Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A discouraging evening of phone-banking

Yesterday, two hours into phone-banking for our Senate candidate, I got a response that really shook me up. I don't really know why it did -- awful as it was, it wasn't anything I didn't know people were saying. I think I may be hormonal; I'm ordinarily not very "flappable" but I was "flapped." At first, shocked. I couldn't even see the phone as I groped to hit the # key to disconnect the call. Then I couldn't breathe. Then tears came to my eyes (and GOD, they are again, just thinking about it), and I'm sure I got really really red, and Jim and the other volunteer next to him were terribly concerned and I couldn't even say what had happened at first.

I hate to say it, but probably most Obama volunteers have had to hear it, and have confronted this ugliness in a way that most of us are sheltered from in our daily lives.

We had a new script last night -- this one mentioned Obama's name in conjunction with our candidate, Jeff Merkley, to combine the two names in voters' minds. So, this was the first time I've made calls specifically mentioning Obama. I got one "No WAY!" as soon as I mentioned his name, and I got more Republicans last night than Democrats, but a fair number of them were polite and just said nicely that they were voting for McCain. Fine. Thank you, have a nice evening. But the call that turned out to be my last call of the night (I wimped out after, I hate to say it), the response was, "I wouldn't vote for that [worst racial slur] if my life depended on it."

Again, I know there are these people. We have had a rift in my own family, in fact. This election has revealed racism we never knew about. My mother has gotten the ugliest email forwards from redneck cousins, and she has stopped talking to the brother-in-law who is like a brother to her -- who she has known for almost sixty years without ever knowing he was a racist. And not only is he, but he isn't ashamed of it. Not one of those who gives some other reason for not voting for Obama, but admits it's because he could never vote for a black man. (A Democrat, he was for Hillary.) And this uncle, he is a sweet man who has always been really good to my siblings and me. How can this be? And, is he "out of our family" now? My aunt, my mother's sister, is no longer living -- we have no blood tie. If it's "just politics" you can agree to disagree with a loved one, but what if it's racism? That's not politics, that's character. That's heart and soul.

The idea that racism can find a nest in someone you truly believed to be a thoughtful, loving person. . . it's very upsetting. You may tell me I'm being very naive about racism, that lots of racists love their families and are good people in other areas of their lives, but the thing is, my uncle wasn't raised racist. His own parents and siblings aren't racists. So, how can you explain it, that hate can find its way in to someone's heart like that? And sure, I am naive, because I've lived a long time in small West-coast progressive cities: Berkeley and Portland. You don't hear the "n" word here! Last night was, I think, the first time I've heard it in that direct of a way, not on TV or in a movie, and not in Huckleberry Finn. And, it kind of bowled me over.

I heard other unpleasant things last night, too, but they were mostly just stupid, like the guy who was voting for Palin because he "digs that hot librarian look" -- and I could only reply, "That's very nice, Sir, but I'm inquiring about the Oregon Senate race." And I had a woman tell me with a shaking voice that our candidate "should be in jail" but when I asked "Why?" deeply curious what on Earth she could be referring to, she only muttered, "For crimes against the people!" and slammed the phone down. (Ah, unspecified "crimes against the people." I have some ideas about who we might jail for that!) And I had some toolbag who was effing with me, saying things like, "Huh, I haven't heard of any of those candidates," (including Obama) and "What did you say your last name was?" And then, at last, as my love of the human race was at a low ebb, came the biggie.


The polls today make me feel a little better. I don't know their accuracy, but some polls are showing Obama opening up leads in Florida and Ohio (!!!!!!), in addition to gains already made in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Michigan. I have hope, but I also have these ignorant, hateful voices ringing in my head. One thing is clear: we really, really need Democrats to run this country for a while and prioritize EDUCATION. It is only through education that we can ever hope to see the last of racism and homophobia and religious intolerance, and the mind-boggling disregard for environmental concerns, and so much more. It is only through education we can have voters who can think and won't fall for the most blatant and misleading campaign bullsh** that is foisted on them. We can't let up. We have to win this election.

Have you done anything? Can you do anything? Volunteer to drive voters to the polls on election day? Take a few days to register voters before it's too late? Phone-bank? Contribute money? Something? If we end up with Republicans for another four years -- and not just any Repubicans, but the lying, sneering pair before us who are frothing at the mouth to take away more civil rights and go to war against Iran and -- to listen to Palin -- Russia too -- I honestly don't know how I will bear it.



Daphne Unfeasible said...

That sucks, I'm so sorry for you. I'm feeling pretty cut off from parts of my family on this as well -- which, duh, you probably saw, since you commented on it on YA for Obama. Still, that kind of racism is what leads to bombing kids:, and no one could possibly be for that, can they?

elizabeth said...

I'm so sorry that happened--in all of my very vocal support of Obama I have yet to hear that horrible word. Try to take heart---down here in beautiful Mississippi you'd be amazed at how much support Obama is getting. There are always going to be ogres and trolls, but hope springs eternal in places Hollywood would prefer you not imagine. Take heart, take heart, take heart

tone almhjell said...

I really wish there was something I could do. But it seems impossible from the other side of the world. Or is it? My husband's American, but needs no persuasion.

I worry that all the ugliness that slammed you in the face will surface on election day as surprise, unexcepcted wins for McCain. Many people don't like admitting to racisim, but when they're alone in that booth, they don't have to keep up appearances.

I'm hoping young people, who are not being polled since they mostly only own cell phones, will outweigh that ugliness.

I understand that you're shaken. I think you are very brave. You are doing such good work. Keep it up, honey, I'm right there in spirit.

Kristy said...

It's so disheartening to hear your experience, although, I must say I am not surprised. Saddened, disgusted, dismayed -- yes. Surprised, sadly, no.

But I still have hope. I truly believe that our generation is a vast improvement over our parents, and the next generation will far surpass ours. This, I believe.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Ah Laini, that makes me want to cry right along with you. It's a sad world we live in in so many ways.

I heard Matt Damon on the radio the other day talking about how the McCain/Palin ticket is like a bad Disney movie. There's a 1 in 3 chance he could die in office, and then we're left with a hockey mom from Alaska as our President. It made me laugh because he's right - it does sound like a bad Disney movie!!

But, it's not going to happen. Obama will be our next President. We have to believe, visualize, and each do what we can.

You are my political activist hero! So proud of you!!!

Deb Lund said...

Hey, Laini,
Thanks for sharing this entry. It's a painful one for me with my mixed-race family. I think I'm in denial too much, but I also know that personal contact is what will make a difference, so maybe my kiddos will help.

On a more cheery note, I discovered that you created my wonderful muse hanging above me. She's absolutely perfect! She was a gift for my new writing room, and I know she's working hard. Gosh, if I was only a better listener...

Alexandra Saperstein said...

Really turns my stomach and makes me feel sick inside. I have a few such family members too I suspect and I wish I could feel compassion. Instead I just feel disgust and wish they could be locked in their home on election day so they can't go out and vote. I think what is just irking me as much is the Republican denigration of having top notch education. I heard this morning someone almost slighting Obama for having graduated at the top of his Harvard class. Never mind that he did it on student loans, had a struggling mother who had to live on food stamps for a period of time..he is a genuine, brilliant man who will lead this country. How ironic that the Christian right would prefer McCain who left his first wife who had waited for him all the years he was in prison and had become seriously injured in an accident during that time...still he cheated on her with numerous women when he was freed, then left her and their children for heiress Cindy McCain- that is integrity? Ugh half of this country makes me ill.

Carolyn said...

I'm so sorry–for the ugly phone contacts, and the family issues, also. My own little family is mixed and totally fine and comfortable. But I hear things like "some people would say your girls are mongrels" from close members of my larger family at Thanksgiving dinner. (And she thought she was being supportive!) We have been over and over and around various social issues, gay rights, equal opportunity, etc. (How can I love these people? I don't know, but ...) Don't give up. We can't give up! It's not easy to stay hopeful in the face of such ugliness as you experienced... but to be hopeless would be worse.

liz elayne lamoreux said...

i am so sorry you had to deal with someone like that person.

education is the key...jon and i talk about this all the time. we watch msnbc and i say on a daily basis, "how could people vote for 'them' with this information? why would they? i can't believe these lies. why do other people believe these lies?" and jon gently reminds me that not everyone wants to see the truth...not everyone is trying to learn the truth.
it makes me so sad.
but i am choosing to live inside hope right now and contributing what we can in the hopes that obama will win.

xegbp said...

There is only one way to bear it, laughter... go to this site and I swear you will feel better.

Colleen said...

I am from the south (and I mean the true south with all its good and bad) Laini, so this was not a surprise for me. What's interesting to me is the folks who say they won't vote for Obama but can't identify a reason - it's clear the reason is racial but they don't want to say that or admit that. (These folks often aren't for McCain so much against Obama.)

In my family there is an agreement not to discuss politics at all among various members and that might be what you decide with your uncle. I can not remove the racist members from my family - and I love them still which is what makes this all so very complicated. They are not evil people. Honestly I think an Obama/Biden victory will be good for these people - they need to face what they are so afraid of and discover that really, it is not so terrifying after all.

I'm married to a Republican and he is voting for Obama. It's not the Republicans I despise so much in this election (I voted for Reagan and Bush #1) (And Clinton, Gore and Kerry) but the direction that party has taken. I am so very disappointed in John McCain. I remember when he ran in 2000 and I do not recognize him now at all.

I have contributed money, gotten some friends to register, and converted several folks to voting Obama. Small steps all of them but just keep plugging away. It is democracy in action that you are participating in and that is a grand and wonderful thing...even with its moments of ugliness.

Gwenda said...

Oh, Laini doll, you're my hero. We've definitely encountered serious stuff that's similar here, and not so far out in our own relations.

I guess I go back to Obama's great speech about race, where he talks about not disowning his white grandmother who made racist comments even while helping raise him. It is hard to put that in practice. It's one of the reasons I find him such an inspirational human being (let alone political figure), because he can somehow levitate above this stuff and see it for what it is. Fear. Fear of the future. And no matter what those of little faith and racist leanings think, no matter if they win this time out, I believe it's inevitable that something better wins out. Look at the vote of young people, after all, nearly entirely for Obama. That means something.

Amber Lough said...

You've been very brave making these phone calls. It's something I doubt I could do.

Speaking about ignorance, Jim told me this evening that the guy who works in the cubicle next to him said that homosexuality was a choice, and that it all stems from homes without a father figure. The boys in fatherless homes grow up "sissies" and end up gay. Jim said he wanted to reply, "if it's a choice, then YOU could have the choice as well, and would have that 'seed' in your mind," but he was overhearing and didn't feel like he could just jump in.

Funny how people have such strong beliefs that grow out of the muck of bias and ignorance. When faced with rational thought or logical debate, they pull all sorts of cards (Bible, et al).

Oh yeah, the guy also said that "America, unfortunately, totally accepts gays now." My questions then was, how can that be true if HE doesn't accept them??

leximel said...

Go Laini, Go!!!!!!!
Don't let those haters get you down... or if you do, let their negative comments power your resolve to put more AWESOME into the world! Remember, us littlies who can't vote need people who CAN to change the world! All us littlies can do is campaign, and hope for the best.
one more month.....

Also, how dare that man call Obama the n word?
It's just as strange as the instance when a half-korean, half-caucasian boy in my neighborhood was called the n word by a classmate! As self-declared president of the "little mongrels" club, I think it is safe to say that we don't have mental defects or are planning on raising taxes and making everyone poor. Not that my opinion really counts.

Jon Bard said...

I know it's painful to hear these things, but step back and look at the big picture:

Less than 50 years after segregation, an African-American man is running for president and is leading in every poll. That's astonishing. Just astonishing.

The racism you experienced is, I believe, generational. And each passing year will wring more of it out of our society. There are plenty of pros and cons to discuss when talking about the young people in this country, but it is undeniable that they are far less racist and far less homophobic than any generation that has come before. And it's only going to get better with time.

PS: ....and good for you for working those phone banks. You are certainly walking the walk.

Lisa said...


I have nothing but admiration for you. I don't have the guts to do phone banks even when people are nice (I'm sort of phone-phobic). I can't imagine how tough it would be to deal with racist jerks. It's sad that so many people out there still judge others by the color of their skin. For that reason I have a deep fear for Obama, and an immense amount of admiration for him. It's about time we had a candidate with some honor and integrity.

Thanks for doing what you do, Laini. We need people like you. You're one of my new heroes!


Kate said...


I was sorry to hear about your experiences. I worked at a calling day but never had anything like you experienced. Where I am is a very red state so there is not much hope here but I'll be part of a group going to Montana to help sometime this month. I am so excited to be able to find a way to partake. Just doing something really seems to help. You are so right that we need someone focusing on education again. I like to hold the vision that Obama is the next president, we just have top go through the formality of the election.
The poll numbers were encouraging.


myrna said...

I'm sorry. It is partly a generational problem. My dad was just over for dinner tonight, and this post reminded me that when we were younger he was racist. I never heard him use the "n" word. He just used to say derogatory things. As I got older, I realized that ugly things had been and still were happening to one of my good friends because he was black. I talked to my mom because I was upset, and she pointed out that my dad would have treated Will the same way as the people I was complaining about. I took a stand. My dad respected it. He didn't change overnight, but I really think he started to see people differently--you know--like they were people too. Will and I went to different Universities, and Dad ended up keeping better tabs on him than I did. I'll never forget how excited and proud Dad was to tell me when Will graduated from medical school. And he wasn't being racist. Will's mom was very hardworking, but she was single, and there wasn't any extra money.

I guess what I mean to say is don't give up on your uncle yet. We all have flaws. You keep standing up for what you believe in. You can do that and still love him. You aren't responsible for what he says or does.

Heather said...

Came over here via BP. I've never been active in politics before, but this year have been doing calls, voter registration etc. - McCain and especially Palin scare me.

immersion said...

I am so sorry you had to experience that. It is sad and disturbing. I do hope you can rise above it and let the positive aspects of your experience lift you. Here, let us give you a hand . . . =)

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry that happened to you! That's awful. I probably would have thrown up. I'm impressed that you're giving your time this way, knowing that people on the other end of the line could be awful like that.

Anonymous said...

That's the worst! Ugh! I hate those kind of people; the ones that assume one's race determinds what sort of person they are.
I've always been a high disaprover of racism, ever since kindergarden when two air-headed blonds were claiming they were better then my african-american friend because they were white.
Today me and a friend of mine were having a debate with the spiritless dude that sat across from us during lunch about who we thought would be best for America. My friend, Tanya, and I completely agreed O'bama was the one that would give the country a positive turn while Mr. Spiritless was all "McCain all the way."
I know it's awful to think about such a thing, especially from a family member, but when O'Bama wins (which he will or else Canada will stop exporting our amazing maple syrup!) you'll feel better.
Meanwhile, us Canadians have no good choices for Prime Minister, so at least you got one!

Julie said...

Hear, hear to everything you have said. I hear the "n" word in North Dakota too. I can't believe it still happens in this day and age.

My friend Lila forwarded this to me. I will forward it to my daughter and friends. I don't have any answers, except to spread the word of intelligent people like yourself.

I have written a blog for over a year and a half and had my first negative comment - ever - when I posted something to the effect that things would go very badly if McCain were elected in November.

However, I am a chicken and took that comment off my post.

Here's to your courage.


chest of drawers said...

I´ve been watching what´s going on from a distance and I can´t believe that anyone in their right mind could vote Republican with all the crap that´s going on because of decisions they´ve made while in office. I also saw Palin´s first speech and I couldn´t believe the nerve of her! Keep up your good work, I´ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

e said...

What a well written commentary Laini - I wish I'd come up with it. I'm sorry you experienced that awful phone call though. I fear I have it much closer in my family than I can stomach, and knowing there is no changing that mind, don't even go there. If it was only open to education . . .

Jamie said...

Laini, thank you for being there to make the call, to brave those words, to be compassionate enough to let the hurt touch your heart and to be strong enough to turn it into this post, which will touch others.

In my life too, I've experienced the shock and loss of discovering that someone close to me held racist beliefs. It ended our friendship when he expressed how he felt sad that a great girl like me was with "one of them" not one of "us".

Christine Fletcher said...

I've never understood how people can live their lives with such hatred, and still--apparently--think of themselves as good people. I don't understand how education has become synonymous with "elitism." I don't understand how some people feel that teaching tolerance and acceptance is an evil plot to "brainwash" children. (I've heard this said, believe it or not.)

I don't get it. But I think that's why we try and make sense of some of this. And for damn sure it's why we vote.

Thanks, Laini, for being on the front lines and for writing about it so movingly.

Amber said...

Wow. *heavy sigh*

I would have been stunned as well. I mean, wow.

I think I am like you, in that I don't believe people still think like that. But I am seeing I am wrong. Remember I told you about that email I got about over-turning gay marriage here in California? I saw that lady today and I felt like gagging. Wyatt wanted to talk to her son, and I just hurried him away. I honestly don't want them to play together, because who knows what kind of crap he could hear!?

But people here are right. Things are turning. It is just the way it is going to be, I really do think. I was listening to this guy talk about generations and history, and he was saying how with each generation that dies off, and the more of the next generation that is born, the more things like this will just go away.

Take heart.


Anonymous said...

I am a Republican and McCain supporter, and your experience is incredibly upsetting. It's frustrating...racist people like that put a dark cloud over all conservatives.
I am in no way racist. I respect Obama, and I would love to see a black president, that would be a triumph. I just differ in political stances, specifically the issue of more government verses less. Please, do not view all Republican conservatives as racist pigs. We are people who want to move forward just like you, with the same destination in mind, only our ideas regarding how to get there are different.

It is likely that Obama will win this election, and I've come to terms with it. I'm hopefull that our country will do well with him in power.
So Truce. From Republican to Democrat.