In Virginia, military families mobilize

NORFOLK, Va. — Stacie Burgess, wife of an active-duty sailor in the U.S. Navy, was in the crowd at an Oct. 4 rally of 20,000 in Newport News where Obama urged a last-minute push to register more first-time voters and get them to the polls. She joined a group chanting “O-ba-ma” so loudly it caught his attention. Wading through the crowd after his speech, Obama reached out and shook her hand.

“He was laughing, so glad that we were so excited,” Burgess told the World. “I thanked him for inspiring people like my husband who had given up on making a difference. My husband’s ship was moored right behind where Obama spoke. He and his crewmates could have walked over to listen to Obama’s speech.”

People, she said, are getting beyond skin color, beyond Republican scare tactics. “Ask yourself: Are you better off than you were four years ago?” she said. “Look at what we got from Bush over the last eight years. To keep going with the same policies, that is really asinine. I can truly say that I believe Barack Obama is going to be our next president.”

Jacquie Green’s husband recently retired from the Navy after 20 years, including multiple deployments to Iraq including Operation Desert Storm. They live in a comfortable home in Chesapeake with their three children. He is now a part-time bus driver in Virginia’s Tidewater region and she works as a telephone technical support person for a company that manufactures photocopiers.

Yet he has had to cash out his military savings so they can make ends meet until that runs out. For Jacqueline, the urgency for change is clear.

“The politicians talk about the middle class but they never talk about the working poor,” she commented. “We are making serious choices: Do we eat or make those repairs to the car? McCain hasn’t done anything for the vets. Active duty soldiers are giving more to Obama than to McCain. Why? Because they want to come home, not stay in Iraq 100 years. We are happy living here in the Virginia Tidewater. We’ll be even happier when Obama is inaugurated next January.”

A member of a military families and veterans group said in a phone interview that hundreds of military families in the Tidewater are supporting Obama. “I think we have a very good chance of carrying Virginia for Obama. We’ve registered so many new voters and the demographics of Virginia have changed so much,” said the activist, a war veteran who is not authorized to speak for the organization.

Military families, including many active-duty sailors and soldiers, are playing a crucial role in winning voters for the Obama-Biden ticket, the veteran activist said. “McCain’s record on veterans’ issues is just horrible. He opposed the 21st Century GI Bill of Rights. He opposed adequate rest time for soldiers before they are deployed for a second or third tour of duty. My brother did two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.”

The veteran concluded, “I’m a Republican. I’ve worked for Republican candidates. It took a lot to switch me over. We’ve had a lot of Republicans at our meetings. At a meeting last week, out of 30 people present, eight were Republicans. We believe Barack Obama should be president.”

Union members are also campaigning hard for Obama in the Tidewater area.

Oct. 6 was the deadline for voter registration in Virginia and a team of Unite-Here union volunteers had gathered at the Teamsters Local 822 hall here to count registration cards filled out by new voters that day.

“We’ve registered over 5,000 new voters since Sept. 8,” said Unite-Here organizer Gwen Mills, who came here from Connecticut on Labor Day to spearhead the project. “The enthusiasm and excitement are just tremendous.”

The team of 36 union volunteers will take a week off and then return to the same neighborhoods and work through Election Day educating voters and getting out the vote.

So far, grassroots volunteers, many of them members of AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions, have signed up 310,000 new voters in Virginia. The project is nonpartisan but the Democrats are winning this fight for first-time voters by a wide margin here and across the nation.

Denise Brown-Lipford, a Unite-Here volunteer from Upper Marlboro, Md., said people she has encountered “tell us how tired they are of not having the income to afford the things they used to be able to afford. Virginia has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1964. This time? I’m betting they vote Democrat.”