October 19, 2008

A few weeks ago I drove down to Germantown, a northern suburb of Philadelphia, with my friend Fedah to canvass for Obama. The makeshift Obama headquarters was housed in a derelict building along with an addiction treatment center for the homeless and drug addled who sidling along zombie-like asking for handouts. I was surprised at the deplorable conditions of a political field office, but appreciated the DIY ethos of the place with volunteers bringing everything from coffee to sugar to toilet paper.

The neighborhood we canvassed was poor, African American, and appreciative of our efforts. I was heartened to see that almost everyone we talked to was not only registered, but had followed the debates attentively and seemed eager to discuss meaningful issues or complain about the current administration. In fact, after six hours of canvassing, we only managed to register nine people (apparently, a decent number for this kind of work). Many looked at us as if we were out of our minds after asking if they were voting for Obama and even inspired some sarcastic responses and sardonic looks: "Hell no, I'm voting Republican". A couple of our registrees, although over 18, were illiterate and we had to fill out their voter registration for them. Others had relatives in jail or recently released who didn't realize they still had the right to vote despite their incarceration.

I was surprised at a number of women wearing nothing but long shirts over underwear standing unabashedly at the door passionately endorsing Obama. One woman told us of a dream she had where she attacked one of Hillary's advisors and the ensuring stress of trying to negotiate her way out of prison time. In another moment, I stopped two women on the street to ask if they were registered to vote. Both answering in the affirmative, one of the women asked me if I could spare 15 cents. I reached into my pocket for a quarter.

"I'll do you one better," I said handing her the quarter. She looked at me surprised and smiled.

"Can I give you a hug?"

"Sure," I smiled. She reached up and put her arms around my shoulders tenderly kissing me on my neck.

It was a beautiful moment that transcended racial and economic differences. We may soon have an African American for president. And a lot of needed social change.