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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Great Schleppers' overcome age barriers, hearing aids to convince elderly voters

    "If Barack Obama doesn't become the next President of the United States, I'm going to blame the Jews," comedian Sarah Silverman said in a video address to visitors of the Web site TheGreatSchlep.com.
    On the morning of Nov. 8, 2000, a recount of ballots in Florida showed that George W. Bush held a miniscule edge of about 500 votes over Democratic opponent Al Gore. The small margin separating the two candidates led to extensive legal and personal battles, culminating in a Bush victory over a month later.
    The results of the election both embittered and enthralled voters, forever ensconcing the scene in Florida in the mind of disillusioned Democrats.
    This time around, an Internet sensation has been pushing young Democrats to sway the large and influential Floridian demographic of elderly Jews in Sen. Barack Obama's favor. "The Great Schlep," an effort begun by JewsVote.org and endorsed by Silverman, has urged young Jewish people to make the "schlep" to the Sunshine State and convince their grandparents to vote for Obama on Nov. 4.
    Silverman and supporters of the Great Schlep have taken aim at this group, who notoriously vote for the Republican candidate in higher percentages than does the general Jewish-American population. They are especially concerned with the United States' relationship with Israel and mumblings of Obama's alleged association with Islam.
    After being persuaded by his sister to watch the Silverman video, Tufts junior Cobin Dopkeen boarded a plane on Columbus Day weekend to visit his own grandparents in Miami, Fla.
    "I thought it was funny and I figured, why not go?" Dopkeen said. "It was pretty much something where you go and you do it on your own … I feel like a large part of [the Great Schlep] is to get other people to notice and then go down as well."
    Dopkeen said that while his own grandparents were already planning to vote for Obama and did not need convincing, he spent much of his time milling around their nursing home in search of other elderly voters he could persuade. He was surprised to find that a large portion of the residents in the living facility had already made up their minds in favor of Obama.
    "[I said], ‘Hi, if you don't mind me asking, are you voting for Obama? Or are you voting for McCain?' And they go, ‘No! I'm voting for Obama.' And I'm like, ‘Alright, great, thanks.'"
    But Dopkeen tipped the decision of one woman who had been undecided because she viewed Obama as too inexperienced to run the country.
    "She was going to vote for Hillary and she thought that Obama was inexperienced but that McCain was over the hill," he said. "And so I talked to her about her views and what mattered to her, and she agreed with Obama's policies, so I just had to convince her to give him a chance."
    Coming from a liberal school in the Northeast, Dopkeen had to get on the same page as many of the elderly people he spoke with.
    "I definitely had to explain to them why I was there and the idea behind it," he said. "I tried talking to an old man who, at first, I thought was ignoring me, until I realized he just couldn't hear me."
    Hearing disabilities aside, many residents of his grandparents' living facility were concerned with politics from decades ago — often leaving Dopkeen dumbfounded.
    "The hardest part is talking to people who are going to talk about politics from before you were born," he said. "They're talking about things from when they were 20 and I'm like, ‘Look. I'm thinking I studied this in history in seventh grade for like a little, but I didn't experience it.' I'm not going to have the knowledge they do. I go down there and I'm ready to talk about what I know, which is what's happening now and not so much what happened then."
    Dopkeen's Columbus Day schlep coincided with the release of a Quinnipiac University poll showing Obama's popularity at 77 percent among Floridian Jews.
    For students like Dopkeen, who is a native of Chicago, Ill., the Great Schlep was a mechanism for influencing the outcome of the election — a goal that they could not necessarily achieve by simply casting a vote in their traditionally blue home states.
    "The thing is, when I cast my vote, it's not a huge deal because I'm from Illinois … or I could register in Massachussetts, and [in] either one, Obama's going to win in that state," Dopkeen said. "If I really want to do something about it, I have to go somewhere else. So I went down to Florida."
    Dopkeen, a computer science major who has not been otherwise involved in campaigning efforts, said that though he is mostly apolitical, efforts like the Great Schlep have heightened his — and other college-aged students' — political activism.
    "The way I see it, [Bill] Clinton was elected and our entire childhood was within Clinton, and we [were] like, ‘Oh, everything's great, what a good country, and everything's going to be fantastic.' And as we became teenagers, Bush won … And as [I was] a teenager, Bush [was] the president, and everything got progressively crappier, and you [had] that teenage angst," Dopkeen said. "[Now] we're like, ‘Well, this matters.'"


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