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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

The State of the Voting Public Is Just Fine, Thanks

March 20, 2004|Sydney Weisman | Sydney Weisman is a Los Angeles-based publicist who has worked professionally in several political campaigns.

I'm a Democrat. For the first time in my adult life, I am working as a volunteer on a political campaign. I went to the John Kerry website, found the Los Angeles-based grass-roots organization and signed on to do whatever it needed.

What it needed was help in phone bank calls -- cold-calling to strangers in the early primary states. In truth, this would be a sales call. Knowing how I respond to such calls, I was prepared. Or thought I was. Out of 100 calls, I got only one obscene response.

In New Hampshire and South Carolina, everyone wanted to talk, even the Republicans. Among my New Hampshire voters was a woman named Katy. "My father died last year," she said. She told me he was an immigrant from Italy who had married into New England aristocracy. He held the family together, she said, with his values, his kindness and his passion for Democratic politics. "I want to make the right decision," she said. "I so miss his counsel, I don't know what to do."

We talked the pros and cons of her vote for about half an hour. At the end of our chat, I told her I thought she'd make the best choice she could. Then I asked her, if she thought it appropriate, to call the following week because I would be interested to know what she decided. I gave her my phone number, never expecting to hear back from her.

There were others like Katy, who wanted to talk about their votes. What I thought would be an hour's task often stretched into three hours for each session. The respondents' politeness and patience were stunning.

The people in South Carolina all spoke in very genteel, Southern accents. They talked readily about family, about their cousin down the street with whom I had just spoken, or about life in their town. Finally, I told one older woman how impressed I was with the civility I was given.

"Oh, we take great pride in our kindness," she said. "We're a small town, we're not very wealthy, but we're an educated town. We don't get to travel much. Most of us all grew up here, most of us have all our families around us. It's actually quite beautiful. Where are you calling from?"

When I said Los Angeles, she was too polite to say how pitiful that was, but I could sense she thought so.

In both New Hampshire and South Carolina, the voters I talked with were seriously focused on the election and their roles in it. Over the next few weeks, pundits and others voiced pique because bigger states, like California, wouldn't "count." There was an overriding concern that smaller states were picking our candidates.

Based on my conversations with Katy and the others, I feel we can trust them. In fact, we should be grateful to them for the passion with which they undertook their voting. These voters in the smaller states did the "due diligence" for us, meeting the candidates up close in a way that Californians simply can't.

John Kerry has said that running for president is a humbling experience. Working on his behalf and being treated so kindly by Democrats and Republicans a continent away, plus having Katy call back, has been indeed humbling. They showed me the system still worked when we just took time and simply talked with each other.

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