Our work is done - Brummies for Obama is no more
Posted on the 10th Nov 2012 in the category sport

Well we have finally left the Americans to their own devices. The formidable campaigning machine Brummies for Obama is no more, our work there is done, the only way it will be resurrected is if the women of the Obama clan take up politics.

We've pressed the flesh, shouted slogans at strangers, knocked countless doors, argued with anti-abortion loons, stood at the polls and stuck Obama-Biden stickers in toilets across Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.  However, our best work was undertaken targeting an all important and transient demographic group that was key to Obama's victory. The barmaids and boozers vote. 

We had to frequent all kind of dives, two bit joints, backroom bars and even dreaded mock Irish bars to find this group in their natural habitat. Our message that we traveled half way round the world to volunteer for Obama the least you can do is vote seemed to resonate. We had our schtick down to a tee after over two weeks on the stump for Obama. Our badges, t-shirts or accents would be our in - whether it be our 'Brummies for Obama' apparel or our selection of badges and pins that included 'Ridin with Biden' 'Smart women vote for Obama' or 'Dog Lovers for Obama'.

After hearing us speak the question would usually come: "What you guys doing here?" And with that opening we would be off like a tramp chasing a dollar bill. I lost count the amount of times I said: "Speaking on behalf of the entire world, have to put up with your insane presidents so we thought we might as well get involved" or "The rest of the world fell back in love with America when you elected Obama."  Which is true, I remember having loads of arguments with anti-Americans before Obama and I'd always win it by saying: "You say George Bush, I say Johnny Cash, you say Dick Cheney I say Elvis Presley, you say Donald Rumsfeld I say LL Cool J." 

America is a continent and it is not fair to write off hundreds of millions of people just because of their politicians. So for that reason me and my fellow Brummies For Obama comrade John  left our responsibilities in the UK and went to help keep the world the same.  But when our political discourse did not work in a bar and it was getting a bit hairy we would fall back to "our mrs would never let us have a holiday for two weeks but they couldn't say no to us saving the world..." which always seemed to bring a smile.

Our campaign war chest ran out countless times and we had to tap friends, family and associates for money to carry on. New Orleans Tourist Board were golden and they even put us up in a cottage where Elizabeth Taylor stayed 27 times and gave us our own butler. Our cunning plan to get first the Obama then the Romney campaign to fly us down to Miami did not work so we endured a crazy 22 hour Greyhound bus journey to get to the battleground of Miami.
My miscalculation that the Obama campaign or the tourist board would find us places to stay in Miami cost us dear. 

If New Orleans leg ended with us living it up in a $1000 a night hotels Miami was strictly a hostel situation. Serbians snoring, Russian racists, Aussie chatterboxes and Spaniards shitting themselves were par for the course as we stayed in the cheapest places Miami had that dd not rent by the hour.

The campaign did not have the resources or volunteers to put us up which cut down our productivity down on the campaign trail. But we still persevered and as usual the best bit of campaigning was meeting and talking to normal people doing remarkable work for their country. We met some lovely Romney supporters too on the stump and at the polls, though of course we met some rather weird and nasty ones too. Meeting celebrity Obama supporter Mario Van Peebles (pictured) at the polls was also a highlight, though I did feel bad for asking what he was upto now.
Polling day was a bit of anti-climax, I spent the morning in Miami's British Consulate sorting out an emergency passport so I could get out of the country. However, this gave me time to listen to some spectacular American radio. Ex-Fox News barmpot Glen Beck seemed to be having a nervous breakdown - veering from predicting the GOP would win big one minute then wondering aloud how many guns people should buy if by chance Obama won.

Then after a bit of canvassing we had lunch at Lincoln, the only freebie I'd blagged in Miami, then back to remind the barmaids and boozers to vote after their shift. All the tension of an American election seems to happen the week before polling day and then when election day actually starts everyone seems just happy it is all over. We went to a few polling stations to help out but they were running smoothly, obviously this being Florida there were trouble spots, in Brickell, where the consulate was, voters were still at the polls hours after 7pm due to rank bad organisation.

Unlike the huge lines that greeted early voters in the days before the election the majority of voters in Miami could vote without having to wait hours as all the polling stations were open. We went into a polling station near our hostel to urge voters to go blue but could not find anywhere, this dispite the misinformation being pumped out on Twitter that queues were huge in Miami, I posted pictures on Twitter to get the truth out, but by that time time was ticking.
Time was approaching 7pm when the polls would close and exit polls would be revealed. We headed to the mythical Tap Tap bar, the one depicted in Obama and Me, and a place close to my heart due to the 2008 election.
Last election night there was a huge party, not this time, like so many places the enthusiasm just was not there, but what was there was good enough for us too, rare rum and a beautiful barmaid.
Her looks and the rum made up for there not being a television, it was good to get this stunning specimen of the female species views on the election too, but naturally as a gentleman I wont reveal them.
The place was empty unlike a few days before when it was heaving for the Voodoo Fet Gede celebration when we drank Tusker beer till past midnight. But with it's faded grandeur, magnificent murals and absence of election news the Tap Tap was a perfect place to drink away the calm before the storm of election night. We said our goodbyes to Brittney the barmaid knowing we probably never see her in the flesh again and stumbled out to begin our search for victory.
We found a very posh resort to watch the first exit polls and drank fine rum, after telling the barmen what we had done they made sure "some rum fell in" my drink. There was only about two hours of real tension about who would win, and trying to work out what exit poll meant what almost put me off my fine rum. But the team of black barmen seemed confident and that rubbed off on us. After realising we couldn't take the piss with the free rum we headed to find a party to celebrate the win. 
Last time the Democrats hired out the entire Jungle Island complex which held thousands of volunteers. This time was different. The party for the national campaign volunteers reminded me of a crap student union where the drinks were expensive, but we'd smuggled in our own rum anyway. After getting sick of waiting at the bar and realising there was no wi-fi to pimp off we went to the local volunteers party which had plenty of food and lovely people. 

As the results came in there was massive relief especially for me who had called the election big for Obama on the BBC and Norwegian radio. After we knew he had won the exhaustion hit us and unlike in 2008 when there were people crying in the streets it was all a bit more muted. The world had not changed after the same bloke in power won, but we had helped America and the world dodge a bullet. And that will always remain special. The Brummies for Obama were in our bunk beds before Obama's speech, it had been a long day that started at 5.45am.

Not fancing another 22 hour Greyhound journey we decided to fly back the next day to New Orleans after realising we had left it too late to fly back on the day we were leaving America. We bade farewell to our hostel inmates and e bid farewell to our hostel inmates and headed to another Irish pub. The thin lipped fella drinking at the bar made our trip worth it. Looking at the statistics on CNN he said: “This election is a turning point, over 70 per cent of white men who voted went for Romney but because of the blacks, latinos and now women as well people like me do not control this country, white men have controlled this place for centuries, but no more, we are going to shit, we will no longer be number one in the world, we are going to end up like Europe, I’m leaving as soon as I can.”

The fact Obama made wankers like that up and down the country so unhappy spoke volumes, he did not grasp that his moaning is exactly the opposite of what democracy is about. I asked, “Why don’t you move to China? They will be number one soon and don’t let women pick their leaders.” He just grumbled into his shit beer and carried on bristling at the unfairness and scowling at the cheerful barman who bought a copy of my book “Obama and Me.”
We headed to New Orleans via Charlotte and stayed at a diamond of a hotel, the Dauphine, in the French Qtr after getting a press rate. The beauty of a bed and bath revitalised us to get back on the megabooze. And what a place to do it. New Orleans was at full tilt on a Wednesday night.

We discovered Florida would be won by our team whilst sitting in a 24 hour bar drinking cider and listening to ZZ Top. We toasted our success over and over again. We were not the best volunteers or me the best international travel journalist. We'd spent a week in New Orleans and didn't hear any jazz and went to Miami beach and didn't see any sand. But we spoke to countless Americans and that was good enough for me.

Brummies for Obama did our job, we've sacrificed November, December and Christmas to afford this adventure but we achieved our mission - get Obama re-elected and have fun doing it.


Brummies for Obama are Fired Up for polling day
Posted on the 6th Nov 2012 in the category sport

Today is the day when the world holds it breath to see who America will choose as its President.
Polls are open from 7am to 7pm and millions of yanks will be braving queues and casting their ballot. It doesn't matter that polls show the rest of the world wants Obama to win, it's not their election, this is an all-American affair.

The candidates, whether presidential or a local councillor, are knackered as are the journalists and the volunteers. The Obama campaign this time around just does not have the same magic and enthusiasm as last time. But it is still one of the most formidable politcal machines ever assembled.
2008 was the first time so will always be the best and the sheer numbers of volunteers was breathtaking, an estimated one million people volunteered.

The Saturday before the election in 2008 the Obama offices were teeming with volunteers, this time was different, there was such a shortage they even needed me.
"What the fucking hell is going on? Where are you?" Came the shout down the phone as I stood outside my hostel having a fag.
"You were supposed to be here at 10am."
Being late had not entered my head, I had bigger shitter fish to fry, I had no money and worse still my travelling compadre had none either.
"Errr I've nowhere to sleep tonight and no money to eat so those two factors need to be sorted before I do any volunteering today, oh, and don't ever fucking speak to me like that ever again." After all as a volunteer, it can be easy to forget who is doing who the favour.

We of course did our canvassing, which involves knocking hundreds of Democrat doors in the hope ten per cent answer so we can tell them to remember to vote. After speaking to two cool gay guys on Lincoln Road doing visibility - which is basically holding signs and shouting reminders to people walking past to vote - we decided to change tack.

We wanted a bit of that action instead of wandering round the streets of Miami shouting through intercoms so we headed to the nearest office. In the none-descript nerve centre we had coffee and then heard the immortal words; "There are crippled veterans and anti-abortionists bullying our volunteers down at the polls...." Before the gay disabled Democrat finished his sentence me and fellow Brummie for Obama comrade John volunteered.

The Democrat was delighted and got on the phone: "We are sending down some British soccer hooligans to help out...." After a couple of seconds waiting for the hooligans we realised he was on about us.
We got to the early voting polls and there were lines snaking around the building with people who had already waited hours. As it happened the crippled abusive veterans had gone home as had the pregnant woman with the 'Obama wants to kill my baby' t-shirt on.

But there was plenty of work to do with the need to explain to voters about the 10 plus voting amendments and all the various Democrats on the 10 page ballot. It seems the Republican governor wants to make voting as confusing as possible and has succeeded. We made plenty of friends at the polls at even got interviewed by Norwegian radio, a Democrat website and a Caribbean news organisation. When the clock struck 7pm the cones came out and the queue cut off at the last woman standing. All the volunteers for the countless candidates and causes quickly melted away and our thoughts turned to where to stay and what to do tomorrow.

We'd found out by email that Obama was coming to Hollywood, Miami, on Sunday by email. However, I misread the email and didn't realise I had to apply for the ticket. And by the time I checked it again on Sunday I didn't have internet connection but we went anyway.  And what an experience, thousands of Americans out in force for their president, the queue went as far as the eye could see, and that was four hours before he was due to speak at the Hollywood school.

The atmosphere was great with lots of shouting, singing and chanting even despite the giant lines. Suddenly the dark mutterings about the Republicans piling up the votes of dead and mentally ill people and confusing Democrat voters were forgotten - the magic was back. The heat was overbearing so instead of queuing we went to the nearest bar. But not after we spotted some Romney supporters goading the crowds.
They had signs a plenty, including 'We Need an American', 'Fire the Marxist' and 'America Loves Israel why doesn't Obama'. 

I thought I'd get the party started by asking them for a ticket for the Obama gig but within seconds I was right in the middle of an abortion row, two women were having a shouting match about god and babies and the tension rose as new people joined the debate. There were racial slurs, religious bigotry and rank stupid analysis hurled back and forth as the divisive nature of politcs was played out in front of bored looking police officers.

After an hour trying to understand how the people could want the government out of every part of life except a woman's body I decided to get the ice creams in for everyone, and said goodbye, we are British after all. I figured the fella who turned up with a stuffed dog strapped to his car roof with the sign 'Trust the Mutt not the Mitt' could take over the good fight. 

After returning from the bar a couple of hours later the queues had gone into the stadium and those who didn't make it stood and waited for the Presidential motorcade, a big deal for a neighbourhood like Hollywood. The hundreds of police officers and bike cops betrayed the main attraction was on his way. The motorcade with all its outriders, SUVs, limos, fire engines and all other manner of vehicles glided into the school. Everyone on the street went barmy and it was a moment to remember forever as we glimpsed Obama. But the lucky ones were the in the stadium, we heard the roar as he entered the high school football stadium.

We heard him shout: "Are you fired up?" Everyone was but then the wind changed direction and I heard no more. But that was enough for me, it matters not that we could have got in without tickets and I didn't need the passport I lost on the day because at last I'd felt the magic of 2008. After a day at the polling stations today I hope tonight I will feel it again, I mean he can't lose, can he?

Campaigning for Obama - Brummie style
Posted on the 4th Nov 2012 in the category sport

Our countless cunning plans to get from New Orleans to Miami for free came to exactly nothing.
We put five solid hours of volunteer gold in at the New Orleans office and dropped several hints about getting flown down to Miami but we didn't get any takers.

Then we decided it would be delicious irony if the Romney campaign paid for us to get down to Miami.
We went the thrift shop to get some blazers and were going to call ourselves Rick Thatcher and Errol Powell and were ready to be rude to every voter we dealt with to put them off Romney. However, when we logged on to the New Orleans Repiblican party all we could find was a statement calling for Louisana's state Republican leadership to resign en masse.

After spending ten minutes trying to find an address or number without donating money we gave up and went to the Obama office. Being a week day there was not as many weekend warriors and just the hardcore were there, including of course the obligatory data input dude in the corner who doesn't say anything, ever, I'm convinced the whole campaign would collapse if they downed tools.

Grandma Edith couldn't use the computer to start with but when the calls started coming she was a star on the phones. She did not stick to a script but just conversed human to human, whether it be telling the voter had the same name as her mother or sharing her fears for her daughters in hurricaine hit Pennsylvania. With a southern drawl that would calm down a bull in a red china shop she did not have many problems on the phones.

Me on the other hand must have sounded like an Australian weirdo down the line, but after mastering the combined phone and computer system by coordinating calls with strawberry coffee and ladles of cheese balls I was in my element.
I even got one of those mythical beings - the undecideds. I did not have a chance in converting her though, this lady sounded if she'd spend an hour deciding what to have for breakfast let alone who to vote for. I did my job and put 'undecided' in the system which probably triggered klaxons in Obama's Chicago head office. This dithering lady will probably get the full full force of the campaign machine in the next week.
Ever bubbly Alabama born, Louisana educated, India gap year taking speech therapist Christine had endless patience with the system and with her two new English colleagues, we'd all be in fits of giggles at each others' misfortunes and mistakes.

Pat was the boss and only paid member of the office and she was as excitable as effiecient. She'd dance around the office when we got the national phone system working and did some of the loudest mimes in history when we said something wrong. Or when we spotted a bonkers name that only an American could own. This formidable lady always had something to do whether it was taking part in a national conference call, teaching volunteers how to input data or ensuring the coffee was topped up - with people like her on Obama's side he's in good hands. 

Everytime I said "cheerio" on the phone it garnered a yelp of delight from across the room, Jinny was the kind of woman who I wonder what my paralell life would have been like had she been my mom.
A retired journalist of 30 years with a Southern accent and an encylopaedic knowledge of the best places to eat. She had the aura of an angel. She was genuinely touched two Brits had come to help Obama and like everyone we met gave us a Southern welcome this part of the world is famed for.

We had to leave for a tour of the $1000 a night cottage I'd got as part of a travel review so bade our farewells, they took our pictures and we've made it on to the official Louisana Facebook page. Fame at last.
But Florida is where the action is and after one brief moment of glee when we realised smiling Joe Biden had replied to my drunken plea for help only to find that too was an automated message we decided to bite the bullet and pay to get to the Sunshine State. 

The only way we could afford was by Greyhound bus. After a night on the oysters and bloody marys courtesy of a gilded New Orleans PR man we faced up to our incredible 22 hour journey through Louisana, Mississipi, Alabama and then the length of Florida.
We had a day to kill before the 9pm bus. We took the lead from our boss Obama who suspended campaigning due to Hurricaine Sandy and found the De-Ja-Vu bar which sold several ciders and had 321 Johnny Cash songs on the jukebox.
Within five minutes of boarding the Greyhound a mean eyed man got into an argument with me about Obama, he was from Alabama and had shunned all modcons on his ranch to get back to nature, except for buses it seemed, and his Iphone.
I had not even spoke to him but he chipped in, and when another passenger asked him how he could understand me he said: "I understand Cajun, his accent is like Cajun, understand Cajun and you'll understand him." I quickly realised Greyhounds are like boring dinner parties - religion and politcs are not allowed.

Luckily the lights went out and I got chatting to the wonderful Tennessee hill countryman with no teeth next to me who snared his wife by having electric in his shack.
I suppose the old chat up lines are always the best. The next 22 hours were an eye-opener, stopping off for multiple layovers and cigarette breaks we got to see the real America. In Orlando I was inadvertently used as an accessory to a robbery as some fella fell foul of a thief's con trick, he used me and my accent to gain the trust of some other passenger and then nicked his wallet. The victim came back to me demanding to know who my "friend" was, "I've no friends in Orlando mate, I've only been here five minutes" and got back on the bus sharpish.
Dedicated volunteers as we are everywhere we stopped we plastered Obama campaign stickers so we can say we campaigned through Florida. We saw the sun rise in Florida on the bus and it set and got to see plenty of election signs.
"When Christians vote - America Wins - Vote Romney - Ryan" was popular as was another with a huge baby saying: "Don't forget my heart starts beating after 18 days.." 

My favourite was the one with Obama bowing down in front of a sheik quoting the price of petrol when he was elected and now. We passed a voting station in Melbourne which looked a hive of activity and had countless proposition signs of all the candidates in the different races currently taking place from President to sheriff. I'm not surprised they have early voting here as just reading the ten page ballot paper, the longest in Florida history, must take an hour.

We reached Miami at 9pm smelling like a bag of old socks and headed to a hostel. Everyone was in fancy dress for Halloween but us, four years ago I made an impromptu Muppets for Obama sign and went round singing "mamnama Barack Obama" - four years later and there is a Million Muppet March in Washington DC on Saturday to protest at Romney's plans to kil of Big Bird and PBS. I've been invited but as I'm skinter than Kermit in a Muppet's Christmas Carol it will be another protest I'll have to miss.


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