What follows are first hand experiences volunteering for the Obama campaign for the last 5 days of the election in Washoe County, NV. After hosting a number of phone banks, and giving money, I decided to go to Reno from San Francisco where I live to help for the election as I did in 2008. This year I went earlier, and organized about a dozen other friends to go with me. We alternately called ourselves the "California Away Team" or sarcastically, "The gay loving communist hippies for Obama".
With about 5 days to go, small waves of my circle of friends starting leaving for Reno the Friday before the election. Here, in no particular order, are some of our most terrifying and memorable experiences.
One final note: apart from the incidences of bullying and threats of violence, we saw very few Obama yard signs, and one that had clear evidence of being set on fire.
Seeing intimidation and violence used in this manner in a supposedly modern democracy really pisses me off. I shall be returning to Washoe County (where we went blue by 6,000 votes) every four years to make sure those thugs don't get their way in the future.
These are all in the first-person since my crew submitted them to me in email.
The "civil war" neighbors
We were assigned to a staging area in southern Washoe County. A nice little subdivision with a home from an Obama supporter....surrounded by Romney supporters. They became openly hostile to the Obama supporter, despite them going to great lengths to make sure they were never inconvenienced by additional cars coming to the house (we had to park on the next street and walk in). Of course ,their Obama yard signs were continually and nakedly stolen or vandalized.
At one point the Obama supporter said her immediate neighbor announced that if Obama won there would be a civil war, and that he'd saved up enough food and water for 6 months and had lots of guns. She said it was a very threatening conversation.
I checked in with them a few days after the election and they said nobody in the cul-de-sac was speaking to them at all. And they were ok with that.
The dog owners
I was canvassing and came upon a house with a gate. I didn't see a beware of dog sign, so I entered. It looked empty, so I went to the door, rang the bell, and left some literature with a note to the 2 women in the house on the Obama voter list. Then some dogs came out from a rear door and one bit me. Then the husband came out and, instead of calling the dog off, let them continue biting me while asking me why I was there. Even after I asked him to call them off he let them bite me. He finally heeled them, but first he told me to leave.
I heard 3 other stories of Obama volunteer dog bites by Election Day.
The St. Mary's ER
I went to St. Mary's ER to get my dog bite treated. The triage nurse said I was the second Obama volunteer bitten by a dog in the ER today. However the admitting staffer was an infrequent Obama voter who said she was hoping to vote on Wednesday. She didn't realize the election would be over!
She said the election was important to her because, as a catholic hospital, their staff health insurance hasn't historically covered birth control.
With the last 4% of battery on my phone in the ER (and my open wound), I looked up her voter registration, found her polling place, and made sure she knew to go before work, since she worked past poll-closing time. I felt confident I had added one voter to our rolls.
The yellow ribbon visit
We had one voter prospect whose car was covered in yellow ribbons and support the troops stickers. I asked her if she'd voted and she enthusiastically said she had already voted for Obama. I said, "support the troops, go Obama!" And she gave me a big smile.
Rebellion at the McMansion
We knocked on the door or a mini-McMansion in an upscale neighborhood looking for a 20 yr old young man. He opened the door, and quickly stepped outside and pulled the door closed behind him so his parents wouldn't hear that he was an Obama supporter.
Voter education by proxy
I asked a woman cleaning the bathrooms at the pool, who was from Puerto Rico (I believe-can't remember exactly) if she had voted. She told me that she could not vote but her daughter was going to on election day. I asked if Obama had her support and she said "why would you support the black guy" ey ey ey. After a 10 min. discussion in very basic English (as she did not speak that well) she gave me a hug, thanked me, and told me she would encourage her daughter to vote Obama.
We never stopped, even in the hotel
The mention of the name "Romney" evoked a wonderful eyeroll from a member of the housekeeping staff at our hotel. "We're all voting for Obama" she said.
Even at the hotel diner
We had breakfast every day at the hotel's diner, where a sweet old lady saw us one day and whispered, "thanks for what you're doing. I can't say that too loud or I'll lose my job. Do you have any stickers?" We didn't, but we promised to bring them back. "Put them in a plain envelope and don't give them to anyone else or I'll get in trouble." We did, of course.
In N' Out
We stopped for lunch at an In n Out burger. The cashier saw my stickers and whispered, "Thank you for what you're doing!"
"Are you voting tomorrow?"
"I don't know where to vote."
"Give me your last name and date of birth and I'll look it up." (My god, she gave a stranger her DOB?!)
She slipped me a piece of paper with her last name and birthdate on it, and I looked up her registration and wrote her polling place on the back and slipped it back to her quietly. "Thank you", she mouthed silently to me.
Cloudy with a chance of eggs
On election day I had a canvassing assignment and ended up meeting lots of people that had already voted. I went to one neighborhood with a lot of Romney signs. I got out and the mom and her 2 daughters answered. I confirmed she'd already voted, and then I got to the big question, "Do you mind if I asked if you supported the President?"
She looked around and said "Yes, but don't tell anyone, we don't want to get our house egged." She was totally serious.
Security guards in a golf cart
One day one of our sub-groups got canvassing territory that included a lower income apartment building with names but no apartment numbers. While our team member was trying to figure out which apt. her voter lived in, a golf cart with 2 guards rolled up. "What are you doing here?" "I'm canvassing for President Obama."
"Oh, ok. If you were from Romney we'd have to run you off."