Training for the Out of State Attorneys was scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday in Albuquerque. Melinda drove me into Santa Fe to pick up my car and then I followed her back to the house and over to her barn to see Vento, her handsome Lusitano stallion. I watched her lesson and took off for the 60 or 70 mile drive to the IBEW building for election protection training.
Despite the fact that I told the folks when I volunteered that I would be staying with a friend near Santa Fe and getting assurances that they would put me somewhere in that county, the envelope I received put me at a school in eastern Albuquerque. In order to get there by 6 a.m. on election day, I would either have to get a hotel room in Albuquerque or leave Melinda's by 4 a.m. I was not happy, but I eventually got someone to say there might be a chance to change assignments after the training was over.
There were 200-300 lawyers in the room. The largest contingencies were from Texas (where there was no chance of Barack Obama winning, so the lawyers went where they might do some good) and California (which was pretty much guaranteed to go for Barack), but there were also lawyers from Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Arizona, Oregon, and Canada. We were told that we should think of ourselves as firemen, and a good day would be one without a fire. We were given our instructions on what to look for and what to do and told to take masking tape and plain paper along with us to cover any t-shirts that couldn't be removed which might have material considered to be "electioneering" and could result in a voter being denied the right to vote.
As I was waiting to see if there was some lawyer who didn't show so I could switch assignments to one closer to my friends, another lawyer was explaining that she was sharing a vehicle with someone who was going to be at a location in Santa Fe and she couldn't get to her spot 35 miles north of Albuquerque. My assignment was five or six miles away from her colleagues, so we were able to switch. I still had to be up early, but not quite as early, and the distance was half of that for my original assignment.
I headed across the street to the Office Depot, where I ran into one of the other lawyers and we decided to share the supplies we were supposed to buy and split them. I suspect he might have needed them more than I did, but I doubt I'll ever find out for sure.
I called Melinda, who told me she had gone into Santa Fe to work at the Obama headquarters and we picked a rondezvous location so we could have dinner in town before going back to her place. We met up with our friend Parris at Tomasito's for good Mexican food which would have been even better if I could have had a margarita, but that wouldn't be a good idea when I had to drive and then get up early Tuesday morning. We got back to the house around 10 and I went to bed as soon as I could prepare things for the next morning.
The alarm went off much too soon and I managed to fall in the dark on my way down to the car. I've got a nice bruise on my shin. The drive to the San Filipe pueblo took about an hour, and as I said in my last post, I had a little trouble finding the exact location, but eventually it all worked out.
Everyone was incredibly friendly and in that I was fortunate. Late in the morning, I got a call from the war room to make sure I was all right because one of the lawyers in another location was threated with arrest for doing what she was legally there to do.
The only real problem of the day was that the vote scanner broke 5 minutes into the election day. I called the war room and about 90 minutes later someone came to fix it. People who voted in the interrim had their ballots sealed and they were scanned at the end of the day after the doors were locked.
My companion for the day was a resident of the pueblo named Deryl. I met a number of members of Deryl's family through the day: his mother, brother, niece and nephew, and aunt. Deryl's got a brother who's served two or three tours of duty in Iraq with the national guard. Deryl's a student at the University of New Mexico where he is majoring in political science and minoring in Indian studies. He used to work in management and burned out, so he's getting his degree and thinking about going to law school. This was his first time working for a campaign. He said that one of his instructors had gotten tickets for students to see Michelle Obama speak and he went and filled out one of the cards which asked for donations of time and money. He decided to volunteer as part of a class he was taking which appeared to be challenging Native American students to overcome the traditional apathy or indiference toward political involvement. Deryl was a non-lawyer volunteer for Voter Protection and he took his work quite seriously. He also took the time to call and text friends and family to make sure they were going to get to the polls to vote before the day was done.
I wound up calling the war room several times during the day. I had to check about the rules for convicted felons who had served their time and parole being able to vote and I called again when we found out that there was someone from the Department of Justice dropping by the polling place. It turned out there were several other Federal observers present inside as well, but I'm still not sure why. HQ was glad to get the information.
Voters came and went fairly steadily throughout the day. There were times of high traffic, but it never took anyone more than 10-15 minutes to get through the process. Food was provided to anyone who dropped by and the workers were kind enough to bring coffee and offer hot dogs to me. As a non-resident of the county, I was not eligible to be in the polling place itself. Unlike people doing electioneering who can't be any closer than 100' of the building, non-partisan voter protection people could be as close as 50'. It was a little difficult to get that close because of parking, but we were within 100' at all times.
Deryl and I spent a lot of time talking about law school. He had a lot of questions about the LSAT, the bar exam, and what it was like in law school. I recommended he read The Paper Chase and One-L. I learned about life on the reservation, which is about 17,500 acres and has a new school and a casino on the other side of I-25 from the main part of the village. It is a "conservative" tribe, meaning they are serious about following tradition and it seemed that almost everyone spoke the native language as well as English. It really helped to pass the day.
One of the other people I met was a young woman, who, like Deryl, was working on her first campaign. Barack Obama had impressed her, so she worked to get her people to register to vote, going door to door in the pueblo to talk to them. She told me that it was hard work, because so many people in the pueblo did not believe that voting didn't really have any effect on their lives or that it would do any good. It was not their way. It was especially not the way of the women who believed that it was the men's place to make these decisions. She believes that things are changing and it is important to make an effort to become involved to have a say in the direction the community will take. She told us that she had been talking to the "grandmas and grandpas" and pointed out that they needed to be concerned about the kind of lives their grand children would have. Then she said that she had gone to the grocery store where she got into a discussion with a clerk about voting and the clerk said that her grandmother had gotten a visit from someone who had so impressed the grandmother with their arguements for voting that the grandmother had announced that she was going to vote for the first time. The girl realized that she was the person who had convinced the grandmother to vote. I said to her "doesn't it make you feel really good to know you've made a difference like that?" and she positively glowed with pride.
Talking to these two young people and seeing the difference they were trying to make in their communities made the entire trip worthwhile. Barack Obama is having the same effect on them that Jack and Bobby Kennedy had on me.
The pueblo has about 1000 registered voters and by the end of the day almost 600 of them had come into vote. The people there were ecstatic. It was by far the largest voter turnout they had ever had for anything. It was clear to me from the beginning of the day that Barack Obama was the candidate of choice for most of the voters and the only electioneering I saw was for Obama. The Republican challengers were in the poll for only a small part of the day--they really didn't have much to do and, apparently, were no where near as prepared as the Democratic challenger was.
My friend Melinda, meanwhile, spent the entire day canvassing voters in Santa Fe. Parris joined her for the afternoon. Just as they were getting ready to head to Parris' place to watch the returns, panic errupted in Obama headquarters in Santa Fe because they thought they had under-performed in voting and there was this frantic thought that they needed to get more voters out to meet the 75% turnout they thought they needed to win the state. As it happened, many, many people had voted early and the results for New Mexico were called for Obama very soon after the polls closed at 7 p.m.
By the time I got to Parris' and George R.R. Martin's house around 8, virtually all of New England had been called for Obama. Then Pennsylvania was called. And then Ohio. As soon as Iowa was called, I called my sister and thanked her for keeping her Iowa registration and going to Iowa to vote. I watched my former home state of Virginia called for Obama, courtesy of that communistic Northern Virginia, not the real Virginia. At 9 p.m. our time, when the polls had closed everywhere, MSNBC called the election for Obama and we drank champaign to celebrate the coming of age of our country and the election of an articulate and smart President. My friend Karen, who spent the past week working on the election in Las Vegas (something like 1500 lawyers went to Nevada to be part of election protection there), called me to share the moment. It was just great, after the disappointments of 2000 and 2004.
We've spent the past 24 hours giggling and weeping. Melinda alternates between saying "we did it" and "I can't believe we did it." When we went shopping in Santa Fe today, people couldn't stop talking about what a great day yesterday was. Melinda kept pointing out that I had come out from L.A. to work on the election and people thanked me for what I consider to be a very small role in a very big effort. There is so much work to be done, so much damage to repair, but Barack Obama is an inspirational leader who has the potential to be this crisis' FDR. I have great hope and I am so glad that I took the time to be a part of one incredible day.
Lunch with the Barefoot Contessa
4 weeks ago