Reporting by Benjamin Wachs
The bedraggled homeless man in a ball cap and a long green coat stares at the 20 people in the park clustered around a small card table with an “Obama ’08!” sign taped to it, tossing in the wind.
“Hey, fuck you!” he shouts. “You can’t tell me what to do! You can’t tell me what to do! Do you hear me! You can’t tell me what to do!”
He keeps it up for maybe five minutes. Finally, someone shouts back, “Vote for Obama!”
Strangely, that shuts him up.
It’s Asian Day for Barack Obama’s Northern California campaign. Today groups of Obama volunteers are going out into heavily Asian neighborhoods to spread the word about their candidate’s record on issues Asian-American’s care about — everything from immigration, to opportunities for English language learners, to the minimum wage. I won’t go into details about his stands on these issues because, to tell the truth, most of the volunteers don’t really know. They’re just carrying around voter guides in English and Mandarin and spreading the warm feelings the candidate inspires.
And what a crowd of volunteers it is, led by Maggie, a bright energetic Caucasian in her mid 20s, and Wayne, an older Asian man so laid back he’s staring at clouds even when he talks to you. Together they’re explaining to a very diverse group – in age, race, and temperament – how to go knocking door to door (“Canvassing” is the term) and encouraging Democrats to vote for Obama in California’s Democratic primary.
This being Oakland, the perennial murder capital of California, these instructions include a few details usually left out of canvassing guidelines.
“It’s probably safe – it’s daytime,” Wayne tells his recruits. But everyone’s going in pairs, and “never go inside the house, I don’t care what the circumstances are.”