“My moments in Denver were coming to an end, I could feel it when I walked her home, on the way back I stretched out on the grass of an old church with a bunch of hobos, and their talk made me want to get back on that road.”
– Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”
During the primaries, Kathy Archuleta supported Hillary Clinton. The former Chief of Staff to Transportation Secretary Federico Peña, Archuleta is now a Latina Advisory team member for Barack Obama. Along with three other women, she has organized an impressive women-to-women outreach program aimed at adding 10,000 undecided and/or least-likely women voters to vote for Obama.
In just two and a half weeks, Archuleta’s effort has coordinated a 1,000-strong-and-growing group. The goal for each member is to get at least eight women to vote for Obama who probably would not have voted otherwise. Among the group’s ranks, Archuleta counted 100 women in Colorado Springs, 100 in Vail, 100 in Evergreen, 50 in Pueblo, and 250-400 in the Denver area who would be counted on for this targeted outreach.
“First, you’re a Democrat,” said Archuleta. We caught up with her at the Adams County Thornton office just north of Denver, she was busy explaining to twenty women the program’s goals and planning for a large local event tonight.
The key to the story is that the campaign gives these groups the tools to communicate with voters but the creative ground for generating voter-to-voter outreach is left to volunteers. Stay consistent with the campaign’s overall goals of voter contact and neighbor-to-neighbor outreach, and you get great freedom to build a grassroots action plan. That type of ownership not only generates greater commitment to the plan, but it has greater potential to stay in existence after the election.
We stopped in the nearby McCain office in Thornton, and an organizer and several volunteers made dials. While they were diligently going about the tasks of voter contact, the scale is dramatically different. Moments after we saw three dialers in the McCain office, we counted 40 volunteers in the Obama office down the street.
For those who wonder about our access to field offices, we had our first strange and uncomfortable situation of the trip that underscores how friendly and helpful everyone on both sides has generally been. Brad, a full-time volunteer at Obama’s Arvada office who identified himself as an staff organizer (who cannot be quoted or give us anything for the record), physically barred us from going into the office. “No, you’re not,” an openly hostile Brad said, when we suggested we’d just like to look around and check out the action. Apparently he was terrified of being quoted in the press, something we never do for staff, but are allowed to do with volunteers.
But this strange incident just illustrates what an anomaly it is to be given the cold shoulder and how grateful we are for being allowed to tell this story in real time by interviewing volunteers and take pictures in these offices. Many offices are bustling with activity, and even when an office is relatively empty and quiet, or when, for example, a McCain office isn’t sure who we are, they quickly realize we’re there to tell their story, even as we cannot talk to staff. Nobody who gets into field organizing does it for the money. And certainly not for the healthy lifestyle. Whether staff is working for Democratic candidates or Republican ones, they’re pushing themselves to physical limits because they believe in what they’re doing. Direct action demands respect.
Many people have been asking about issues around the purging of voters from the rolls in various states, Colorado being a prime example. We hope to bring you more in-depth discussion of voter protection issues as we travel, and we’ve had several off-the-record conversations with campaign staff about those potential problems. We can report that Obama’s Voter Protection program, which has been actively soliciting local attorneys with civil rights experience, is fully on the case, much earlier than previous campaigns. In many instances, there are still negotiations going on with election officials where agreements in writing are being hammered out. Those party and campaign-negotiated agreements are much preferred to the injunction route to making sure voters have enough access, enough ballots, enough voting machines so that lines are as short as possible.
For the most part, we’re covering the ground game that organizers can control, and the voter protection issues are mostly handled by state and national directors. Our eye is on it, but more in depth coverage will come closer to the election.
Our journeys along the Front Range taught us that John McCain’s ground game is plugging along and going about its normal, highly targeted plan of action. Nearly all its 11 open field offices are on the Front Range, and Sarah Palin has clearly energized the volunteer base.
Steph Lindsey, a volunteer in Obama’s Denver HQ, respects what she’s seen from Republicans and their ground efforts. “Their machine works really well.” Then she looked around a full seventh-floor army of volunteers and smiled radiantly.
“It’s just that now there’s a new machine.”