It was a long long Sunday canvassing for Obama, this time in Ashburn, Virginia, and it was also a very exciting one. It began far from our destination, in a parking lot in Maryland, where we were "briefed" and handed maps of our Virginia destinations.
Next stop: Virginia field offices. Once we arrived at ours, in a manufactured "village" of mostly low-rise, not-so-expensive apartment buildings, we were briefed again, presented with the usual impressive packets with maps and voter rolls, and sent on our way.
As on our other sojourns, my friend and I brought along his four-year-old son, who is a rabid Obama fan. We had 36 apartments on our list - in at least eight different buildings. The complex, nice but clearly not fancy, had no elevators. Instead, like an apartment you might rent at the beach, each building offered concrete stairs in an open stairwell, ascending four flights to the top. No doorbells, just brass knockers or -- as we did -- you knocked the old fashioned way.
It was a lot of steps; I clocked at least two miles on my pedometer. Leading our way was our four-year-old ambassador, who never flinched at the up-down-up-down-nobody home - maybe an answer - up - down of the day. It clearly wore him out but boy was it worth it.
I've always been sentimental about our country; since I grew up just outside a mill town south of Pittsburgh I'm very aware of multicultural living. In my class there were Kalcevics and Janczewskis and Brneloviches and Courys and McCurdys and Mortons and Stepanoviches -- and more. But days like today - well - they're different, mostly because many of the committed voters we met today just got here. One charming African man, with a wife in African dress, himself in shorts and a tee shirt, just became a citizen and received his voter card on October 12th. Another, Middle Eastern, immediately declared his preference for Senator Obama and asked where he could get a button (of course we gave him ours.) A third, whose son was also four, spoke to us as smells of curry and some unfamiliar seasonings drifted out the door; the scent of strange spices was all around. Some residents spoke Spanish, some perfect British English, some less perfect - and less British. But here they were, in these simple apartments in a massive series of cul-de-sacs, so ready to vote.
When I was a kid, my grandfather talked endlessly to us about how he felt coming here - what it meant to him and why he never wanted to go back to the Old Country - even to visit. He was a tough old guy - kind of scary actually - but fiercely grateful for what he had found here. That gratitude, and our own comprehension of our lives as the daughters of a Harvard-trained lawyer, educated on scholarships while his entire family worked to keep him in school; lives that were possible only because our grandparents had had the guts to pick up and leave and our country had offered them, and our father, the privilege of a chance - built an awareness that has never faded. Today though, it jumped from its quiet residence in the back of my mind to full-on awe. We are part of something wonderful here. As Jonathan Curley wrote in a Christian Science Monitor piece with similar sentiments
"I've learned that this election is about the heart of America. It's about the young people who are losing hope and the old people who have been forgotten. It's about those who have worked all their lives and never fully realized the promise of America, but see that promise for their grandchildren in Barack Obama. The poor see a chance, when they often have few. I saw hope in the eyes and faces in those doorways.
That's what it is - hope. And the remarkable privilege of acting on that hope - using the power of American democracy to turn hope into action. Obama's slogan "Yes we can!" isn't just political. It's a battle cry, a pledge passed on through generations - this time from my grandfather to the "new folks" living in Ashburn Village. The day we decide we are no longer obligated to help pass the legacy on will be a very sad day indeed. That's why what happens on Tuesday is so important. Morals, ethics, values, opportunity, education, work, freedom, the pursuit of happiness... this has always been us. May it be again this week.