If there were any Republicans among those assembled for "National Voter Action Day," May 8 at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers' South Side Assembly Hall, they were very quiet. The voter-registration event was orchestrated nationally by the ostensibly non-partisan group America Votes, a coalition of nearly 30 predominantly progressive organizations.
"Again, we're non-partisan here," keynote speaker and Media Fund President Harold Ickes kept telling the crowd, giving rise to open laughter, "but I just want to give you the facts." Fact was, the sentiment of the crowd was as unabashedly blue as the bright May sky. Media Fund pays for ads for Democratic candidates running in this November's election.
"I think democracy is in peril more than it has ever been previously and that's why I'm here," said volunteer Janell Hinton of Squirrel Hill. "Because I'm afraid now; I'm afraid for my country. I never ever thought I'd be embarrassed to be an American -- and I am."
Said Walt Wrobleski of Mt. Lebanon, another of the day's volunteers, "The thing that frightens me the most is if you disagree with [the Bush administration] you're automatically a liberal or a communist. The thing I'd like to ask them is: Do you believe in democracy? The basic hallmark of democracy is dissent."
After a training session, the 235 in attendance were deployed into the field in groups of eight. When Hinton's group reached its assigned territory in Shadyside, they knocked on the doors of 20-something neighbors Andrew Hoffman and Scott Tobe. Hoffman registered on the spot.
"This is the first election that I'm actually voting in," Hoffman said. "I never cared until Bush." He hopes for change in the presidency so that Americans "don't have a lot of the ethnocentrism, all these problems from just not wanting to know about other places and other people."
Tobe said he was convinced not to vote for Bush because of the opposite problem -- a bartender in Australia who thought he knew Americans all too well. "I walked in and ordered a couple drinks," recalls Tobe. "[The bartender] asked me if I was American, [then] said, 'Well then, I'm going to have to ask you to leave.' I said, 'Why?' and he just looked to both sides of him. I looked around and realized there was all this anti-war propaganda everywhere and he said, 'I think that Bush is an ignorant fool and I don't want Americans in my bar.'"