Saturday, May 20 - Back from a week of gathering signatures in North Carolina. A dreaded assignment for many at headquarters - but actually a wonderful week: sunshine, exercise, a new place, and an intense immersion in American public opinion.
Try saying "Excuse me Sir, (Ma'am)…are you a registered voter?…I'm gathering signatures to get a third party on the ballot in North Carolina" to 1,500 strangers, and you'll learn things you didn't know. To wit: Most people don't know Pat Buchanan is running for President (I suspected this)....
Some attitudinal adjustment comes as well: one begins to think not too fondly of Republicans, at least the heavily partisan type, who never sign. Certainly the men don't; the women, when out on their own, are far more open about allowing a third party choice, even if they probably wouldn't vote for it.
One quickly learns to distinguish Republicans by dress and demeanor. I was sufficiently steeped in "New Class"-type analysis to believe that the liberal establishment is generally richer, but the fact is, if you're talking broad numbers, Republicans have the money. While working gas stations, I soon learned not to even bother asking a signature from a guy with a new Lexus and a golf shirt. The resulting conversation would never be warm or interesting, I'd never get the signature, and there was an outside chance the fellow would complain to the service station manager about my presence.
So the Reform Party will be on the ballot in North Carolina - I assume so, at least; we filed over 100,000 signatures, nearly twice the requirement - put there by the names of young people, more women than men, a great number of blacks (almost invariably friendly by the way, contrary to my first impression when canvassing the crowd going to the Durham Bulls game) and, of course, working-class whites, the guys with pick-ups and tattoos.
We worked hard and all had fun: there were about thirty or forty of us in a motel in Greensboro, others based in Raleigh and Charlotte, set off to do battle every day by a former Special Forces Lieutenant-Colonel on leave from his law firm, volunteering his time. We had with us Buchanan state chairs from Minnesota, North Dakota, and Missouri, a bunch of young Mormons from Miami of all places (plus several of their non-Mormon friends); and various family clans from the Midwest. Our webmaster came down, shaved his head, and proved a formidable signature gatherer. Diana Haas, North Carolina state chair, led us in prayer Friday morning: the Lord would help us get the signatures! Well, He sure arranged for good weather in the last days, when a string of rainy days would have killed us.
Everyone has particular stories: I've heard of two instances where people who were shoplifting at Wal-Mart stopped to sign when leaving: in one case, the Wal-Mart managers were so impressed they let the groups work the entrances without interruption for the next four days.
My favorite signature was from a guy who stopped to get gas for his pick-up, asked what I was doing, then ripped off his work gloves and said "Give me the pen!" Second was a couple at a mall in High Point: they were struggling to get two kids under three out their strollers and into the car, tired and dripping ice-cream late Sunday afternoon. My instinct is give people some space, and I commented to my colleague Kara, loud enough to hear, "Two kids, too difficult." The couple heard, and the man came walking over and asked what we were doing, and then for the clipboard.
Third: a black woman, behind me in a line at a Carolina mall in Concord, heard me ask the woman in front. "What's up?" she asked, apologizing for being nosy. We got to talking and she had left The Bronx ten years ago - the best decision she ever made, she told me. We gabbed a bit about how nice North Carolina was, though I said I'd probably prefer Winston-Salem or Raleigh. Nope, she said, she thought, after The Bronx, best to start over in a small town. A wise woman, I reckon.
Since we were all Buchananites working the state, I allowed myself an inadvertent nudge at the Reform Party on the Buchanan web site, writing "The Buchanan forces - excuse me, the Reform Party - filed 100,000 signatures in North Carolina this week." I wouldn't have done so but was a bit irritated at some Reform Party hack in the paper that morning calling for Pat to "resign" from the party for some manufactured reason or another. Wouldn't you know it, the Reform Party regulars picked up my "dismissive" phrase within minutes after it was posted, and were on the line to AP reporter Laurie Kellman, the woman on a mission to cover the Reform Party solely with reference to its internal tensions, never its issues.
So, thanks to Laurie and her sources, the Buchanan website words were soon being sent out over the AP wire all over the country. (Bay had removed it quite quickly - I would have done the same.)
Fact is, I have a lot of respect for the generic Reform idea, and believe if you change process (campaign finance rules, ballot access rules) a lot of good would soon follow in terms of policy.
But let's face it, people, the folks who are willing to gather signatures twelve or fourteen hours a day in the North Carolina sun, who are ready to be chased off again and again by the mall police and sneered at by ... Republicans, who are on their feet all day fueled by a bagel in the morning and a couple of pizza slices late at night - they are doing it for Pat Buchanan.
May 20, 2000