October 28, 2008

Give change a chance

In the last days now before the election, the race in Florida is tightening as predicted. We've been seeing more Obama lawn signs - those, that is, that have escaped the epidemic of sign theft. One couple that we talked to on Saturday had lost their Obama sign to theives the night before. They were livid, of course, and we were all left to wonder about the motive behind it: by stealing the signs, the vandals think... what? That they're making the candidate himself disappear?

The evangelical-controlled republican party has been rife with superstition for some time now. Ballot initiative 2 in Florida for instance, would not only constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriage, but also "the substantial equivalent thereof..." No government-recognized domestic partnerships. This over-kill initiative is so mean-spirited that none other than Jeb Bush lambasted it when its petition fell short four years ago. The goal of this measure, it seems, apart from the usual ploy of baiting conservatives into the voting booth, is to deter divine displeasure, and somehow save heterosexual marriage. The 50% divorce rate, like the 9/11 attack, can be traced directly to the nation's growing acceptance of homosexuality, you see. But as one unmarried straight couple we met, who had voted against the measure, pointed out, it puts them and their family in jeopardy too. One sign I saw in Naples said "Vote No on 2. Save our families." But in the fundamentalist-imagined universe, health care benefits, pensions, civil rights in general, are extended only to those who are permitted to submit to the proper state-sanctioned religious ritual.

One crusty duplex we visited turned out to be a "bad address." The former tenant had moved out. The old lady who greeted us at the door, surely a woman with little more than social security to sustain her, upon seeing our Obama buttons snapped "Get off my property!" Superstition, apparently, or "the substantial equivalent thereof" trumps everything in the minds of some... including their own self-interest. Thomas Frank's "What's The Matter With Kansas?", though already a little dated, is a good primer on the phenomenon.

The quirkiest encounter was toward the end of the day on Saturday. One of our last calls was on somebody named "Ono." Imagine our surprise when we pulled up to the house and there, stretched between two trees, was a huge home-made Obama sign saying "Give Peace A Chance." The guy who answered the door, who turned out to be a volunteer, had made the sign. But he wasn't Ms. Ono. He didn't know Ms. Ono. Turns out she was at another address that we'd already logged as "moved."

The thing that surprised me the most on these treks into the neighborhoods I thought I knew, were the number of contacts on our list that were "bad addresses." Apartments, condos, and houses which, once approached, turned out to be empty, abandoned, foreclosed. Houses I thought were neighbors. And that, as I look around the city, is the legacy of the last eight years made sadly tangible. Empty houses, uprooted families, properties gone to weed. From modest apartments to solemn McMansions. Not even a dog to welcome or warn. Nobody. Nothing.

In normal times, I'd favor a somewhat divided government but not this year. The old guard has to go. I'd like to see Obama and Biden, should they win the White House, get the support in congress they need to take the country in a new direction. Give change a chance.