Within the walls of a dingy county Democratic headquarters, about 30 people sat talking on their cell phones. Fortunately, these were not the usual “Really? No she didn’t!!” conversations. Instead, we sat with lists of names and phone numbers in front of us, with an occasional age beside it. I looked down at the sheet I was sharing with my friend Kyle, scanning for a new Virginia voter to call. I read the number and carefully dialed it into my phone, then scanned the information. Linda* was 80-years old. I thought of my grandmother, a hardcore republican as the phone rang.
“Hello?” I hear the raspy voice of an elderly woman answer. This was the first time someone had actually picked up.
“Hi,” I said anxiously. “Is this Linda?”
When I confirmed that I had actually reached a human instead of getting stuck in yet another answering machine, or “voice jail” as my family calls it, I stumbled through the script. “My name is Julia I’m a volunteer leader with the grassroots campaign to reelect President Obama,” I read from the slip of paper, then threw in an awkward “How are you?”
After the curt small talk of two strangers, I asked her election plans. When she told me she was undecided, I figured that I had a chance to actually change something. “If I may, I’d like to explain to you why I support Obama, and why I’m putting in the time to volunteer tonight.”
We spoke for nearly ten minutes about Citizens United, and the financial situation of the elderly. I told her about my Grandma, a 70-something bus driver who cares for her 50-year-old son with down syndrome. Grandma has sleep apnea, false teeth, hip and knee replacements, and drags herself around the house to care for her middle-aged child and clean, all between a work schedule that requires her to get up at 5AM.
Even though Grandma didn’t know it, Obama’s policies had really helped her. She believed the forwarded emails that Obamacare was euthanasia, that the president was a secret Muslim, and even that he wasn’t born in the United States. However, she uses Medicare and Medicaid to get by, tax breaks for those with limited incomes, and a union that negotiates her pay as a public employee. And after several incidents in which her son Bobby injured himself while home alone, she even uses a government-supported daycare program for the mentally disabled.
I told Linda all this, but I didn’t have to: she could relate. She described her withering savings, and the fear that she might outlive the account. At 80 already, the notion of her returning to work seemed ridiculous, and yet, it seemed possible. Though the conventional wisdom is that people in tough economic situations vote out the incumbent, Linda decided not to join that trend. She felt that Romney would put CEOs before carpenters, bankers before bakers, and large dollar donors before the votes of the public. And, in a post-citizens’ united world, I think Linda was right.
And so, before getting off the phone, Linda pledged her vote to Obama, and I felt satisfied, knowing I had changed one mind. But more importantly, I was reminded that politics doesn’t have to be an issue of young versus old, black versus white versus Hispanic versus all the other little groups demographers ignore. Though we probably disagreed about religion, gay rights, and the hot-button issues that politicize, that we could come together to help those in our society who needed it. Like my grandmother.
While we often attribute Obama’s presidency to young voters, we are unfortunately pretty unreliable making it to the polls. The most consistent age demographic to cast their ballot is the elderly, not the youth. And the younger generation has a duty to care for the elderly. I’m not one to sat that every person over a certain age has automatically earned a special “Wise Elder” status, but as my friend Ema depicted in a sculpture, we’re all afraid of being old, and losing the ability to care for ourselves. I go help my Grandma as often as I can, ignoring her comments about my hair, sexual orientation, and political identification. I just smile and vacuum her carpet, clean out her cabinets, wash her sinks.
I believe that Obama really is there for the elderly, and we should be too. We need to care for the older people in our lives, and insist that they be treated with basic respect and dignity. I love my Grandma, and Linda reminded me of how much help she needs, and how much she gets from a president she doesn’t support. Only in America…
*Name changed for privacy