I was sitting in a room with 50 other volunteers in Chico two weeks ago. I had driven six hours and given up a beautiful fall weekend to be there. The question before us was, why were we there? What was our personal story? Why is this election more important than others?
In smaller groups, we took turns. The stories ranged from inspirational to patriotic to downright gut-wrenching. One was told by a young woman recently retired from the Navy. She had personally processed the papers for two men later killed on the U.S.S. Cole. She was unabashedly pro-military, but anti-Iraq War. She thought too many lives are being wasted during this long occupation. Another woman was on welfare for the first time in her life and facing her third surgery, this time without any insurance because her company had laid her off. We were about evenly split that day between the haves and the have-nots, the luckys and unluckys. I was in the lucky half, with the retired history professor from Chico and a College of the Redwoods student who had also made the trip.
I thought I knew my story. I am 61 and I have lived the American dream. My mother was the daughter of Russian immigrants who didn't speak English until she started school. My father died when I was 4. We grew up poor, but so was most everyone else in El Monte, Calif., in the 1950s. I worked, married and eventually -- after two children -- graduated from college. I became a reporter. My husband and I sometimes had more than one job each. We started two businesses. We sent kids to college, paid off our mortgage, saved for retirement. We're there. The reason I was volunteering was that I am worried that American dream is fading for our children and grandchildren and so many others. You can even call it white, liberal guilt, if you like.
That story wasn't good enough. You have to be more specific when you train at Camp Obama. Why are you here now? Here is my revised story:
I had a brother who served in the Air Force for four years in the 1960s. He was discharged, came home safely and then was killed in a car wreck two weeks later. I don't know what is it like to lose a brother in a senseless war, but I know what it's like to lose one in a senseless car wreck. Our lives, especially the life of my mother, changed forever. Multiply that times 4,000 American mothers and 40,000 Iraqi mothers. I am not anti-war, I am anti-Iraq War.
I have another story, this one about my granddaughter, who was born with a hole in her heart. She had open-heart surgery at 9 months old and again last year when she turned 4. You'd never know it to watch her race around on her bike. Her parents pay more than $1,200 a month for the family's health insurance and co-pays because they are self-employed. These are checks they have to write every month before the mortgage and before the groceries. They cannot skip a payment and they cannot move to accept employment elsewhere, because they would never get health insurance again. Why is health insurance tied to employment anyway?
Our fearless leader that day at Camp Obama was Kim, regional field director for the north state. Her story was that she has a son in Iraq and she will do anything to bring him home safely. She thinks Obama is a better bet. She's proud of her son, the soldier, and she got a little teary eyed when she told us he had just reenlisted for another tour because of a $17,000 sign-on bonus and a promise of medical school when he's done.
So, Journal readers, what are your stories? I'll bet you have some. What's your house worth and how's your 401K? Send them to our editor, Hank Sims. I know he only likes to publish letters about stories we've printed in the paper on local people, politics and issues. I hope he'll make an exception between now and the election. Just reference this column.
In the meantime, I'm packing to drive to Colorado where for the next five weeks I will knock on doors, table at grocery stores and man phone banks in the evening. Why Colorado? Because it's one of those light blue states Obama must win. Plus, I have a sister with a spare bed ... a sister who also knows what it's like to lose a brother.