Monday, 21 November 2016

A Brit inside the Clinton Ground Game Pt 2 : Tuesday, Election Day  

Part 2 of 2

We thought we would win. WE. You would think any sensible bone in my body would be anxious to distance myself from what will go down as one of the most catastrophic political campaigns in modern history. Yet, I'm proud. perhaps the explanation for that is in one of these blog posts.

A Brit inside the Clinton Ground Game Pt 2 : Tuesday, Election Day

On the Tuesday, day of the actual election I thought all that would be left would be voting (as per UK) so instead went to a large department stores Sale just off Union Square. I needed to pick up a visitors voucher and found myself having a short chat with a shop assistant on the election.

It was surprising.
Based on the great high of yesterdays volunteering I rather proudly and naively said I was helping out the Dems, expecting her to be pleased. Instead she was instantly guarded and said only this

"You know, people just want change. There are lots of Chinese families in this city, businesses. That have been here centuries. They just don't want to be killed"

I'll cover the latest extent of the awful homeless problem in San Francisco in specially in another blogpost, but one of the striking things about it is that it buts up literally to Chinatown without appearing in it. Where the main street, Mission (the equivalent of London's Oxford Street) seems to have a resident homeless person at least every 10ft throughout its entire length I didn't spot a single homeless person in Chinatown, though one particularly resentful homeless guy, (and their frequent aggression is an issue as well), seems to like camping out on the actual historic Chinese gate leading in. But you never saw him past the gate.

Why is this relevant to the election? It's perception. If the main shopping street of San Francisco, capital of Silicon Valley, looks like Woodstock for homeless people I shudder to think what places Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore and Pittsburgh are like. Crime statistics in the US are actually really improving - but if this is what visitors actually see it's no wonder Trump is getting such support on law and order issues.

Republicans and right wingers love to present the Progressive Left as a soft touch (as evidenced by the performance of Democratic Party - they are). A total failure to deal with the highly visible  homelessness issue confirms all of those stereotypes and I'm sure further perpetuates the problem - much to the delight of racist, suburban Republicans who keep wining electoral votes on it.

Girl on 27th Mission singing beautiful Beatles songs
Anyway, I couldn't find luggage any better than the battered stuff I had so encouraged by FF's txts again I decided to head up to 1001 and at least see if I could bag myself one of the cool Hillary For Pres t-shirts. I'd written by now what I thought would be the story of the election (see Part 1) so I was really just going up to be supportive.

1001 Van Ness rather incongruously sat next to a very 21stC Tesla showroom

I soon found myself sucked in again by the air of fevered enthusiasm and the strange setting around us. I've never been in a tv studio before and the ambient sound proofing and archaic late 20thC fittings made it a fascinating place to hang out. It was like being a ghost from the previous Clinton era, or phantom extras from the classic movie NETWORK, echoing from that biting 1970s Trump campaign prophecy into 21st century reality.

Getting back into the txt campaign again I found myself on several different tables on floor 3, alongside various guys this time with cameras intending to document what we were all convinced would be Hillary's historic win. Four of the guys there were Norwegian, making the latest of several documentary's on the subject and helping out with the txt campaign at the same time.

San Franciscans around us were delighted at the international help but a little ashamed at how far Trump had got. "You must think we're all mad" and "What do they think of us in your country?" I heard several times. Thank god these poor people didn't have to see me later on. I tried to reassure them that in the UK election success for reality tv stars was only a matter of time (The Apprentice still very popular I'm told).

I was asked about Brexit. "It's not really happened over there yet has it?" someone asked. I said the car had gone off the cliff and we were still sailing through the air. Californians seemed to be able to relate to that.

Also set near me was a little old lady checked heavily in Democratic regalia who seem to be a local personality of some kind. She'd ding a bell every time there was some announcement of progress.

She had terrible eyesight and I helpted her change txt campaiugns when required (see part 1). For most of the time at the table she seemed not all there but when I met her on the way out to say goodbye later (when things were much more serious) she seemed a lot more on the ball.

So yes, during the day as we laughed at the responses to our texts and marvelled at the exotic names in Florida as the results slowly came in and were posted up on large screens and elaborately constructed white boards. And we cheered all the good results coming in.

There didn't seem that many.. but we aware all very upbeat, apart from one guy in his 20s with a laptop ("chris"?) who seemed to realise very very early on something was up. I almost had a dig at him for being such a downer, until his girl showed up, who obviously knew him well enough to be seriously disturbed about what was going on.  He wasn't worried about a Trump landslide. That wasn't happening. He was worried about Democratic turnout. Very worried. Like the Brexit vote, which I was doomed to relive again, the decider on this historic and critical election where the people who could just not drag their arse off the sofa because they thought their vote didn't matter.

Like an idiot I kept asking about Florida which everyone seemed to know intimately. "Don't wait for a result there", if it's good, the argument went, it will take maybe weeks to get a good result out of Florida. (Florida declared for Trump in the early part of the evening).

By the end of the day there was still no obvious result and bolstered by listening to two years of media coverage I still did not believe Trump could win. I was still waiting for the party. Late afternoon I only narrowly avoided paying $30 for a cool Hillary 'BADASS FOR PRESIDENT' poster because I didn't have the cash.

By about 4pm they'd stopped updating the newsboards and not long after that various tables started turning up the sound on their laptops turned to mainly CNN. I think it was the tone of panic in Wolf Blitzers voice at about 5pm that brought me to my senses. This wasn't just the bonfire of the centre left but the credibility of the news media and their polling resources as well. They had 6 months of warning from the Brexit vote and the results Trump pulled out in the Primaries and they were still  catastrophically wrong.

In the hot studio of floor 3 we were still getting free fresh water from smiling Dem volunteers and regularly told to stop and do stretching exercises. About 6pm delicious slices of pizza where handed out from a box by the most dejected person I have ever seen carrying slices of pizza.

The txt campaigns themselves had now become desperate requests to voters queueing in Pennsylvania, Florida and Colorado to stay in line until their poling stations closed. Far away across the rest if the country, where Texas had been discussed as a serious Dem target days before, Michigan - which only had a car industry at all because Obama had jumped in and saved it - went Republican. "Wisconsin" said Chris with the Laptop "she could still win if she gets that". He said it quietly, almost a desperate whisper.

By now it was starting to thin out at 1001 but only because volunteers were off to their own election parties. I had two offers myself but with no wifi, no phone data or even txts (5 failed to send that night for whatever reason) I didn't want to risk missing the drama so historical inevitability got the better of me and I decided to head up Van Ness to the official Dem event at the Holiday Inn.
But not before the txt campaign was slowly shut down and the laid back Dem volunteers where replaced by quite pushy, panicked and emotional people trying to talk us into other last minute campaigns. I gave a definite 3rd solid NO to a girl who expected a foreign national with a northern English accent to cold call people at home to tell them to vote for local candidates in states were the local polls were closing in 10-20 minutes. That's when the  optimistic hold-outs on my table all looked around at each other with a collective "WTF?"

Perhaps as a nudge to get me involved next door in the phone campaign I was moved from my table, which at least gave me  chance to explore the building.

When we were told to stop and move on and I half wondered if it was health and safety reasons.

Graveyard of nametags
After the charming grass roots nature of 1001 Van Ness, the Dem Party at the Holiday Inn looked much more professional. I say it 'looked'. Instant access to home made cakes and refreshments was gone, replaced by a long queue for expensive beer (so my Hunter S Thompson drug and alcohol story was off the agenda) while a flood of late arriving people in smart dress took all the seats. Exhausted, sweaty and emotional as I was, some sort breaking point was not far off. The actual breaking point was realising, after a day of bad comms, that there was no free wifi at the Dems official election party without providing a room number at the Holiday Inn. Democrats couldn't provide even free wifi for the people who'd spent days volunteering for them.

For years I'd been hyperconnected to US politics via great wifi in the UK and Prague, and worked desperately to stay in touch during an ill fated trip to Cuba. Now I was in the Capital of Silicon Valley and I couldn't even see the tv screen for news. I couldn't hear her but from one tv screen Rachel Maddow, who I listen to on my London commute every day, looked utterly crushed and professionally humiliated.

I went out into the lobby with a beer trying to pick up some network somewhere only to hear a huge cheer from back in the room.
I thought and raced back in with a few others to find the be-suited grandees cheering the election of a local senator who had apparently agreed to legalise pot. I looked around - the only people here from the text campaign that I recognised were the Norwegian documentary makers, similarly horrified and embarrassed as I was, to find ourselves in the ringside eat for the most horrifying and chaotic family funeral in US political history.

There was one mercy. This room this could have been heartbreaking, to see this happening on the faces of the wonderful people I worked hard for days to prevent Trump becoming President.. But I looked around...
And none of them were there 
No little old ladies
No cute dogs
No enthused smart kids full of beans and enthusiasm.

I looked around at the Democratic election party and it was just Suits. And media.

Eventually I found myself in Holiday Inn's restaurant, mainly because their tv's had subtitles and I couldn't get any decent news at the main venue. After another great local beer (Blue Moon) and the worst chicken wings ever, served by some very sympathetic and diplomatic staff I staggered, barely believing out onto the night on Van Ness, for a very long walk over a very big hill.

As I left for good I saw the Norwegians were still there, looking back with a disbelieving. "You? are still here?" That was surreal - It was like we were sharing each others nightmare.

Exactly a week before myself and FF had found ourselves by pure chance in Tommy's Joynt watching the pure joy of the Cubs winning the World Series. It was a different world now.

Throughout that day I never saw anyone cry. Away from the Holiday Inn, my fellow Brit Jez out on Day street had to console three women in floods of tears. FF was still crying the next day even after a dose of 3D Benedict Cumberbatch at the Alamo Draft House.

By then there was word of street protests all over the country and SF was already beginning to bounce back in it's own inimitable way.

And I heard the word 'CALEXIT' for the first time.

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