Travels with Gregory

A mother and son search for hope on the campaign trail

On the eve of the election, I knew I needed to be in Cleveland. The democratic vote in this key swing state would be lost or found in the urban Ohio district of Cuyahoga County. If the election turned out the way I hoped, there’s no place else I’d rather be and if the worst were to happen then I’d know that I’d done everything I could. As one of my fellow canvassers said “I’ll have bitching rights for the next four years.”

My 12-year-old son Gregory and I decided to make the drive from upstate NY to volunteer with America Coming Together in Cleveland. Gregory home schools and we’d been throwing around the idea of campaigning for weeks. What a great lesson it would make. When it finally came down to it and I was getting cold feet Gregory pleaded “But Mom, we’ve gotta go!”

We got into the city just before the big rally. Somebody handed us tickets on the street so we got in line to get into the secured area. A lady in line bought us a button when she found out we’d come all the way from New York. We were early enough to get in pretty close to the stage. Gregory was jumping out of his skin! Former Senator John Glenn talked about REAL leadership not surrounding itself with ideologues but instead surrounding itself with people who tell the truth. John Glenn introduced Bruce Springsteen who spoke with the same eloquence with which he sings “The future is now. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and let your passions flow in the service of a more just and equitable society” he said. “The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.” He introduced John Kerry, a fellow guitar player, and handed him his guitar pick for luck. Gregory called his buddy Brendan on the cell phone to tell him where he was and let him listen to the roar of the crowd. Kerry spoke about jobs and health care, growing the middle class and working hard for America. 50,000 people chanted his name. What a night! We had driven for five hours and then we were on our feet from 5:30 in the afternoon until 11:30 at night and didn’t even care.

Election Day
The heady night gave way to the hard work of the next day. We woke at 5:30am and met Keith, another ACT volunteer who knew the drill and would be canvassing with us for the day. We worked together through the morning in precincts around the county. The three of us talked about the issues, about why we had come, and the politics of fear and hate that this administration has been using to garner support. It was great to listen to the interplay as Gregory expressed his own ideas and opinions about the election to Keith. Gregory’s favorite web sites during the election have been and—but, for the most part, he likes to share his favorite punch lines from these sites.

When we checked in at lunchtime there was a lot of concern. A number of precincts were having problems with voters being turned away. “You mean they’re not letting people vote?” was Gregory’s incredulous query. In response ACT was posting teams of volunteers outside polling places in these poorer precincts holding signs that read “Were you prevented from voting? Cast your provisional ballot here.” We headed back to the streets to try to get out the vote. We went back out and knocked on doors through the afternoon. There was rain and wind. We got soaked but we kept going.

Just before dinner we said farewell to Keith who had to catch a plane home. He had been campaigning since Saturday. We finally headed to the watch party at the Hilton around 9pm with about 200 other exhausted but excited volunteers. Gregory was wiped out and very concerned about the outcome so we went back to our own hotel and watched the returns in our room until we fell asleep, worried and weary. I woke up a couple of times during the night and checked the news, dismayed, as it became clear that there would be no victory.

The next morning we got a call from Keith. “I’m so depressed!” I told him. “It’s not over yet.” he encouraged us. ” Iowa and New Mexico are still out. There’s still a chance. Have you heard anything else about problems in Ohio? What are they saying?” We hadn’t heard anything new and the rest of the volunteers had already cleared out.

Gregory and I decided to hit democratic headquarters on our way out of town to see if there was any news there. On our way there we heard the news on the radio that Kerry would concede. “What???” said Gregory, “he can’t concede! It’s not over yet!” He played on the Kerry-Edwards campaign line—‘Help is on the way’— when he expressed his disgust “Yeah right, Help has run away!”