On the Obama campaign trail

Pub date November 4, 2008
WriterKatie Baker
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION I live and have always lived in a bubble, isolated from most of America. I grew up in Los Angeles, where I attended a high school so liberal that almost the entire student population wore black the day after Bush won his second term. Now I attend UC Berkeley, a historically ultra-liberal university in one of the most progressive cities in the United States.

That’s why I decided to join 30 of my fellow UC Berkeley students and go to North Carolina to campaign for Obama the final week before the election. Not only did I want to make a difference I felt I couldn’t make from California, I wanted to experience first-hand what the rest of the country is like.

In some ways, North Carolina was exactly the way I expected it to be: full of white steepled churches, swirling autumn-colored leaves, and drive-through fried chicken restaurants called Bojangles. In other ways, it wasn’t. I thought I’d be talking mostly to undecided voters and people leaning toward the right. Instead I worked mostly with Democrats, making sure they know where their polling locations are and how to protect themselves against voter disenfranchisement.

I talked to all kinds of North Carolinians. I visited student dorms, low-income housing complexes, and beautiful Southern-style mansions. The Obama campaign was thrilled to have so many Californian volunteers at its disposal: there’s a large Hispanic community here, and few native North Carolinians speak Spanish. My Spanish isn’t perfect, but if I hadn’t gone around to Hispanic communities asking Ya esta registrado? on Nov. 1st, the last day to register in North Carolina, many people wouldn’t have gotten the chance to vote.

While I encountered a few ultra-conservative crazies (one man told me he wasn’t voting for Obama because he was "probably" the Antichrist), most people oozed Southern hospitality. I probably gained five pounds from all of the free food thrust at us at every polling station. One generous volunteer let all 30 of us stay in his house.

My cohorts and I snuck into a Sarah Palin rally one night. Unfortunately, we had to leave before she spoke (according to our campaign manager, there were more productive things for us to do than gawk at children carrying "Pro-lifers for Palin" posters). But I felt like I was a spy in an enemy camp, surrounded by people in pink "pitbulls with lipstick" T-shirts. I was definitely far away from my little liberal bubble.

Most satisfying was the feeling I got every time I inspired someone undecided to vote. I spoke with a man one day who was somehow under the impression that Obama was nine points ahead in the North Carolina polls. When I assured him that that was far from the case, he decided to vote. I’ve never felt so powerful before.

In completely unrelated news, I am no longer a vegetarian. I decided to sample a different fried chicken restaurant every night. I highly recommend the Bojangles fried chicken biscuit sandwich (with extra honey) if you’re ever in the area.

Guardian intern Katie Baker sent this piece from the campaign bus.