The day after, grass roots activists find hope in turnout

Voters say they plan to remain active in politics
Thursday, November 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:31 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2008

A week before the election, Lisa Smith, 39, was sitting on her porch with family and friends, watching their children play in their yard on Eighth Street.

When Stacy Small, an organizer with, came door-to-door making sure people were going to vote, Smith told her she wouldn’t miss the opportunity. It would be Smith’s first time voting, which was cause for excitement among the neighbors, some of whom were also planning to cast ballots for the first time.

During their conversation, Smith listed the war in Iraq and the state of the economy, both of which she was displeased with, as her top election issues.

“I want to get Bush out of there,” she said. “I’m voting for Kerry.”

Given the outcome of the presidential election, it would’ve been tempting for Smith to be as downcast as the damp, dreary weather on Wednesday. But despite her disappointment with the results, she was still upbeat.

“Things are looking up, they’re looking brighter,” she said. “After this election, a lot of people know that one voice is a strong voice, and that they can make a difference.”

The day after the election, organizers working for groups such as MoveOn and Grass Roots Organizing, citing the 86 percent turnout among registered voters in Boone County, declared their get-out-the-vote efforts a success.

“The feeling out there is that we can not be discouraged,” said Mary Hussmann of Grass Roots Organizing. “We could run home, go to bed and pull our covers over our head, but people are beginning to recognize that’s exactly what those in power want you to do. The message people sent by voting is, ‘I’m not going to run and hide.’”

This message was particularly potent in low-income and minority neighborhoods, which were targeted by groups that also included America Coming Together and the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition.

“We might not see the fruition of this investment for a couple of years, but the conversations we had with people in these neighborhoods are going to have an enormous impact,” Small said on Wednesday. “They helped change the way these people think about politics.”

Smith said this election was the first time anybody had asked her opinion on public issues.

“A lot of people don’t listen to poor people, because they think they’re lower class,” Smith said. “I couldn’t believe strangers came to my door, and didn’t just want to know how I was going to vote, but they actually wanted to know my opinion. They said my voice mattered.”

Smith said that she now wants to become more involved in local politics, such as City Council meetings, and that she will vote in future elections. She said she may even volunteer during the next election cycle.

“I want to ask other people what they think about the next candidate,” Smith said. As a result of the grassroots organizers who visited her neighborhood, she said more people are discussing political issues that extend beyond the election.

Other voters also expressed optimism that the increased interest in politics will be sustained.

Zach Graham, 17, couldn’t even vote in this election, but volunteered through the local Democratic Party, and said he felt he was an important part of the process.

“It was definitely a great experience even though I couldn’t vote,” said Graham, who said he will remain involved in politics through the Democratic Central Committee and through school activities at Hickman High School. “It was nice letting my voice be heard.”

Another first-time volunteer for Working America, a national labor organization, was Robert Blanke, 63, who voted a straight Republican ticket. He worked four-hour evening shifts, walking up to five miles at a time, talking to voters, and said he was buoyed particularly by young people.

“The younger generations were very talkative,” said Blanke, who also said he’ll likely remain politically active, volunteering in future campaigns and fighting for labor issues.

Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition has said that it will remain active in various economic and social issues past the election, and Hussmann said that Grass Roots Organizing, after taking some time to rest, is going to continue to push its basic agenda for poor Missouri families, which includes the expansion of Medicaid and an increase in the minimum wage. And even though some are disappointed in yesterday's results, there are still eager foot soldiers waiting to help.

“This election was a powerful experience,” Smith said. “It changed people’s way of thinking about things. Voting made people feel powerful. It made them realize that their voice does matter. You can’t be heard if you mumble. You have to make your voice heard!”

Anya Litvak and Andrew Zahler of the Missourian’s staff contributed to this report.

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