Sunday, October 12


Part III:

Most people were waiting for the bus to Iowa, which was,
unsurprisingly, late. I ended up getting a ride from a wonderful
woman, Birch, a former economist at the Federal Reserve and also a
former schoolteacher who was driving over. The Iowa office was
buzzing with energy. It was one of the most vibrant places I've seen
in recent memory, with handmade signs, posters, maps and newspaper
clippings on the wall.

It was moving to see all the volunteers--people of shapes and sizes,
from different walks of life. The diversity was surprising given that
we were in Iowa. The leaders of the training session were
enthusiastic, they got everyone revved up. We all received a packet
of our assignments, campaign literature and voting forms to
distribute, and directions on how to talk to people.

Governor Tom Vilsack made a surprise appearance and told a moving
story about calling to console a woman with two young children whose
husband had died in Iraq. Her husband was the main breadwinner in the
household, and Vilsack said he didn't know what to say to her. She
told him, "I'm sure that those men needed my husband more at that
moment than I will for the rest of my life." It was a beautiful story
about the bravery of ordinary people.

This may sound like a cliche, but you can't understand American
democracy until you've campaigned door to door. The people we spoke
with were polite, thoughtful, concerned. Their views were much more
subtle and varied than one might gather from reading mainstream media.
The McCain supporters we talked with were mostly kind and gracious.
People occasionally opened up, and their stories--of owning small
businesses, of raising children, of living in poverty, of remodeling
their homes, of doing volunteer work with the mentally ill or elderly,
of serving in the military--showed one the diversity of American life.

The afternoon was exhausting, but also deeply gratifying. The heart
of democracy lies in these person-to-person exchanges. One felt that
one was a small part of some glacial sea of change, a conversation, a
drawing of people into the political process, a building of consensus,
something that would last beyond one election. I encourage anyone
with the time to give it a shot.

-Ian Le