commentary
Nov. 2, 2004

 

Knock, knock, who's there
by Rhiannon Ross

I now know what it feels like to be a Jehovah Witness, an Encyclopedia Britannica sales rep, a Kirby Vacuum Cleaner demonstrator, and the Avon lady.

For the past six weekends, I've been canvassing precincts 10 and 12 in Grandview, MO, as a volunteer for the 527 political action committee, America Coming Together (ACT), in its nationwide Get Out the Vote initiative.

I'm just one of many Kansans who crossed state line to help galvanize progressive voters in this key battleground state. Precinct 10 specifically has been touted as a microcosm on how the country will vote in the presidential election. 'Tis said, "As goes Missouri, goes the country." Missouri has correctly chosen the president of the United States in all but one election.

Farmhouses, Cape Cods, ranches and split-level homes share the same blocks in this working class neighborhood. Well-manicured and neglected lawns alike exhibit competing, political yard signs. Giant trees boast bright yellow ribbons. Cheers and groans were heard through screen doors on Sunday afternoons when the Kansas City Chiefs were playing. And a chorus of dogs announced our arrival, some eager to see us and others growling much like some owners would upon learning why we were knocking on their doors.

Our goal in the beginning was to register new voters (and yes, we submitted all registration forms collected by the Oct. 5 deadline) and identify which candidate voters were most likely to vote for. We would later focus on getting voters to the polls, through targeted literature drops and follow-up phone calls.

Unlike ACT staff, volunteers could wear any politically identifying garb we wished, but for the most part, we chose not to. We wanted to encourage people to talk about the issues, not slam doors in our faces (which happened only once).

We didn't tell people who to vote for but we did ask them what issues were of most importance to them.

These included the war, the economy, health care, education and social security. And we asked them if they knew which candidate best supported what they believed.

What was most consistent about the voters in Grandview precincts 10 and 12 were how inconsistent they were with our preconceived notions on how we thought they would vote.

A voter displaying an American flag in his window was a Democrat who called Bush "a wiener." A 2000 Nader voter was leaning toward voting for Bush. A Libertarian was debating on whether or not she should stay with her party or vote for Kerry just to get rid of Bush. And not all African Americans are voting for Kerry.

My canvassing partner — a retired, Johnson County minister and staunch Democrat who sometimes wore a "People of Faith for Kerry" button — commented, "Republicans don't have a monopoly on patriotism or religion." Her station wagon displayed stickers promoting "Kerry/Edwards" and "Support our troops."

What was perhaps most baffling to us were the significant number of people who told us they were leaning toward Bush but when asked what issues were important to them would espouse the Democratic political agenda. But we also met Republicans voting for Kerry…this time around.

As was expected, the war dominated much of people's thoughts, ranging from full support to outright anger for being dragged into a war on false pretenses. Many said they were hesitant to change presidents in the middle of a war.

Abortion was the sole defining issue for some women, black and white, trumping all other concerns from national security to education. A Caucasian woman admitted she did not like Bush or his policies but would vote for him anyway because he was anti-abortion. An African American woman said she would also vote for Bush for this same reason.

Unbelievably, there were several young women who declared not only were they unregistered voters, but they had no desire to vote. The reason given every time was "I don't follow politics." My Susan B. Anthony speech fell on deaf ears.

We met other non-voters who said they saw no differences between the two parties, who believed that their vote would make no difference either way. And we met ex-felons and aliens unable to vote.

It was difficult to comprehend the rationale of some, such as the young father of two small children that said that he was voting for Bush because he didn't want tax cuts rescinded for the wealthy. Although he lived in a modest home, he said that he wished to protect the wealth he might someday earn. This comment prompted a canvasser later to quote a line from the musical "1776": "Most people would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than accept the reality of being poor."

It was easy to sense when we were in unwelcome territory. After one particularly long stretch of mostly Republican households, where people politely but firmly refused to speak with us (although some seemed to regard us as if we were marked with the "666"), we encountered a woman who greeted us halfway down her driveway.

"Are you for Kerry?" she boomed. She wore a "Women in the Wind" biker's T-shirt. Her motorcycle was parked in clear view. I suddenly felt like Simon Peter must have when the Roman soldier asked him if he knew Jesus Christ. But unlike this disciple, I answered, albeit in a small voice, "yes."

"Good!" she said and requested yard signs so she could compete with her more conservative neighbors.

On another block, a family raking eyed us suspiciously as we approached. When we asked to speak to the owner of the home, a woman demanded, "How did you get my name?" We informed her that we had copies of the voter rolls, all a matter of public record.

"Well, I never knew that when I registered that people would be showing up at my door." she snapped angrily.

However, once she learned we weren't stumping for Bush, she relaxed. "Oh, I thought you guys were Republicans. They can be pretty slick."

It did concern us that we could pass for Republicans.

The economy was another strong issue. One woman informed us, leaning over her fence, that there are plenty of jobs if people wanted them. And she and her husband are working several of them, at around $7 an hour.

Health care turned out to be a huge issue for both the elderly and parents. One weary father told us he didn't plan to vote because he didn't care about politics, there were no issues of importance to him, and he was working two jobs and didn't have time to make it to the polls anyway. We informed him that legally his employer had to allow him up to two hours off with pay to vote. He scoffed, "That's not going to happen."

It was only when his preschool-aged daughter joined us on the porch, her mouth stained red from eating candied tamales, that he admitted, "I would like to get health care coverage for my kids." Weeks later, we learned that he plans to vote.

In our six weeks of canvassing Grandview, we witnessed subtle and dramatic changes. Full trees shed their colorful leaves. The earth revolved further from the sun. Daylight Savings Time ended. And many previously undecided voters, at long last, made a choice for the candidate they wanted to be the president of the United States.

Rhiannon Ross lives in Kansas. She can be contacted at Rhiannross@aol.com or publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.

 


              
              
                 

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