Flyer vs Flyer

November 1st, 2008, the Saturday before election day, I attended a No on 8 SF training session and an East Bay volunteer coordinator was there to give us some news and ask for our help. The Yes on 8 campaign had just completed a massive Oakland flyer drop targeting Obama supporters with flyers that had large photos of Obama and a quote from him saying “I’m not in favor of gay marriage”. (Never mind that Obama actually opposed Prop8.) To counter that effort, No on 8 printed flyers with Obama’s photo and stating his opposing to Prop8. The East Bay coordinator asked us to volunteer for an “emergency flyer drop” all over Oakland.

Now, going up to the front doors of complete strangers in neighborhoods I know nothing about is not something that sounds like fun to me. In fact, given this issue, it sounds like it could potentially be dangerous. But we needed to counter our opponents actions quickly and with the election only three days away, this was the way to do it. So I signed up…

The next morning, Sunday around noon, I headed over to the Oakland Democratic Headquarters to get my marching orders. The plan was to send volunteers out to drop flyers at every home in every precint in Oakland. Each precinct was estimated at about 200 homes. This was strictly a flyer drop with no door knocking. If we did run into folks, we had a script explaining that Obama opposes Prop 8 and if those folks were opponents, we were told to not engage (instead, say “Thank you, have a nice day” and walk away). So with about five minutes of prep, I was paired up with another volunteer, given a big stack of door hangers and flyers, a map of our precinct and we were off.

Our neighborhood felt urban industrial and many of the homes had barred windows and iron gates. Several homes also had nice gardens, though, and at its center, the precinct had a grade school with a big field. And there seemed to be a church on every corner. There were a good number of Obama posters up, a couple No on 8 posters and one Yes on 8 poster. From what I could gather, it was a predominantly African American, upper-lower income neighborhood.

Now I’m not going to lie to you. As a small, queer, mutt walking with a white, blonde gal onto complete strangers’ personal property to deposit politically charged literature right after church hours… well, I was a bit apprehensive. My volunteer partner felt the same way I think and while we worked opposite sides of the street we made sure to always stay in eye contact. Well almost always. At one point I noticed an apartment building with an inner courtyard and disappeared into it for a little too long (I didn’t want to miss any doors!) When I came out, my partner had the look of fear in her, thinking she’d lost me. Also, at some point her husband called and when he asked her what she was up to, she told him “I’ll tell you later”. She then let me know that he would “freak out” if “he knew where I was”. Meaning: in a strange neighborhood walking with a stranger right up to strangers’ doors.

There was one moment where a gal was pulling out of her garage and saw our No on 8 door hanger just as we put it up. She stopped her car and shouted at us “Take that down! I don’t want that up on my door!” So we did and that was that. At another time, we approached a home where a bunch of grade schools kids were playing in a side yard and they asked what we were doing. One of them read the door hanger and started yelling, “No on 8” over and over and another kid starting shouting “Obama! Obama!”, then they all asked if they could have some of what we were handing out. So we gave them a couple flyers, for whatever good it was worth, and I crossed my fingers that a parent wasn’t going to bust out the front door and start shouting at us to stop corrupting and recruiting the youth. At another time, there was a man dressed in his Sunday best who came out of his door just as I approached it. I handed him the material, intentionally putting the flyer with Obama’s photo over the one that said “No on 8”. He saw the photo, said, “God bless” and I went on my way, though I heard him stop walking and pause as he was shuffling through what I’d handed him. Would he have said “God Bless” if he’d seen the No on 8 flyer first?

Quick aside: That made me notice something I was doing a lot. Whenever I’d have to interact with anyone directly (someone coming out of or going into their home, someone just hanging out on their porch), I made a point of putting the Obama flyer on top, covering up the No on 8 flyer. I was using Obama’s photo like some kind of protective shield. I suppose this comes from concern about safety in this new environment (handing out flyers in Fairfax would have had a different vibe), but I can’t help wonder if that timidity is part of the problem. I comfort myself by saying that at least I was out there in the first place. And at least I was wearing my No on 8 buttons, passive an act as that is. Anyhow…

I did encounter one particularly surprising moment. Near the end of our day as the sun started to get lower, we decided to cover more ground and split up on one of our streets. It was a noisy, gritty, busy street next to the freeway and I headed down it dropping flyers as quickly as possible. I ran into a Yes on 8 poster which always puts me in a bad state, but I put our flyers on their door anyway. Then, as I made my return walk, I saw a group of four big dudes in their twenties hanging out, filling up the middle of the sidewalk. I thought to myself, “Please don’t give me a hard time”. I’d already dropped flyers at their house, so my plan was to smile and say hi as I walked between them. But as I approached, they looked at me and one guy, about twice my size with a bunch of tatoos up and down both arms, eyeballed my No on 8 buttons. Then he looked at me and said, “Hey do you have any more of those?” in an unexpected and quite gay voice. It took me a second to realize he was asking if I had any more No on Prop 8 buttons and a second later to realize he was “one of us”. I finally said, “No, man, sorry but you can have some extra fliers.” He took them, smiled, said “Thank you” and I said, “Thank you. Have a great day” and went on my way.

The total drop took us about five hours or so including a break when we had to drive back to headquarters to restock on flyers. If our first bundle of flyers really had only 200 sheets, then the precinct we covered had at least twice that many homes. We did manage to flyer all the doors in our precinct except for a short two block stretch. We’d run out of supplies again at that point and decided the sun had come down enough it didn’t make sense to go back to hq.

All-in-all it was a fine day. I’d done something I’d never done before which always makes me feel a little more like the living. My volunteer partner was fun company which makes the time much more enjoyable. And the work itself was necessary and for a very good cause which, of course, always feels good.

I don’t know if there’s an accurate way to measure the success of these kinds of efforts, but I believe they do have an impact and may even changes the minds of some people. Or, at the very least, they remind our allies to get out their vote and support their neighbors. This experience was also a good warm up for me because two days later, on election day, I would be volunteering for a full 13 hour day of non-stop standing, walking and talking directly to voters about Prop 8… very exciting!

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