Obama Campaign: From The Bottom Up

Dateline: Thu 28 Feb 2008

CINCINNATI, In the run-up to Iowa's primary, 8,000 people volunteered to take a week off from their jobs to help Sen. Barack Obama's campaign.

Think of that. 8,000 people, ready to burn off a week's vacation, so a Chicago Democrat with a cosmic view can secure the nomination.

"We had so many people, we had to go through an interview process," says Dan in his matter of fact style, talking while pecking on his laptop. He's a young field organizer who joined Obama in New Hampshire. Now he's in the north side headquarters here.

This volunteer swell, a national wave, really, points to a fundamental philosophical difference between the campaigns of Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, Dan adds. Clinton, who is backed in Ohio by the governor and Sen. John Glenn, runs a top-down, centralized organization filled with party bosses.

Obama believes change comes from the bottom up. His is a grassroots, local campaign.

Hence, dozens of volunteers from the Queen City and a few beyond -- baby boomers, young professionals, working men and women, some bearing laptops -- pour into our office daily. We do data entry, answer phones, prepare packets for voter canvassing and make calls.

We're located in the model showroom basement of a design studio, an airy space filled with light, art, and our mess. The owner brings us fresh coffee in the morning and makes sure everything is running smoothly. She seems honored to have us here.

My job is to work the phones. I pour over voter registration lists, making dials, asking for support for Obama. Today, Thursday, we target Obama backers to canvass neighborhoods on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the day of the primary.

This too is different from the Clinton camp, which has one office here. They use "robo-calling", a machine to contact voters.

Our hours here are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sort of. Last night, Dan and Joe, another field organizer, worked until 4:30 a.m.

But today they're as elated as they ever get. They expect thousands of Obama people, those living east of Chicago, to pour into Ohio over the next crucial four days. Those living west of Chicago will go to Texas, which is also voting Tuesday.

If we volunteers are the lifeblood of this effort, the field organizers are the muscle.

There are 6 to 8 of them here now, and every day a fresh face arrives, another volunteer, usually a college buddy of a field organizer.

Field organizers are paid $1,000 per month. They work beastly hours, and in Cincinnati, crash at a Super 8 Motel. Like bees, they swarm from one city to another. They are low key, usually glued to laptops, and with cell phones pasted to their ears. In this group are graduates of Oberlin, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Vasser, Vanderbilt and Carlton.

They are bright, but not grinds. Joe sometimes breaks into song. He's sweet.

I tell him about an unpleasant phone conversation with a woman voter who explains, at length, that she cannot support any candidate because of "the little children." Do you mean you are pro-life? I finally asked. "Yes!" she said. I could hear little children screaming in the background.

I idiotically told her I'm Catholic, but after voting twice for Bush and having blood on my hands I now support Obama. She vowed to pray for me. Several times. Fervently.

Joe just laughed. "I don't have to worry about that," he said. "I'm a Jew. A New York secular Jew."

That makes him part of this brilliant mosaic, old, young, black, white, Asian, Jew, Christian, whatever. We all seem aware we are part of something huge. But whatever the outcome, it's a hell of a ride.

To read more about the grassroots Ohio campaign, go to:



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