Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Experiences in Milwaukee

Our candidate didn't win. His defeat and the triumph of his opponent -- particularly this opponent -- portends a difficult period for our country in the immediate future. This we all know.

But if we ignore for the moment where we are and concentrate instead on what we all did these past few months -- the level of commitment that so many people showed for so long -- it may give us hope that the current defeat while serious is only temporary.

For the last few days of the campaign I was in Milwaukee. Milwaukee was the scene of a tremendous Get Out the Vote effort that was mirrored in several cities and towns across Wisconsin. Countless people from Illinois were involved and as Sharon Sikes points out, our efforts at least in Wisconsin were successful.

But what did it mean to Get Out the Vote in the final few days leading up to the election?

Field operations in Milwaukee were run out of a fairly large one-storey building on Hawley Road. The building however wasn't large enough to accommodate all the volunteers who showed up. So the Wisconsin people moved their operations to the parking lot outside. On Sunday and Monday, it started to rain. So the Wisconsin people set up a large tent like what you might see at a State Fair. Volunteers who showed up could get their canvassing packets or visibility material in the tent. Many volunteers were in the field till late in the evening -- there were "lit drops" towards the end at 8pm and even 11:30. The neighborhoods could be completely dark and it would be hard to tell through the darkness and rain (and occasional ambiguity of the maps), whether you were going down your designated street. As the rain continued throughout Monday only beginning to diminish towards the end of the day, it turned rather chilly. So the Wisconsin people set up a heater in one corner of the tent. Funding for these activities was adequate but never large. Over the weekend, money for food to feed the huge numbers of volunteers either beginning or ending their shift ran out. Someone contributed a hundred pizzas. Someone else contributed 500 sandwiches from Subway's. A woman brought in a large pot of pasta that she had prepared herself. We made do, depended on the generosity of the local people and there was always something to nibble on in between shifts.

None of this is to complain about the conditions. Just the opposite. There could have been a tornado ripping through the area and most of the volunteers I saw would have happily chained their legs to a fence and continued to hand out literature despite the heavy winds. That was the level of commitment that we had in Wisconsin leading up to the election.

That was also the level of commitment in countless other places in Illinois as well as in the Battleground states. Naturally when you put out such an effort, you'd like to see your guy win. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. But not every team no matter how good wins the game every year. What we had to do and what we succeeded in was to create the team that actually could win a game -- if not this year then the next. That's the unprecedented thing and what we'll hold on to until the next time round.


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