Georgetown Students Canvass Virginia Neighborhoods

Oct 7th, 2008 | By ffolwell | Category: Latest News

Photo by Ma Jing (Masa)

October 4, 2008
By Jed Layton
Sully, VA—Each door Imani Tate knocked on had a mystery behind it. Would anyone be home? Would the person be receptive? How should she talk to them? What should she do if they get angry?
Tate, a freshman in international affairs at Georgetown University, along with other students spent Saturday afternoon mulling over those questions as they canvassed neighborhoods in Sully, a historic town in Fairfax County, Va., to raise support for Barack Obama.

It was Tate’s first time stumping for Obama and she was a bit nervous. “I have gone door to door before,” she said as she walked through the garden in front of a small townhouse. “But this is the first time I have ever gone canvassing. It is a bit nerve racking.”

Saturday was a good day for canvassing. The sun was out with the temperature in the mid-70s. People were outside playing with kids, raking leaves, weeding gardens and mowing the lawn. Not all of them were friendly to the volunteers. One man verbally attacked Lane Wheeler, a freshman government major.

“He started to yell at me and told me I was ignorant,” she said. “He followed me out onto his lawn shouting crazy theories about Obama’s house being given to him by the Mafia and Obama’s brother being a terrorist.”

There were a few enthusiastic people behind the closed doors, but most were coolly indifferent to the message the students delivered.

Tyler Bilbo, a freshman majoring in government and the Chinese language, felt undecided voters were the most important audience.

As a young basketball-wielding boy watched, Bilbo talked to potential voter and explained to him what he was doing knocking on his door. “I am here as a student supporting Barack Obama because I am tired of living under a Bush White House,” he said to the man through a screen door. “I think McCain’s policies are too similar.”

The man smiled and waved saying he would likely support Obama but still hadn’t completely made up his mind. Bilbo responded by telling the man to watch the next presidential debate where he could see for himself how similar the “Maverick” was to President Bush.

Over 30 students traveled in vans and cars an hour from Georgetown to Sully. Volunteers from the Obama campaign picked them up, drove them through bumper-to-bumper traffic and then gave them a pep talk before dropping the students off in the town of around 157,000. Each student had a different approach.

Tate’s friend, , had knocked on doors before and was more comfortable than some of the others. He always made sure everyone in the house was registered to vote.

“I canvassed for a congressman while I was living in Chicago,” he said. “But it is different knocking on doors for Obama. There is a lot more at stake.”

Solomon explained that Virginia was a swing state in 2008, meaning it could easily go to either John McCain or Obama. While Virginia typically votes Republican, an influx of people into the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., has the state nearly dead even.

“If Obama wins here, and it looks like he has a really good chance, it will be because of these types of neighborhoods,” Solomon said gesturing to town houses he just visited. “The demographics here have completely changed. It is the same with North Carolina. It is shocking that Obama could win that state as well.”

Virginia, with its 13 electoral votes, has become a target for both campaigns. An Oct. 1 Mason-Dixon poll showed McCain leading the state by just three percentage points, 48 to 45 percent. North Carolina, with its 15 electoral votes, was even closer in a Sept. 16 poll, which had McCain up only one percent, 48 percent to 47 percent.

As she walked from house to house, Wheeler noticed Democrats weren’t the only ones canvassing in this neighborhood. In recycling bins and stuffed between doors were flyers supporting McCain and an incumbent Republican congressmen.

“Maybe that is why people have been annoyed when I come to their door,” she said with a smile. “I bet this neighborhood gets a lot of this.”

Wheeler said the McCain campaign stepped up its efforts in Virginia and other swing states after recently giving up on Michigan, a state Republicans traditionally have lost to Democrats.
While Solomon wants Obama to win the election, mostly he hopes to help people become involved and informed about political issues. Sully resident John Terry told Solomon that he was tired of politics. “I don’t like anybody at this point in time. I will probably not support either of them,” he said.

Walking away from Terry’s door, Solomon said citizens like him to need to be involved the most.
“If there is something that bugs them about our nation, they need to let others know. They need to be offering suggestions instead of just doing nothing. Hopefully our knocking on their door can inspire them to do something,” said the political activist as he headed off to carry his message to another prospective voter.

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