Chicago Dispatch: Calling All Swing States

I leave my friend’s apartment and a police officer stops me outside his door. She’s nice enough, but she still takes my name for allegedly matching the description of someone who was snooping around. It could have been me after all – that’s essentially what I do for a living.


There’s a heavy police presence on the train. The cops, for some reason, are wearing CPD turtlenecks and jackets instead of their traditional uniforms, but the sheer number of them is intimidating nonetheless.


I take a cab ride to a union hall that doesn’t exist – the second piece of bad information that I pulled from the Obama message boards. It’s worth my while though, as the driver is the funniest dude I’ve met since I arrived in Chi-Town.


There are four Obama hats lined up on his dashboard – the last of more than 60 that he’s peddled in the past few months. He’s completely out of yard signs, which he sold to all his neighbors, but he still has plenty of bumper stickers that he hocks two for five dollars. He’s gone through more than 600 of those.


Finally I make it to the epicenter – Obama’s Illinois headquarters on West Lake Street, just steps outside the downtown loop. The building is impressive from the outside, but the phone-banking, canvass-ready foot soldiers occupy the sweaty rented basement.


It smells like workers have been pulling 48-hour shifts down here – I’ve literally been in sweatshops where there’s less sweating. People are excited to be holed up in the bunker though; one young woman tells me that making calls is the only way she gets her mind off the outcome of the election.


There are Quiznos subs sliced in five for the taking. Handmade Obama signs are taped to the brick walls. At least one person walks in every two minutes looking to help out; they ran out of land lines hours ago and people are just grabbing scripts and call sheets and finding corners to set up in.


There’s a woman in the kitchenette next to several empty coffee boxes. She used all her cell phone juice, and had to relocate to the closest available wall outlet. Another pair of volunteers improvises by making a table out of an unhinged door and four empty five-gallon Poland Spring bottles.


Volunteers are calling Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. At this point they can mostly tell who people are voting for, and they’re making sure that supporters know where their polling places are. Despite being thousands of miles away in some cases, they ask if people need rides to vote tomorrow. “I’m sure we can find someone who’s willing to pick you up,” one guy tells a Dayton resident.


I’m about to head to the South Side, where I’m told that another one of the 16 citywide phone banks is popping. The dude at Starbucks – where I’m filing this dispatch from – tells me that he’ll miss having the campaign headquarters and its highly caffeinated volunteers across the street: “But I can’t wait to have a new president,” he says.


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