Setting Up The Chairs

For my adult life I thought of myself as a passionate political partisan. That was not really true. I worked on George McGovern’s campaign. I applauded Jimmy Carter and was appalled by the extremes that Ronnie The Traitor Raygun would go to get elected. I enjoyed the many dirty scandals that dogged the Raygunners, stood on the sidelines and hissed. But I had to hold my nose to vote for Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis. Bill Clinton at first blush was a hillbilly disco king, his running mate an enemy of the first amendment. But I was unemployed (like a lot of people in that economy) never liked GHW Busch and so I warmed to the ticket. It was all we had. I never campaigned for any of them.

Sometime at the height of the Whitewater mess I sat up and paid attention. I read an “indepth” report in Newsweek that was all innuendo, no facts. All unidentified sources and bullshit. These jackels had made the disco king into a mob boss, and the press was buying it without a second look. It went downhill from there. Al Gore’s loss stunned me. The success of swift boating amazed me. I gave money to Kerry. Americans WERE morons. Busch was a continual embarrassment… and finally an endless source of humor. That was his highest value.

Funny how I started getting the idea that it was my fault. Something my daddy told me one election night when he took me and my brother to the county courthouse to watch the election returns come in. “Politics starts with setting up chairs at the committee meeting,” he said, “Somebody has to do it.”

So I went to Pennsylvania. I would have gone anyplace, but the Obama campaign office sent me to Erie County, and when they learned I had ties there, assigned me to the Edinboro office. Edinboro was one of two Erie County offices. The other was in the city. Edinboro is home to my undergraduate Alma Mater and to Brady’s grandmother, who provided me with lodgings. The office had some paid staff, a young woman who joined the campaign in Montana in April… and some unpaid staff… a lawyer from West Chester, NY who took the Obama Leadership training program and committed to five weeks, no days off, no pay. They started with a nucleus of town people and students who had already set up an office and launched a campaign. Every weekend new volunteers came in from New York and even Canada. They had a voter registration drive, knocked on doors, made phone calls, knocked on doors and made phone calls. I knocked on doors and made phone calls. They set up a Get Out the Vote network, knocked on doors, made phone calls, made it happen. It was tedious and boring and necessary.

Friday night before the election I am in Edinboro’s little store front office. I have a stack of sheets of stickers with a nice picture of Barack Obama that say Vote November 4. I am one of three people who are cutting them out and putting them into a box. I am using a little pair of scissors that hurt my hand. Someone asks:

“What are you doing that for?”
“I don’t know,”: I said. “Georgia (the office manager) asked for them.”
“How many will you do?” I am asked.
“As many as it takes to win,” I said.

And I meant it. If somebody told me I needed to cut up a million of those fucking stickers to ensure that our government is handed over to a decent, intelligent, competent person, I would stand there and cut fucking stickers until a million of them were done. No questions asked. I am finally putting up the chairs.

We celebrated victory Tuesday night with beer and Pizza over at Uncle Charlie’s. What a victory it was. Obama carried Erie County with 59.4 percent of the vote. One of our towns, Waterford, was reported to have had 90 percent turnout. The student precinct delivered a 1,000 vote margin to Obama. 75 percent of all the votes.

If organization and temperament is any test, Barack Obama is the best candidate of my lifetime, but in retrospect, there was not a Democrat I have voted for who was not head and shoulders above his Republican opposition. If they didn’t win, its because I was not working hard enough.
That won’t happen again.

2 thoughts on “Setting Up The Chairs”

  1. “Something my daddy told me one election night when he took me and my brother to the county courthouse to watch the election returns come in. ‘Politics starts with setting up chairs at the committee meeting,’ he said, ‘Somebody has to do it.'”

    My grandpa sure was one smart mofo.

    Good work in Erie, Papa! Yes, we did, and did we ever!

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