It was not so much what we accomplished for the campaign -- precious little, I'm afraid, mostly leaving literature on porches where people were not home or not willing to come to the door, although part of our job was to encourage supporters to make sure to vote and to mark down others who may not have been contacted before. But like so many things in life, I think we received so much more than we were able to give.
Of those people who did come to their doors, not only were virtually all of them strong Obama supporters, but there was not a one who said in a bored or irritated manner something like, uh, yea, I'm voting for him, goodbye. Everyone, young, old, white, black, Hispanic, stopped and smiled and had a gleam in their eyes when they said, yes, they were definitely voting for Obama and so were their friends or family. While I haven't done a lot of canvassing in my lifetime, I've never seen or heard people talk that way about a political candidate.
I really did not expect anything like that from the neighborhoods we visited. Maybe it was just the grey, rain-soaked Saturday afternoon that made the blocks of small, older homes look sad and discourgaged. But the people who opened their doors to us were not.
Earlier that day, our training session in downtown Scranton ended with a surprise visit from Rory Kennedy, youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, documentary film-maker on topics such as The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, Pandemic: Facing AIDS, and American Hollow (the story of a struggling Appalachian family), and the mother of three young children. Rory gave a short pep talk, which I later discovered was a much condensed version of the speech she gave earlier in the primaries and her endorsement, "Two Fine Choices - One Clear Decision" published in the San Francisco Chronicle. I cannot recall her exact words, but they echoed these from her endorsement:
I don't know why -- I've never been smitten with the Kennedy mystique, as much as I have respected the tireless efforts of many family members to truly serve the public good -- but my eyes swelled up with tears when I heard her speak. At the time Bobby Kennedy was campaigning for President himself, I had questions about whether he had commanded the spotlight in the race after standing on the shoulders of others who had worked hard before him (namely Eugene McCarthy), but I, too, was struck by the way he genuinely seemed to "feel it" when he spoke to people and the uncanny ability he had to inspire people to think and feel differently, to see the larger picture, and to take action accordingly. At a time when many were devastated over the effects of the seemingly endless Vietnam war, and the horror of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., he continued to give people a sense of hope and determination, to bring together black and white American, and to dare to dream of a better future for all -- until then he was killed as well.
In my years making documentaries, I have traveled to remote regions, from small villages in South America, to townships in South Africa, to the hollows of Appalachia. Every trip, every film, I meet people who still keep photographs of my family on their walls. They cry when they meet me, simply because they were touched by my father, Robert Kennedy. In part, this is because my father supported policies and legislation that helped the disenfranchised. But it is also, and perhaps more importantly, because they felt that my father understood their pain. Senator Obama has that quality too. He has an open heart and an energizing spirit.
Recently, my mother, Ethel Kennedy, said of Obama: "I think he feels it. He feels it just like Bobby did. He has the passion in his heart. He's not selling you. It's just him."
I agree. Obama is a genuine leader. We Americans - women included - desperately need that kind of leader now. Not a president of a particular gender or a specific race, but a president with a different vision, one who inspires a sense of hope.
Rory, his last child (not born until December 12, 1968, after her father's death in June, the violent Democratic convention in August, and Richard Nixon's election in November), is herself a representative of her father's hope -- not just by name, family tradition or agenda. I knew nothing of her until I returned home and started reading, but she certainly has not given up when most would. In addition to her father's death, her own personal tragedies include holding her dying brother Michael in her arms in 1997 and then in 1998 having her own wedding postponed when her cousins, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, died in a plane crash en route to her wedding. Yet she married, had children, continued her work with her husband making an astonishing series of films, and now is doing what she can to support Obama's campaign. Such hope, faith, and tenacity cannot help but astonish me.
Maybe I'm just a sucker for words of inspiration and hope, whether they come from a politician, an activist, or a preacher. But I saw those words personified as I sloshed through the streets and alleys of North Scranton on Saturday. People are daring to hope, at a time and a place where there seems to be no reason to have much. Let us also hope that they will not be disappointed.