Monday, November 10, 2008


We were told to park at the international headquarters of Mack Trucks on Mack Boulevard. This was across the street from the UAW hall where the Obama campaign had set up tables in the parking lot, which in fact was only half-filled. We later learned that this was by design: They wanted people driving by to think that volunteers might still be needed, and so be tempted to stop and lend a hand. And so we found a space behind a row of gleaming new Mack tractors, and it felt good and fitting to have this brand - powerful, workmanlike, essentially American - quietly on our side.

There was a big bulldog on the wall of the headquarters and it lit up at night.

At the volunteer station there were hundreds of sandwiches in boxes on a table: ham and cheese, turkey and cheese, roast beef and cheese. Shrinkwrapped twelve-packs of bottled water. The utilitarian in abundance. Victuals, like those of a well-supplied resistance movement in wartime. I took a turkey sandwich and, along with about a dozen others, almost unthinkingly gravitated toward one of the organizers, a heavyset man named John. He thanked us and told us what we were out there to do: Get people to vote. We know we have the vote here, we know the polls support us. All we have to do is make sure people vote. And what if we see McCain supporters, or McCain volunteers? We don't want any arguments, we don't want any fights. Tell them have a nice day. Remember: This is their sad day. No need to make it worse.

They armed us with flyers and doorhangers and a map with our territory marked in Hi-Liter, and we went back across Mack and up the hill to the car. Our destination was a street of decrepit, broken-down rowhouses with peeling paint and cracks in the floors of porches. We saw two older white men and asked them what we'd been asked to ask everyone: Did you vote? Their manner was dismissive and ambiguous: It was unclear whether they had voted, or whether they were going to. One of them said, "I always vote." They seemed to support Obama, but maybe not. They were union guys, working guys. Lifelong Democrats. They indicated that everyone in the neighborhood was voting Obama. "Big surprise," one said, rolling his eyes. I knew at that moment that this was not strictly a poor white neighborhood.

For two hours we knocked on doors, then went back to get more maps and knocked for three hours more. Often there was no one home when we knocked, or maybe they didn't want to answer. Can't really blame them I suppose. Once I knocked on a screen door and could see straight down a debris-strewn hallway and into the kitchen, where a figure stood facing the other way. I knocked again. The figure remained, impassive, for a few more seconds then walked out of my sight at that deliberate pace with which we all move when we're in our homes and we know that we're alone.

"There's someone in there and they're ignoring me," I said to Sara, who was at the neighboring door.

"C'est la vie," she said.

Sometimes maybe the place was abandoned or condemned. Sometimes it was hard to say. I hesitated to knock on one door because it was so starkly forbidding that I was certain no one had lived there for months or maybe years. But it opened and a black face peered at me from the darkness.

"Did you vote?"

"Oh yes! Obama!"

Again and again, people told us they had already voted for Obama, or were about to go out and vote for Obama, or were waiting for their wives or boyfriends to get back home so they could both go vote for Obama. The day took on an air of celebration. People hooted at us from their cars, from across the street:


"Obama baby!"

"Obama, Obama, Obama!"

A big, gruff, white biker type: Already voted, Obama. A white kid, dressed black in a bandanna, gold chain and oversize jeans: Obama. A middle-aged Hispanic couple: Just came back from voting Obama.

We met a fat, young white guy in a death metal T-shirt, arms covered in tattoos. He wanted Obama pins so I gave him mine. He'd voted but we urged him to tell other people to vote, his friends, anyone. A small woman who barely spoke English walked up and asked for directions to the polls and he told her.

We chatted with a middle-aged black woman who had just come back from voting.

"He better win. If he don' win there's gonna be..."


"There's gonna be riots, that's for sure."

"I think he's gonna win."

"I sure do hope so, I sure hope so. Thing is, somebody's gonna try to, you know, go after him."

"I know. I think, I really think he's going to be well protected."

"I sure do hope so."

As people walked by she shouted out, "You vote yet, honey?"


A white woman told us she wasn't registered to vote and seemed particularly jaded about this particular cycle. I tried to make the case for Obama anyway, lamely alluding to his tax breaks for the middle class.

"He's working for middle class people, working people," I said. I was afraid to say the word "poor."

"Middle class people? What about poor people like me?"

"Poor people too!"

She mentioned that she's a nurse and all her black coworkers are voting for Obama. Her eyes rolled like the other man's. She was a bit begrudging, almost like she didn't want black people to get a president. That somehow they'd capitalize on the situation and live the Life of Riley, undeservedly. Then her daughter and her daughter's friend came down the street and suddenly she brightened:

"My little girl loves Barack! She and her friend, they made T-shirts of him and wore 'em to school!"

She was glowing with pride, evidently immune to irony. I took a picture of her daughter (who, interestingly, looks a bit Hispanic) and one of her daughter's friend in their homemade Obama T-shirts, each one covered with the signatures of dozens of other kids like them.