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CHARLES FERNANDEZ
 
     
 
Obama for President
 
My Experience Inside the Obama Election Campaign
 
Charles Fernandez
     
Charles Fernandez
Application to Become a Full Time Fellow
Organizing For American
Obama For American

I must do all that is within my ability to assist the President and Democrats prevail in the most important election of my lifetime.

I WILL: Engage, Educate, Encourage, and Enthuse a community to take action; in this case contribute and vote Democratic. It involves lots of mundane tasks like stuffing and delivering envelopes, stumping door-to-door, distributing literature on street corners, and keeping cool when confronted by repub twits.

I spent 30 years producing, directing, & editing video, television, & DVD projects. Before that I was an active organizer in the End the Vietnam War movement. In that capacity I organized hundreds to travel to various demonstrations in Washington and New York. For many years I organized and manned a literature table designed to educate the uncommitted & debate those who should have been committed.

For NYC I wrote, produced, and directed a video about Lead Paint Poisoning which overwhelmly effects poor & minority children. I worked closely with afflicted families. I also wrote a hip hop PSA, “Make It Lead Safe” that was enhanced and performed by Wu-Tang Clan.

I’ve led a lucky life devoid of PERSISTENT adversity. I contributed to my good fortune by being educated, organized, & competent. A formative life experience was to compete and thrive on the varsity level in basketball at 5 foot six inches. I had to be faster, smarter & in better condition than my much taller opponents. (Just Like the President)

 

I went to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to campaign full time for President Obama and down ticket Democrats. I spent two months organizing, canvassing, calling, persuading, and encouraging crucial Pennsylvanians to vote.

Why Pennsylvania? First, because the anachronistic American Constitution still contains a vestige of the grand compromise of 1787 protecting the Slave holding States from the more populous Northern States. This makes my vote in New York meaningless. Obama cruised to victory in NY without my assistance and with it garnered all of New York’s votes in the Electoral College. Battleground Pennsylvania is a different story.

 

The second reason is the cynical and undemocratic Republican attempts in Pennsylvania to suppress the vote of the elderly, the young and the poor by forcing them to acquire photo ID cards, at great cost to some and intolerable effort to others. There has been no voter fraud in PA that voter ID would prevent. There are virtually no cases of people trying to vote twice that would be prevented by photo ID. The law implemented by Repubs is a despicable attempt to game our democratic system and steal the election.

Third, much of my motivation in going to PA was that I find Romney, Ryan, and Republican ideology to be odious and their campaign to be mendacious, hateful, and abhorrent. I enjoyed repeating anti Repub slogans such as:

Republicans: Doubling Down On Trickle Down

Mitt Was Born On Third Base, And Thinks He Hit A Triple

Obama Cares - Romney Scares

RomneyHood: Rob From the Poor to Give to the Rich

If Romney Played A Musical Instrument It Would Be The Lyre.

But truth be told, I don’t agree with Obama on many issues including continuing our presence in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, DOMA, Pot, Gun Control, Cabinet choices, Wall Street Cronyism, Campaign strategy and a host more. But truth be told a second time, when there is an outcome to our disagreements Obama is usually correct and I’m frequently wrong.

So Hi Ho - Hi Ho it was off to Bethlehem I go!

My first task was voter registrations and helping with their photo ID requirements, no easy task for many young and older voters.

As has been said, “90% of Life Is Showing Up” and it’s more like 99% of elections. If we show up and vote we will win. We needed to register and turn out the vote in Bethlehem to win Pennsylvania.

 
We registered approximately 3000 new voters. On weekends volunteers from New York and New Jersey joined locals in door-to-door canvasing. I generally took a team of bilingual volunteers into working class neighborhoods with large Hispanic populations where my Spanish came into good use. I learned quite a bit from discussions with salt of the earth folks here. Most are ardent supporters. The ones who have reservations watch FOX Noise. Some are turned off to the process seeing no difference between the candidates. I worked at persuading the latter group that there is a profound difference between the Parties and the Candidates and that their lives and the lives of their children will be much worse off if Obama is defeated. I had some success.
 

THE GROUND GAME: The goal of the canvassing and phone bank calling was to identify the voting preferences of as many voters as possible. Were they strong Obama, Leaning Obama, Undecided, Leaning Romney, Strong Romney, Not Voting, or Third Party? All information was valuable and the key to our eventual success. Strong Obama supporters were our prime targets in the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) end game. We didn’t need to spend time persuading them to vote Obama but could concentrate on the undecided while ignoring the Strong Romney supporters. There is little use in arguing with a Republicans.

When canvassing either by phone or door to door we could skip those we previously contacted or whose preferences were clearly known.

Every night, all that we learned during the day was entered in the “VoteBuilder DataBase”. It was quite sophisticated. With it we knew the issues important to individual voters and could call them with information specific to their concerns. We could parse lists of retired voters who were more likely to be home during the day. One local volunteer, Janette, herself long since retired, came into the office for hours every day and with incredible perseverance and patience tirelessly called on her fellow Senior Citizens. She was one of the many unsung heroes of the campaign.

It was in the GROUND GAME that the Obama Campaign excelled, outpacing, outsmarting and outworking the Romney effort at every turn.

Most of those we registered voted for Obama but not all. We registered Republicans and Independents in stark contrast to Republican efforts in many states where Democratic applications were shredded.

 

After registration closed on October 9th I transferred my attention to undecided voter persuasion. For months before going to PA I engaged a Republican former classmate in debate on the issues. While he did little but spew forth ad hominem invective, I got to research, develop, and articulate the facts and evidence on a multitude of issues. My favorite was the “Affordable Health Care Act,” “Obama Care” or “Obama Cares” as I came to call it. For example, one of the many Republican issues was that Obama Care was unconstitutional. I found a perfect retort. In July of 1798, Congress passed – and President John Adams signed - “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance.

Keep in mind that the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members including Jefferson and Madison were the drafters of the Constitution.

And when the Bill came to the desk of President John Adams for signature, I think it’s safe to assume that the man in that chair had a pretty good grasp on what the framers had in mind.

 

Jill Biden spoke at a gathering I attended in Allentown. Eloquent and persuasive, her words made me weep with pride and joy. I got to talk with here for a moment and brought up the 1798 Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen,” I was hoping that Joe Biden would use it against Rep. Ryan. It is a devastating debating point when the Republicans claim that the Founding Fathers would never support the Affordable Health Care Act, “Obama Cares.”

For additional information:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/29099806/Act-for-the-Relief-of-Sick-DisabledSeamen-July-1798

 
While it was important to be prepared on a vast variety of issues: the Economy, Jobs, Deficits, Health Care, Foreign Policy, Benghazi, War, Social Issues, Reproductive rights, Gay Rights, Equal opportunity and pay, nothing prepared me for the what happened while canvassing near Lehigh University. I came upon a young woman and her two children waiting for a bus. She was a bit bedraggled, missing a tooth, and poorly dressed, clearly one of the 47%. I approached with literature and a Get Out To Vote message when she whined that she was not voting and would not vote for Obama because Obama was a Communist.
 

I know not to argue with such ignorance and turned to present the literature to a young man who was just a few feet away. He responded that he was not voting for Obama because he (the young man) was a Marxist. I tried to get the woman who thought Obama was a Communist to encourage the Marxist to vote for Obama but to no avail. She did not know what a Marxist was. I explained that a Marxist was one who enjoyed Groucho Marx, and that Marxist/Lennonists enjoy the music of John Lennon and the Beatles. That she understood. The young man was not pleased and stormed off.

 
There are two requisites required to preserve Democracy: vote and serve on juries. I’ve shared many wonderful moments registering people who will be voting for the first time. But there were too many who are just not interested. I talked with people whose interest in health care, women’s rights, jobs, and education make them potential poster children for Voting Democratic who are not voting because they have been deluded into thinking that Obama is a Muslim, or not an American, or in one case the leader of the “Illuminati.” No amount of fact or reason would get them to register. I feel sorry for them. In the dog eat dog world of Romney they would be the first dogs to be eaten.
 
But there were loads of good moments, a favorite came when a charming south Asian grandmother came into the office bearing homemade poppadum, dal, rice, and tandoori chicken. Scrumptious and typical of the support we got from the community.
 

The full time staff members were all in their twenties. They were smart, dedicated, hard working, consistent, and devoted to Obama and the database. But at times I felt they were more interested in feeding the database and meeting a set of goals than anything else. They did not understand the psychological and symbolic values of campaigns past. An example might be that while “lawn signs don’t vote,” they are invaluable in creating volunteers and lifting moral of the troops. While I agree that the GOTV database was vital and integral to the victory, a bit of old fashioned razzmatazz also can turn out the vote. While Romney had little ground game he did have an advantage in TV advertising, robo calls, slick mailers, and lawn signs. When we finally got lawn signs donated by the Mayor of Allentown, I was able to use them to effectively encourage locals to volunteer. Lots of locals were aggravated by the plethora of Romney signs and wanted to retort with Obama signs. As word got that Obama 2012 signs were to be had at our office a steady stream of people came in looking to get one. Instead of greeting them with “How can we help you.” I turned the table by asking, “How are you here to HELP re-elect President Obama.” The Home field advantage! Before giving them a sign or a bumper sticker they got the pitch to volunteer to make phone calls, canvass, enter data, or provide food or transportation to our New York volunteers, etc. To continue the baseball analogy, my batting average in getting them to volunteer was better than 80% as opposed to 15% sans lawn signs.

Bethlehem lost power due to Sandy. The campaign office was closed for three days. However, we had electricity where I was a guest of the Lewis Family, generous and wonderful folks originally from Guyana. Mr. Charles Lewis, a first class contractor and political junkie, his wife Natalie, a Nurse for Obama, and their four sons all made me feel welcomed in their home and valued as a contributor to the campaign. Their home in South Whitehall was an enclave of light surrounded on all sides, north, south, east and west by blackout. The local Dunkin Donuts was jammed with coffee addicts. I was able to continue campaigning, handing out literature and encouraging folks to vote no matter what the situation until I realized the extent of damage and loss of life at which point campaigning became inappropriate.

 

GOTV”- Get Out The Vote.

Three weeks before the election in preparation for GOTV our office was inundated with 100,000 pieces of literature for a voting population of 30,000. I felt that it was a dirty trick from the Romney campaign especially considering that it came from Staples, Inc. But it was all planned. Each week all our supporters and all those who were undecided got a different piece of literature. In those neighborhoods that were virtually 100% Obama, I broke protocol, abandoned the Database and cruised the community stopping and recruiting teenagers right off the street to distribute literature to all. In hilly South Bethlehem eager young legs bounding up the multiple steps of their neighbors homes were vastly superior to any effort that my aching feet could have mustered. I must add that I lost more than 25 pounds on the Obama Campaign diet and exercise plan.

 

GOTV culminated on Election Day with the distribution of a specially designed campaign literature, a door hanger with the voting location tailored specifically to each voting district. It was a monumental project that involved hundreds of volunteers painstakingly recruited over the many months preceding the election. Each of the full time staff members had team captains. Each team captain had a team or a number of lieutenants who each had a team. With military precision this was repeated all over the state, all over the nations battleground states, and that’s how Obama won.

BLOWING MY OWN HORN:

Long before I ever saw any reference to Republicans as anything but Republicans, I was upset about the way they would say “Democrat Party” as an invective. I stated calling them Repubs in multiple posts to the New York Times and on Facebook. Now we have Rethuglicans, Repuglicans, and many others.

Perhaps it was in the zeitgeist, but two months before VP Joe Biden issued the powerful catch phrase, “General Motors Alive, bin Laden Dead,” I called the campaign in Chicago, talked with a staffer, and suggested using the phrase. I also posted it directly to them and online.

Along with the posts were an explanation that it was a paraphrase of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous utterance and campaign slogan of 1904, Perdicaris Alive or the Raisuli Dead," that I originally referenced in response to 9/11 as “bin Laden Dead, Afghanistan alive.

In 1904, the 64-year-old Perdicaris and his stepson became the 20th century's first American victim of terrorism. They found themselves taken hostage in Morocco by a band of Berber tribesmen on horseback.

Their chieftain, Mulai Ahmed Raisuli, wanted to extort a heavy ransom from his brother, the Sultan of Morocco -- not to mention embarrass his sibling the sovereign, by showing him to be powerless to protect foreign citizens.

This was more than a simple kidnapping in a distant land. For President Theodore Roosevelt, it was an opportunity to start waving his "big stick," sending battleships steaming toward the African coast, replete with a battalion of Marines, the Navy Seals of the day, to ensure Perdicaris' safe release.

It also gave Roosevelt the chance to issue one of his most forceful Campaign proclamations, "Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead," sending Americans wild with pride and joy, a statement that helped ensure his re-election.

The King of Morocco paid the ransom; Perdicaris was released and praised the Raisuli as a fighter for his people.

 
A movie was made from the incident, “The Wind and the Lion.” A young Candice Bergan was cast as the widow “Mrs. Perdicaris” so that she and the Raisuli played by Sean Connery could heat up the desert.
 
 

Hence, perhaps I was responsible for “General Motors Alive, Bin Laden Dead!”

By Charles Fernandez

     
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