How 20,000 Strangers Changed My Life, And My Friday Night

I’m going to do something tonight that scares the hell out of me.

Tonight, instead of a happy hour after work or a movie night with the family, I will be packing up a store bought pot luck offering and heading to the home of a complete stranger. I will sit with other strangers and pick up the phone to call even more strangers.

And I will ask them who they are voting for.

I will remind them that there is as of this moment at least a presidential debate on TV tonight.

I will sit in a room full of strangers and encourage other strangers to get registered to vote.

And then I will eat potluck food and watch two presidential candidates in a televised debate, all the while sitting on a stranger’s couch in a stranger’s home.

And everyone I know thinks I’m nuts.

My friend told me to “have fun with that! Ha!” My husband made sure that “you didn’t sign me up for that crap, did you?!” And I’m already hearing stories about how everyone “hangs up the phone as soon as I hear them on the line”.

I’m terrified.

I’ve done telemarketing before. I know enough to be anxious about what I’m in for. I know how hard it is not to take it personally when someone hangs up on you. I know how awkward it is to make yourself on inconvenience in someone else’s life. I know how much I hate, hate, hate making cold calls.

But I’m doing it anyway.

Last weekend I stood outside for 4 hours to hear Barack Obama speak for 20 minutes. What I saw in those 4 hours changed me more than anything anyone could have said at a podium.

It’s been estimated that 20,000 people stood with me in that park in downtown Jacksonville. Another 8,000 stood outside the gates after the sheriff determined the venue was at capacity. We stood, first in the wind and then in the hot sun, and we waited.

And we talked. We talked about why we were there and what we hoped for. We talked to each other about what we wanted to see for our country. We talked to the strangers around us about our own bitterness with the current administration.

I was in awe.

As I stood amidst 20,000 people, I was overcome with the tangible energy in the air – a current of hope I could actually feel running up and down my arms. Hours before Obama’s motorcade even entered the city, the reason I was there was solidified.

I was there because I cared. And more importantly, I was there because other people cared.

They cared and they got up off their asses and out of their houses and invested their own precious time to be there.

And that is what changes nations. That, my friend, is what changes an entire world.

Not a politician or a government or an emergency meeting in Washington. But people, citizens, deciding in droves to pay attention. To care. To do something.

To see that kind of passion first hand was life changing for me. As a 28 year old woman, I have lived my entire life in a country defined by it’s apathy. The idea that people could make a real difference in their lives was nothing more than an old idealistic notion passed on to us through old news reels and empty rhetoric.

I am not naive enough to believe that rallies alone will solve any of the nation’s major problems. Or any of our small ones. But I do know that apathy produces ignorance and inaction, while organized passion can create one hell of a Tea Party.

Nothing about last weekend was empty. Not only did those people care, they were informed. They made a point of being informed. And they weren’t elitists or economists or politicians. They were poor and middle class and working class and upper class people. (No, really, I swear. There was a rich white couple standing beside me. Not all Obama supporters are broke.) They were white and black and brown and sunburned. They were old and young.

They were just… people. People who I never in a million years would expect to see get excited about politics. And they cared.

Anyone who tells me that hope is empty rhetoric has never been enveloped by it.

Anyone who still believes that inspiration doesn’t make a difference has never seen a crowd of 20,000 people stand calmly in the hot Florida sun for hours.

Anyone who says that a politician who makes you believe in yourself, believe that Yes, We Can is meaningless in creating a real impact in policies… is not familiar with American History.

It’s ironic, really, that it is the Democratic nominee that keeps reminding voters that the government cannot fix your life, that it can only be a support system for people who take responsibility for their failure and success. And it is sad, truly, that more people have not been able to hear that message clearly.

But some have. Some have not only heard, but answered the call.

And for the first time in my life, I have a chance to be part of it. And more than the chance, I have the hope I need to believe that my contribution might matter – might mean something on a bigger scale.

And so… I’m doing something tonight I’ve never done.

Something that terrifies me.

Something that I could easily sit back and let someone else do.

Because what I want more than anything right now is for someone else – even just one other person – to experience the same thing I was given last Saturday. For someone else to know that other people care.

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