Monday, August 01, 2011

Canvassing for Obama - Magan's World, Nov 2008

Sat 11 Nov 2008

Barack Obama and me

MAGAN'S WORLD: Manchán Magan'stales of a travel addict

The city itself has enough tourist highlights to keep one enthralled for days - voluptuously proportioned mud and timber buildings, like something out of Timbuktu, and magnificent 17th-century Spanish churches - but my attention kept being drawn back to the Obama election office downtown, a hive of frenetic energy, not unlike the scenes from Cybill Shepherd's campaign HQ in Taxi Driver.

The posters in the window warned about how precariously balanced the American Dream was in this pivotal swing-state, and I was reminded of what I had learnt earlier at the ‘Old Santa Fe Trail’ museum, about how this region had been a vital conduit for early settlers searching for their own American Dream. It triggered something in me and I found myself pushing through the bunting and flyers of the Obama office and signing up to help. It seemed like now was a time for something other than sightseeing.

And so, I spent five days knocking on the battered screen-doors of down-at-heel adobe homes, asking people for their support. At first I felt uncomfortable about intruding on the democratic process of a foreign country, but then I considered how freely America imposes its will on other countries and lay aside my qualms.

Canvassing offered a cultural insight more profound than any tourist activity ever could. People were surprised, and even moved, to find an Irishman on their doorsteps and they shared their feelings with disconcerting frankness - telling me of their financial worries and their disgust at Washington’s bale-out of the super-rich while leaving ordinary folk facing foreclosure. One old man came to the door hooked up to an oxygen tank and was almost in tears at the inequities of Medicare; a Mexican woman shook her head in agitation and pointed to her Dodge Ram pickup which was due to be repossessed. I reassured them all that Obama would offer change, but it was with a somewhat hollow heart. I wanted them to see him as their saviour, their knight in shining armour, but it was with more hope than certainty.

On Sunday I canvassed with a school teacher, worn-out from the strain of teaching Shakespeare to Mexicans. She assured me that every middle-aged white man we would meet would likely be voting for McCain: ‘It’s a matter of self-confidence,’ she said. ‘White men have always regarded themselves as sexually inferior. They don’t want someone more virile then them in office.’ I explained to her about the concept of Sacral Kingship in pre-Christian Ireland - how the king had to be fully-fertile in order to properly impregnate the land and assure bounty. She laughed and said it was probably best if I didn’t point this out to people. ‘They haven’t exactly acknowledged their inferiority yet.’ And so I let her do most of the talking and I just kept an eye out for the attack dogs that lurked behind so many picket fences and tried my charm on the women occasionally, particularly the ones who still had a candy bowl in the hall from trick-or-treating on Friday. I’d always ask them for some - not for myself you understand, but to bring back to the campaign office. I thought if I wasn’t up to the subtleties of local canvassing, I could at least fuel others with a sugar rush to go out and do their part. And, as I stood in the polling office on Tuesday watching the anxious faces of economically-challenged people who had come to support a candidate who just might provide the hope they so desperately needed, I wondered whether my words, or at least my candy, may have made some tiny difference.