Primary Day in New Hampshire

I come late to being passionate about politics – I don’t know that I can blame it all on not being an American citizen until last Spring, but it’s become obvious that there are a lot of pressing issues facing the country and this is my time to do a little something to make a difference. I’ve had a soft spot for Obama since his great 2004 speech at the DNC, and I gave some money after reading an article from the Atlantic (previous mentioned here ) and then some more for a ticket to see Obama in Boston soon thereafter. Being at this rally touched me more than I expected; I got a little teary eyed at the national anthem and then Obama’s speech made me ready to run off to New Hampshire.

So we did; one day in December we worked the phones in Concord, and then again on Tuesday we joined a few hundred others from the Boston area to drive up to New Hampshire to get out the vote for Barack Obama in the democratic primary. It was a long but great day.

Below is my very long account of the day with a few pictures here and there.

Pre-dawn rendezvous

6:30 AM – We join the mass of people huddled in the pre-dawn darkness outside Alewife T station to join carpools and get directions. After some time on organization, the group shrinks as people are dispatched northward a car load at a time. Crucial to the driver-passenger matchup process is willingness to go to the rally in Nashua at the end of the day. Fortunately for the volunteers from the Boston area, Nashua is on the way home, right on the border with Massachusetts.

7:00 AM – I’m driving to Concord, about 70 miles north with Kristi and our companions for the day, Cole and Andy. Cole is an undergrad at Emerson, and Andy works in technology but remains something of an enigma. Kristi and I have already been to Concord a couple of weeks prior, so we don’t have to learn how bad the google maps directions are in this case again.

Visibility

8:15 AM – Arrive in Concord. I slip on a still-frozen curb cut, twist my ankle and fall. I see my day of volunteering cut tragically short, but fortunately I’m still able to walk. We head over to the Obama for America office and join the swarm of volunteers. After a short time we’re handed some Obama signs and told to go and do “visibility”, that is to stand on a street corner and wave the signs around. We’re sent to a certain corner, and told to return at 9.
Visibility is kind of fun – the corner we’re at has supporters from most of the candidates, and people drive by honking, waving and yelling to their favorite supporters.

9:00 AM – Back at the office, drinking one of the donated smoothies that were staying cold in a pile of snow outside. Although the day will top out in the high 50s, there is still lots of snow around New Hampshire, lots more than in the Boston area. At this point volunteers are being assigned to staging centers in the towns around Concord that will be our home bases for the day. We’re assigned to the town of Bow, just south of Concord

10:00 AM – Arrive at a house in Bow – this host family has opened their home for 5 days as the town’s base for Obama supporters participating in get out the vote (GOTV) operations. The hosts are great people, and they keep the scores of volunteers that traipse in and out well fed and watered. We are directed to a dining(war?) room where some people are working the phones. We’re given two sets of “turf” consisting of lists of names and address (“walk lists”) of likely Obama supporters that we are to visit and remind to vote, along with door hangers (“lit”) with some information including the address of the local polling place.

10:30 AM – We attempt to organize the walk lists into chunks that make sense to split up among the four of us (clearly some room for improvement in walk-list visualization tools), and then I drop everyone off at various locations and park my car halfway in a snowbank in a residential street. (There’s lots of snow).
Now the fun begins. First, live free or die apparently includes freedom from a house numbering scheme that makes sense. Some mailboxes and most houses are missing numbers, the mailboxes are in clusters by the side of the road, and the odd and even sides of the street have curiously offset numbers. Second, the houses are pretty far apart, and then as far again back from the road. I wonder again and again if anyone has ever done a study on drive way length versus the intensity of the feeling that you’re trespassing and will get chastised for being in someone’s yard?
Turns out almost no one is home (it’s a nice neighborhood in the middle of a workday, imagine that!). There are a few instances where I think someone might be home and chooses not to answer the door, which is understandable considering how many times these people have been called and had their doors knocked over the previous months. People here seem nicer in general than in Boston, but clearly there’s a lot of primary fatigue and people are getting fed up. Someone even calls the cops because of all the people walking through neighborhoods that clearly never see walkers – Kristi is asked if she’s with the Obama canvassers by an officer, and another Obama canvasser is detained while his ID is run.
After a group trip to the Bow community center (where the polls are) for a bathroom break, we finish up. At the center, I notice a sample ballot on the wall, and there are a LOT of people on the democratic presidential ballot, more than twice as many as you might expect. Check it out

12:30 PM – We’re back at Bow-HQ filling up on Turkey Chilli, White Bean soup and Turkey sandwiches.

1:00 PM – Doing visibility at the Bow community center where polling is taking place. The local selectman comes out and tells all the supporters that vote counts at that point in the day have already exceeded the full-day totals from the previous primary. A Huckabee supporter engages Kristi to ask why she supports Obama while a Clinton-supporter’s kid plays in the melting snow.

2:30 PM – Back at the house, waiting for the go-ahead to head out and re-canvass our route so we’re talking to our fellow volunteers about this and that; a lawyer talks about the questionable legality of being asked for identification by the police for walking through a neighborhood.

3:30 PM – Headed out to canvass again – it will be great walking on unlit roads with no sidewalks to ask for votes! We should have brought flashlights or safety vests. Lots of people still aren’t home from work yet. I see one guy on my route, and he’s voted Obama – the rest of the houses still have my door hangers where I left them.

6:00 PM – The polls close in an hour, so we call it a day and head back to hand in our walk lists. Now the discussion begins – will we go to Nashua for the Obama rally to close out the day? The word is that all the tickets are gone. We head south and make calls to the Obama hotline to find out more information and get directions. The rally is at a high school gymnasium.

7:00 PM – We get to Nashua South High School (go panthers!) where there are lots of cars and lines of people. There’s a couple of lines of ticket holders and then the line of people with no tickets which we join after some deliberation.

Waiting outside

8:00 PM – We’re still in line, no lines have moved. Is it worth it to stay? I reason that it’ll probably our last chance to see Obama in person, but at that point the day feels like its been a week long. At least it’s not very cold out. Some pigs from PETA visit the captive audience, along with some enterprising vendors selling (counterfeit?) Obama merchandise.

Kristi and James

8:45 PM – We’ve made it into the gym now, it seems they’ve let more people in than originally estimated. There’s a screen set up with MSNBC on so we can watch the returns trickle in, and trickle they do. The race is, as we all know now, unexpectedly close and no winner is declared until much later. The crowd cheers every time the couple thousand vote gap between Clinton and Obama shrinks, and is silent when it grows. Its easy to think of it as a race at this point, as if momentum on closing the vote gap is more real than just the random order in which towns are reporting.

9:45 PM – still waiting. At this point people are coming and going, fetching books and newspapers to pass the time. Kristi and I find a place near a wall to sit. The republican race has been called for a long time now, and we’ve seen all the speeches.

10:30 PM – Networks start to call the race for Clinton, and soon Obama aides are distributing signs for the faithful to wave

10:45 PM – Some local congress-folk are up to introduce Obama, and then there he is. The speech is good, but due to tv lights directly behind him looking at him is like peering into the sun. “Yes we can!” The tingles I get when Obama speaks are muted a bit by fatigue, but its great to be here as a bookend to our time in New Hampshire.

12:00 AM- After a surprisingly fast exit from the parking lot, we’re back at the Alewife T station, where the day began, bidding farewell to Cole and Andy, and on our way home to bed.

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