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11.05.08

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Phaedra

Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
OPERATION OVERFLOW: Volunteers spill out into the hallway at Obama's San Jose campaign headquarters on Election Day. Organizers had hundreds of phone-bankers making calls to swing states throughout the day.

History in the Making

Locals got out the vote on an election day like no other

By Metro Staff


THE poll workers at the Community Baptist Church on Daves Street in Los Gatos looked decidedly different from poll workers of years past. Along with the usual half-dozen senior citizens, a twentysomething African American man with braided dreads sat alongside an Asian American woman around his age. Across town, at the Masonic Lodge on East Main Street, a 17-year-old girl with a peace-sign necklace collected ballots.

Throughout Silicon Valley, this was an election day like no other.

To get into the Barack Obama campaign office in San Jose on Tuesday, a person had to practically step over volunteers. Phone-bankers packed the third-floor offices at 43 East Gish St., some sprawled on the floor and others spilling down the steps with cell phones clutched in one hand and phone lists in the other.

They started at 5:30am, making last-minute calls to voters across the nation, targeting swing states like Nevada where the polls have been shifty. By midmorning, the excitement was contagious among volunteers who buzzed around the office wearing "Yes We Can" Obama buttons and munching on candy bars and coffee.

Among them were Janice and Ron Naymark, two self-described political activists who have worked on campaigns since they were in college 40 years ago. They volunteered full time for the John Kerry campaign in 2004, which they say was nothing compared to this election.

"We were too nervous to stay home," Janice says, smiling. "We learned in the '60s that you have to vote with your feet."

This election day, and this election, brought people out into the street, many of whom are participating in politics for the first time. Over the weekend, volunteers here broke their stated record, calling more than 40,000 voters across the nation, reminding them to vote, in some cases giving them phone numbers to their nearby Obama offices if they needed assistance getting to the polls.The Obama campaign in Silicon Valley gained huge momentum after the candidate swept California in the primary. Silicon Valley's volunteer base was one of the most well-organized and successful in the nation. The group was called on to help the national campaign in moving the polls in battleground states. Over the last several months, Obama supporters have continued drawing support from their growing database of volunteers, some of whom have traveled to Reno and other swing states to walk precincts and talk to voters. This momentum carried through all the way to Election Day, when the energy in the San Jose office was unstoppable. Organizers were having to make room for the hundreds of phone-bankers expected to drop by throughout the day.

"It's been very uplifting," said Frank Agodi, as he looked around the room packed with volunteers of all ages, nationalities and styles. "This is what Sen. Obama represents—unity."

Downstairs, on the second floor, Santa Clara County's Democratic Party was juggling the statewide gay marriage ban and the local Measure A hospital bonds campaign. Organizers were expecting more than 2,000 phone-bankers to pass through on Election Day.

"It's amazing. We are getting so many new volunteers," said James Kim, vice chairman of the local Democratic Party. "Everyone is excited. This election is all about change and equality."


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Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
DIALING FOR DEMOCRACY: A small army of volunteers mobbed the Democratic Party HQ on Gish Road in San Jose Tuesday, calling voters throughout the nation to remind them to get out and vote.

Crossed Fingers

A few hours later, the three-story labyrinth of rooms was still filled with people circulating back and forth, around and through the passageways. In the "No on Prop. 8" room at the shift change, the daytimers were reeling from exhaustion after a long slog. The lead campaigners were waiting in anticipation for the evening crew to roll in.

Fingers were crossed. The bottled water flowed. "Latinos for Obama" posters graced the walls. Campaigners were forbidden from yakking with the press on the record, but folks were unanimously optimistic that this would be the only time they'd ever have to fight for gays' rights to be married just like other people.

When asked to describe the vibe, one supporter cried, "Yay!" A table of phone-bankers, spilled over from the Obama room, toiled away, humbly working the hand-sets with dedication.

Downstairs, people meandered in and out of the front door. Baskets of leftover Halloween candy were ubiquitous.


Campus Confusion

Perhaps due to chilly afternoon weather conditions, it looked like nobody got dressed up to cast their ballots at the San Jose State University campus polling location on the second floor of the Student Union. Clad in the collage uniform of hoodies, beanies, sweatpants, Uggs and flip-flops, about 20 twentysomething voters waited in line, looking like they had just rolled out of their dorm-room beds and staggered across campus to vote. At 11am, lines were short, it being midday class time.

Outside the Student Union, Mark Anthony Medeiros, an SJSU senior who had just cast his ballot, looked down and noticed that his "I voted" sticker had fallen off his jacket. "Damn cutbacks," he said, apparently blaming Gov. Schwarzenegger for the poor quality of sticker adhesives. The Spartan Daily, the SJSU student newspaper, had a large color map on the front of its Nov. 4 edition, pinpointing all the voting locations around campus. Still, students frequently walked up to the voter information booth next to the Student Union asking about where and what they needed to vote.

Manning the booth was Laura Cabral, a graduate student in Mexican studies. She said that she was volunteering as part of a Chicano studies class, doing research while helping out the community.

"I'm really interested in doing my thesis on voting and Chicanas, so I'm just kind of getting my feet wet," she said. "There's a lot of new voters out here."

A young Asian woman carrying a backpack approached the voting booth and asked Cabral if she still had time to mail in her ballot.

"No, but you can still turn it in at any polling place in the county," she replied. "But they have to have it in by today."

Arranged on the table in front of Cabrel were a slew of voter information sheets and pamphlets on California propositions, local measures and races, as well as some Starbucks coffee. Cabral had obtained these herself.

"I thought it would entice people to come over," she said. "It's a cold day."Standing in front of the SJSU Student Union wearing a bright green "Vote Yes on Prop. 1A" T-shirt and holding a sign, Michael McDonald approached passing students with fliers, asking if they had voted yet. A representative of CALPIRG, McDonald said that SJSU had been his turf for about a month."We're just going around to colleges and making sure kids know what's going on, trying to get students involved and interested in the process," he said. "A lot of students, I know, will be coming out later in the day when they realize the hours are waning."

McDonald said that the response on Nov. 4 was positive. "A lot of people say that they voted already, which is awesome," he said.


Difference Maker

Barack Obama's campaign strategy—call it a mission—was to inspire Americans to believe that they could make a difference. Confronting apathy that had been building for decades and had hardened into almost universal cynicism, Obama challenged a nation to hope, and used that hope to fuel a powerful political machine.

At presstime, it was too soon to say for certain whether this combination succeeded in winning him the presidency. But here and elsewhere, it seems to have changed the political landscape so profoundly that it's obvious at a glance, just walking around and talking to people.

—Erin Sherbert, Gary Singh, Jessica Fromm, Eric Johnson


Silicon Valley Election Night 2008
Fly toured Silicon Valley's election night bashes juggling a laptop, a cellphone, a digital camera and a pint of Sierra Nevada, and all it came back with was this post


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