Sunday, March 2, 2008

Real people fired up in Western Pennsylvania, thoughts after a day of door-knocking

By Denise Winebrenner Edwards

For retired coal miners in Southwest Pennsylvania to campaigns to halt the Vietnam War, gain a fair trial for Angela Davis and stop privatization to my own campaigns for city council, I have knocked on voters' doors in the dead of winter.

While only wishing to establish context and avoid comments on miserable weather and decaying infrastructure, knocking doors urging voters to change their registration from independent or Republican to Democrat to participate in the Pennsylvania primary on April 22 on behalf of the Obama for President Campaign, was not only new and fresh but a firing up experience.

The response from voters represented the reality of a political excitement born of the possibilities of dramatic, humane, just, democratic and progressive direction for our country.

The Pittsburgh ward that our team of four walked, amid the ice, snow and mildly flooding streets, is overwelmingly registered Democrat. Those few Republicans and independents are hard core, just to withstand peer pressure.

Doors opened, and voters literally snatched the voter registration form out of our hands. That is new. Smiles. One man who opened a window because he got out the shower to answer the knock, took time to change from Republican to Democrat. Why? Because "Obama is not a god, but as honest a politician that I have seen in my life, 60 years. He has been on these streets. Knows us. I'm changing, you know, I changed when Reagan ran -- we got a chance. That's all I ask - a chance."

Instead of curtains or blinds, there were sheets hung on the windows. Tools, shingles and other building materials were piled neatly on the porch -- renewal underway.

After four hours, a limited street list, temperatures falling and winds rising, our team turned in 23 voters in one voting district of Pittsburgh's 11th Ward who changed their party from independent or Republican to Democrat. Pennsylvania may or may not even matter in the primary process. Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island are up on March 4. Pennsylvania doesn't register a blip on the radar.

But voters are paying attention and see politics as avenue to address their problems, a source of hope, not frustration or flee in disgust. Sen. Obama is inspiring a movement, articulating a long simmering anger, energy for a working-class future that does not start with smacking down a neighbor to get a job.

What does this mean for those states who are up on March 4? I really have no clue.

The neighborhood folks, though, workers who survived 28 years of Pittsburgh, along with Youngstown, Birmingham, Buffalo, Gary and Duluth as ground zero of the rust bowl, are up and moving 'bout. They see a future, and that is new. And that they are doing something about it, is downright revolutionary.

That future maybe millions signing a union card, without risking losing their job; that maybe tying up traffic with demonstrations for Medicare for All, national health care; that may mean shutting down the massive war machine and airports and harbors jammed with our troops returning home from Iraq and countries across the globe to loving families and meaningful, decent jobs and that may mean massive sit-ins to advance and defend the Bill of Rights, democracy and zero tolerance for injustice.

Three white women and one African American woman comprised our team. We became friends. Two of us are elected officials and came to the mobilization together, but our two new friends are from the suburbs, total strangers, in every sense. One woman's son, 20, is a Marine on active duty. After we walked the slush, signed up voters, submitted our paperwork, we did what every work crew does, we ate together. Food is no small potatoes. Kids, husbands, current and ex, and jobs kept the conversation on a roll. We tied up a table at a small coffee shop and drew nasty stares from patrons waiting to be seated. But we shared a common language of life, love and laughter.

"Real people, it's great. Real people!" said my friend on our way home.

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