Block walking for Obama

Only Evelyn was at the University City Obama headquarters when I finally found it, not on N. Hanley, but around the corner on Melrose. “We’re block walking,” she said. “Are you comfortable with that?” she asked. “Most people want to phone only.”

But I was fine with block walking, if I couldn’t be telephoning Ohio. It was 44 degrees and a very light rain. I had a thin raincoat, but could run home if I needed more, since I was only a few blocks away. I would be walking in my own hometown, University City, just on the edge of St. Louis. We are a racially balanced city, 41% black, though individual blocks tend to be dominated by one race or the other. I would be walking in a nearly entirely African American neighborhood of small brick homes with second glass doors and new brassy deadbolts.

I walked long blocks of Etzel, Corbitt, Avalon, Plymouth, Julian, and the connecting Kingsland to the West. For some reason I had only the even side of the streets. I was alone. I had signed up for a 3 to 7 pm shift, but took until 3:30 to find the place. I walked until I was done, shortly after dark. I had a checklist of voters and homes and a list of possible responses to mark. For homes where no one was home, I had hangtags to leave. I felt very happy when the home I had to visit already had an Obama yard sign.

Northern University City is a hard-working area, so many people were not home. A couple of homes had kids noisily playing inside, but no adults to come to the door. One home with adults inside did not reveal them. Instead three enthusiastic boys about 10 years old came out and told me they had voted for Obama in their school class and their teacher had really voted for him. I convinced them to bring the hangtag giving the polling place to the adults inside. One of the boys asked me if I had met Barack Obama. Alas, I have not.

A black dog came sprinting out of the neighbor’s house. He ran around with the joy of a just released dog, back and forth, way past us, then back. Clearly he knew the boys. But then he noticed me and lunged furiously. Being surrounded by the kids did not matter. Fortunately, they held him back snarling as I hurried on.

Not surprisingly, it was a friendly job. I visited homes likely to support Barack, according to my list. I felt a little self- conscious as a white woman urging black neighbors to support our black president. More than one home declined to open the door, instead speaking me through it. One of these suddenly opened the door to have a look when they heard my Michigan accent, then enthusiastically laughed. My only angry person was a very old white man whom the previous block walker had called insane. I wondered what had brought him to, or left him in this neighborhood.

Don’t get me wrong. For me this election is not about race. It is about civil rights for same sex couples. It is about health care reform. It is about women’s rights. It is about the environment. It is about fair taxation. It is about foreign policy.

I wish I could say I’ve been block walking for weeks and have done everything I could for this so important election. But I haven’t. I have been in Finland. I have been busy teaching. I have given money, frequently, but could have given more. I could have done more. Next time I’ll be better organized. Or will I? What future election could be more important? Why can’t I be more like Sue Deigaard?

Block walking may help. Hang tags may help. Political discussions with neighbors matter. But block walking is also fun. It gives you the ability to walk right up to people’s homes and ring the bell. You can see who cleans their front door. You can see who has a cat wanting to get in. You can talk to your neighbors.

So, ultimately, I block walked for one early evening right before the election for myself. I gave that last contribution today for myself. I want Obama to win. I want to feel I did everything I could for him. Well, I could have done more. But now, all I can do is get up early and vote.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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