For one week I have joined the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) in the largest national grassroots effort ever launched by an environmental group during a presidential campaign. I have joined with a mission: do whatever I can to get that dummy out the White House and make sure John Kerry is the next president.
Together with a dozen students, acquaintances and friends, I started out from New Haven, Connecticut, drove a thousand miles, and started knocking on doors in a swing state: Wisconsin, decided for Gore by 5,708 votes in the 2000 election.
'Normally people don't get this engaged so long before an election,' said Mike Palamuso, the Wisconsin LCV campaign director. 'But this time there's so much at stake.'
LCV got involved in this election because George W. Bush is the worst environmental president in American history. He recently became the first president in LCV history to receive an 'F' on LCV's yearly report card. It is a stunning contrast to John Kerry's lifetime LCV rating of 92 percent -- higher than any other democratic presidential candidate this year.
Palamuso said that Bush's 'F' made LCV understand they had to reach beyond the typical activities of an environmental group this election and go back to the grassroots with a strategic door-to-door campaign aimed at convincing swing voters.
In practice, this campaign comes in the form of doorstep conversations with Americans from all walks of life -- parents holding babies in their arms, veterans with dogs barking at their feet, elderly women, recent college grads -- and surprisingly, I have felt a real joy listening to people talk about their needs and telling them how I think John Kerry will help.
The joy, for the most part, came from the simple kindness of connecting face-to-face with another person. 'We're still part of an American community,' said Emly McDiarmid, an LCV volunteer, 'We haven't lost that, even with all the antagonism between candidates and parties.'
Carrie Maas, office manager of the Milwaukee office, said, 'I've noticed that people are incredibly receptive to information when I've talked to them.'
Emily Levin, another volunteer, said, 'The most surprising thing to me is that there really are a lot of undecided voters. With a man I talked to yesterday, just the fact that I showed up at his door really meant a lot.'
'If you can have conversations with two or three undecided voters a day,' said Palamuso, 'then that really adds up.'
Another LCV volunteer, Alex McIntosh, said that while out campaigning he was invited into a house. A Bush leaning father, Kerry leaning mother, and Kerry leaning daughter talked politics with him for half an hour over a glass of wine.
These types of encounters add up to votes for Kerry. Nationally, LCV knocked on their 200,000th door in late July. In Wisconsin, they have knocked on more than 60,000.
Here in the Wisconsin office, the energy and activity show. More than five hundred volunteers have already passed through. A huge sign fills a corner, reading, '68 days until the election.' American flags hang on every wall. The coffee machine splutters. Volunteers and employees enter voter data on computers from dawn 'til dusk.
It's exciting to be part of the campaign. Hope comes in all forms: from Kerry supporters, from undecided voters who might be swayed, and even from an eighty-year-old woman who struggled to the door yesterday. 'Honey, I have a cold so I can't talk,' she said, 'but I hope your team wins.'
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