The past 6 weeks, I have had the opportunity to travel over 6,000 miles across the American heartland with the Project Vote Smart national bus tour. While the travel is an exciting part of this adventure, we are on the move so often it is rare that we can explore the towns and cities we are in. However, the opportunity to speak with Americans of all backgrounds about their concerns and political interests has been nothing short of enlightening. On this leg we have visited towns as small as Jasper, AL and cities as large as Miami. What has been most interesting to me is that in all of these diverse communities we find individuals who are a) shocked to find out a non-partisan group like ours exists and b) excited at the opportunity to do their own research, find the hard data and draw their own conclusions. This sort of interaction has been the most interesting part of the tour for me.
Of course, not everyone is interested and many are understandably skeptical of anything political. It seems that many passers-by assume that we are either selling or preaching something. However, once we can get passed the initial skepticism, most people will at least take a copy of a Voters' Self Defense Manual (VSDM). Especially on college campuses, it is easy to explain the extreme usefulness of a VSDM in an argument with friends or family. Explaining how to use the VSDM, I can often see that people are really excited so much information is so easily understandable and accessible.
The other very interesting measure of the communities we visit has been the messages written on our 8-foot American flag ball. Many people are eager to have their voices heard. Any time we set out the ball, we find that citizens are excited about finding a new canvass on which to express themselves. Naturally, some of the messages are less than appropriate and others not about anything in particular. However, we have found intriguing messages coming out of the visitors to the bus. One of my favorites so far has been from a lady in Cincinnati: "Vote to show respect to those who died for that right." As this leg ends, I am left with a cautious optimism that there is a large segment of every population in this country striving to understand the political process and make a rational choice in the election booth - much more than most pundits give us credit for.
I look forward to returning to Montana shortly and wish the next bus crew much luck, clear skies and overwhelming media coverage.