country on earth - in more ways than one. Munch munch munch...
In other, loser, undemocratic countries, people who are strapped for cash and have a lot of mouths to feed make oatmeal (you call it "pooridge," in case there were any confusion about the socio-economic status of those eating it). Oatmeal is very cheap and very good for you. You can put all kinds of tasty toppings on it too. I like cinnamon and butter, or some blackberry jam. Some people put salt in it, or fresh peaches. Oatmeal is customizable, even if it smacks of prole cuisine. It may be the most flexible of all foods.
In America, however, people who are strapped for cash and have a lot of mouths to feed buy Dunkin Donuts and order greasy pizza. In a show of solidarity with the working and lower classes, populist candidates and everyone working for them agree to a diet of doughnuts and greasy pizza for the entirety of their campaign. Of course, you are free to bring your own bananas and granola bars, or go home and eat a salad. That's your personal time. But please don't do this while representing the campaign. And god, no green leafy stuff with 4 syllables! People will think you are elitist snobs. They'll start looking around your office for a Vermeer, or fresh cut daisies. Besides, if you are phone banking, it is much easier to keep a firm grip on your tiny little cell phone for 5 hours if your hands are covered with a layer of donut sugar and spittle. It creates a rubber-cement type substance, but washes off with soap and water.
Sure - your candidate has a kick-ass health care plan. But right now sacrifices must be made. So grab your insulin shots, elastic waistband pants (they really do require you to "dress comfortably"), acne cream and Lipitor and go do your civic duty, people!
I don't know who these angels are. They're doing good work. Smiling through the pain...
Every time I open an e-mail from my Republican relatives (I receive one about every other hour these days) I am stricken with an attack of sheer existential agony.
But I am not talking about that.
I am talking about "Ow! Jesus - that !%#$@1 hurt!" and "Oh, this must be how the little matchstick girl felt before she died because I am beginning to make peace with the fact that frostbite is setting in..." or "OMG, I cannot wait to get home and take 3 Advil, run a hot bath, pour a drink, and die because I know right now not even 3 Advil, a hot bath and a drink or anything short of prescription narcotics will alleviate the cramps in my calves and this headache" and "Look, there are people who have survived torture in Abu Graib, so you can survive this. This is nothing. A hangover, not enough sleep, menstrual cramps, insane blood sugar levels from having eating nothing but Dunkin Donuts for the past 12 hours, and 3 hours of constant walking in the blazing heat is NOTHING compared to what those people have gone through. Think of it as penance. And know that eventually the day will be over and you can go home and cry. There, there, now."
Have you ever canvassed? Do they canvass over there in Europe? I don't even know... It would probably be too confusing with all your medieval gridless streets. Plus, you all say you have democracy, but you have Queens and Parliaments and Prime Ministers and governments that spontaneously dissolve and a Constitution you can't even get passed. So, I don't know...
Canvassing. GOTV. I used to hate canvassing. I was terrified. Think about it: we Americans live in a "Bowling Alone" culture, a "Get offa mah propertay!" culture, an "I don't, like, really like to get involved in other people's business, you know, like, that's their own problem if they die and stuff" culture. So the very thought of walking up to the home a total stranger who has a bazillion things they would rather being doing than talking to you, knocking on the door and asking the person who opens the door to tell you, a complete stranger, what their core values are and who they will vote for - it makes me physically sick to my stomach. I am a shy person. I get stage fright. I don't even talk to people I take the train with every morning. When strangers call, I pretend I am not home. Sometime I even pretend I am not home when people I know call. So having the tables turned terrifies me. Doing the repeatedly for 3 hours until every registered voter in a neighborhood has had their door knocked upon - Hell. Then factor in the elements of the weather and the sheer physical exertion (it is like hiking all day, only instead of fauna and flora, you are surrounded by paved suburbia and people who hate you for bothering them.)
Sure - I get a high from canvassing, meeting really interesting people, having really strange conversations, feeling fierce and empowered and bold and like I can face anything. Most masochists get some kind of high from the pain inflicted upon them. But honestly, I think I'd still get that high if I could be wheeled around a precinct in a little red wagon instead of pounding the sidewalk, or if everyone on my walk-sheet invited me in for cookies and milk instead of slamming the door in my face.
I knocked on the door of a famous reporter. He couldn't tell me who he was voting for, understandably, but did thank me for getting involved and encouraged me and wished me luck.
I knocked on the door of a woman who said she'd vote for X if he took her on a date. She was married.
I knocked on a door covered with live spiders.
I knocked on the Home Alone door, or 3 homes that look just like the Home Alone house. Had to be one of them.
I knocked on the door of a woman who just lost her husband, who wasn't interested in politics, but needed someone to talk to, and in the end, turned out to be interested in politics after all.
I knocked on the door of a Russian Jew who wanted to know where he could register to vote.
I knocked on the door of someone who was clearly hiding from someone who wasn't me.
I knocked on the door of an 82 yr old woman who had voted Republican all her life but planned to vote Democratic this year.
I still hurt. I'm going to end up ODing on Aleve in the name of Democracy. Who says you have to join the army in order to die defending your nation?
Al Capone, getting out the vote.
Not long ago, we used to poke fun at our not-quite-so-democratic politics in Chicago by employing the phrase, "Vote early and Vote often!" along with "I'm taking off the day to GOTV - I've been assigned to the Graceland Cemetery precinct!" The whole idea was the early voting was sketchy. You know. Corrupt. Wrong. Stuff of flappers and gangsters and machine pols and patronage. We don't mind it. So long as it is contained within Cook County. But we warn you, Don't try this at home kids. Not unless you are being supervised by an experienced professional, like Vladimir V. Putin or Richard M. Daley.
Americans have found ourselves faced with the realization that many people don't have the ability to vote on Election Day because they have to work, or can't stand in line with babies for three hours, or maybe it is just not convenient for our convenience-obsessed citizens who have had it rammed into their psyches that anything annoying should be opposed on the grounds that annoyances undermine our God-given right to not be annoyed. Or maybe we all just subconsciously associate long lines with the Great Depression and Communist Russia, so we avoid them, knowing there can be no happiness at the other end. Anyway, everyone decided people needed a better way to ensure that everyone could vote. Because everyone needs to vote. Because otherwise you get George W. Freaking Bush. It took us a few centuries, but we're starting to realize that voter disenfranchisement has real-life consequences, and that maybe if we let the blacks and the poor vote, the right guy will win this time.
So, having identified a problem, we needed a solution. Did we make Election Day a holiday? Like Columbus Day? Or Presidents' Day? Or the 4th of July? Or the day after Thanksgiving Day?
They invented "early voting." Well, they didn't invent it - we did. They just legalized it. Now you can vote for President weeks before he or she is done campaigning. Now you can stand in long lines with your kids when you should be at work on your choice of several days before the election. Ok, fine. Not my ideal solution, but it's better than nothing, even if it is better on a very disturbing level. If it gets more people to vote - good. Fine. But did they stop there?
Now one is explicitly, repeatedly, told NOT to vote on Election Day!!! Can you imagine? We are told there is no excuse to wait that long. Anyone who votes on the actual date set aside in our Constitution for voting is clearly a procrastinator and a loser who is maybe one rung above those idiots who took out adjustable rate mortgages on the ladder of people who will be blamed for everything when it goes wrong. Because if you are voting on Election Day, it means your are standing in line doing your civic duty and making your voice heard instead of phone banking and flyering and poll-watching for the candidate who is going to save the world but needs every little vote to do it.
Of course, if you wait until 6pm Nov. 4th to vote for the candidate who is going to save the world, just barely making to the polling place before they lock the doors because you've made no effort to locate your polling place until 6pm on Election Day, you are a hero! Your vote might have made the difference! You personally made all that phone banking and flyering and poll-watching worth it and saved the civilized world! But if you woke up like a normal person at 7am, went to vote, and then spent the day phone banking and flyering and poll-watching, you will be responsible for any loss. You just hope your candidate doesn't embrace Capone's methods of revenge as eagerly as he or she embraces Capone's voting philosophy.
Sure - your candidate would never do anything to break the law. Of course. But right now if you are planning to vote on Election Day like a normal person, you may want to Google "Witness Protection Program" after you are done looking up your polling place.
You: "Ok. So let me get this straight. Democracy is ugly, depressing, unhealthy, excruciating, unfair, illogical and thankless and provides no guarantee that someone of the caliber of George W. Bush or Sarah Palin will be kept out of the White House.
Why? Why are you doing this? Mental illness? Desperate for social contact? Sisyphean masochism? Stupid American who can't see how you're being a tool?"
Me: "Well, it certainly is hell. And insane. And maybe even an epic squandering of time, energy and money. But I've found, as I look back through my life, and through the annals of human history, the most consequential, worthwhile, satisfying and generally most excellently fabulous periods have been a bit gory and mad and excessive. And hard.
That, and I have nothing better to do at the moment than try to change the world."
Ok, mes amis, thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend while we Americans are out schlepping across the swing states.
Wish us luck!