by Fran O’Leary
The first thing that struck me when I walked into the Obama office on East Charleston Boulevard was the friendliness, warmth and inclusiveness, amid the frenetic campaign activity. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what generates this buzz, but it’s there in each smile and each wave as grassroots activists congratulate each other on the numbers of doors they’ve knocked on.
It’s there as people trade campaign stories from the streets and volunteers share pizza. It’s there as activists and their kids sign their names, and write positive messages of support, on the paper that covers the entrance wall.
In stark contrast to Vegas’ lavish casinos, where every element of the experience – from scented air conditioning to security – is tightly controlled, there is a real sense that this place belongs to the grassroots. Everyone here has an important role to play.
The people in this neighbourhood – Clark county state senate district 8 – face a serious threat if Obama loses the election. This battle is theirs and the stakes are high. Unemployment stands at around 12% in Clark county as a whole, which is Democrat leaning overall, and the median income in Las Vegas is around $39k.
Nevada is a swing state. On the 29th October USA Today stated that Democrats have a 90,000 edge over Republicans, amongst registered voters in the state, with a 39,000 advantage amongst early voters. While the expectation is that the area will be won by the Democrats, the Romney campaign hasn’t given up yet. In fact, at one point while we were knocking on doors in a complex of flats, a Republican campaigner was just a few floors below us.
The grassroots Obama campaign is working hard to get Democrat supporters out to vote early, before the 6th of November, and generate the highest turn out possible.
The importance of this moment in American politics really hit home when we were knocking on doors. I spent some time in a retirement community where lifelong Democrat supporters faced multiple health problems and were concerned about the future of social security. Their fear of the potential impact of a Romney administration on healthcare and support for older people was very real.
I was struck by the effectiveness of the campaign literature and the connection and rapport between activists and voters. As we walked the streets, a retired air force veteran offered to help if anyone tried to intimidate us or tried to get us to stop campaigning.
Adult activists, including an incredibly inspirational campaign organiser, were joined by a group of Hispanic school kids who said they wanted to help get the vote out as they wanted a better education system. As a homeless man walked past pushing all his belongings in a shopping trolley, some black kids who saw our campaign materials shouted out “Obama y’all” in support. However tough the challenges Obama faces, and however much more he needs to do in the US, there is something magic about seeing how inspirational he is for the next generation of voters.
Earlier in the day I’d met an ageing heroin addict, a homeless woman who was six weeks pregnant and a diabetic man who was struggling to get enough money together for his medicine. Their struggles seem particularly striking in Vegas, a city which is home to the world’s largest golden nugget, a chandelier made of 2 million beaded crystals and the world’s largest chocolate fountain.
Vegas is an amazing place, where many people, such as those involved in the downtown project, are working to improve and enhance the community. In a place defined by excess, pleasure and casino chip fuelled dreams, the crushing impact of poverty and inequality stands out on a grand, neon light spangled scale.
As we move closer to election day, back to back TV campaign adverts highlight how policies will aid America’s middle class as the two major parties compete to win support from this demographic. Meanwhile the grassroots campaign continues to reach out and motivate a broader range of supporters, including those with the most to lose if Romney wins. The campaign organisation here is truly grassroots, inclusive and inspirational and as the battle moves forward I wish them all the luck in the world – not just the luck in Vegas – for a positive result.
Fran O’Leary is a Labour party member from London who helped to campaign for Obama in Las Vegas