As we close out this election cycle (and as the really hard work begins), I wanted to relate a short story. My wife and I have been working at the local Obama headquarters in Shaker Square (Ohio) in a variety of ways, and I had a role early in the day tabulating those who had voted by 11am (when the list is posted) to see who still needed to be contacted. But when we got back to the headquarters in the early afternoon, one of the volunteers gave us a name and address and phone number, saying that this woman had contacted them to ask for a ride. We looked up the voter's information to be sure of her precinct polling location, and saw that she was 32 years old, and that her polling location was only a few blocks from her house, so we were not quite sure why she might need a ride, but figured if she had called, we should go. The address wasn't in Shaker Heights, our integrated but fairly well off suburb, but rather in Cleveland in an area we didn't know well. We hopped in the car and took off after printing our directions from Google maps.
As we drove into poorer and poorer areas of Cleveland, we nervously joked about what we might find, and whether we were entirely safe. Even the nervous jokes ended as we passed more and more boarded up houses (Cleveland has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation and a declining population, so there are quite a few boarded up houses), and finally turned onto the street where the lady lived. Her house was small and dilapidated, set back from the road and squeezed in between a couple of others, one boarded up. And right in front of her house was an ambulance with lights flashing. My wife and I looked at each other, and came to the probably cowardly decision to call the woman rather than go knock on the door. We were a bit afraid of what we might find.
After a few rings, the woman answered and said that she would be right out. She assured us that the ambulance was for the house next door. She came out to the car, walking with some difficulty. She was a young African-American woman, fairly heavy set, and she walked as if in a certain amount of pain. She got into the car and we introduced ourselves. She chatted cheerfully as we drove to the polling place, telling us about her children at home (ages 9, 7, 6, 2 and 1). When my wife remarked that she must have her hands full, she told us how her mom and sister helped out. We got to the polling place, which fortunately did not have a long line, and we told her we would wait outside until she voted.
The polling place was in a Catholic church, and we whiled away the time watching the voters come and go, chatting with a nun who came by, and feeling a bit like we had entered a different world. As some people came out of the polling place, you could practically see the pride bursting forth and we applauded, to which one exclaimed "That was my first time voting!" I have to say, it was very moving.
Finally, after a while due to the very long ballot, the woman came back out, and smiled with some relief to see that we were still there. We drove her home, and she told us it was the first time she had ever voted. It seemed like it wasn't so much that she was able to vote for a black man, although that was clearly powerful for her, but that for the first time in her life she felt it was actually possible that her vote would make a difference, that it would matter who was elected, and that a President might understand and care about her and her children.
One voter. One voter with the courage to call and ask for help and the conviction to register and vote for the first time in her life. After all the effort and energy and donations and canvassing and door hangers, I think I'll remember this election for her. Because of her (and others like her), Barack Obama carried Ohio. Because of Ohio (and others like it), Barack Obama carried the election.
Because of one voter.
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