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2008 US Presidential Election: Red States, Blue Road Project
Summary of a series of conversations from Mexico to Canada
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2008-12-05 13:44 (KST)   
The Red States, Blue Road Project was a simple idea: Take the rear seats out of my Astro Van, throw in as much off-the-road camping equipment as would be needed, add my cameras, laptop and other citizen photojournalist equipment, go down to Nogales, Arizona on the border of Mexico and drive north along US 89 through Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Montana to the Canadian border, stopping in small towns to shoot photos and record interviews with as many people as possible.

It was NOT a survey. The conversations were focused on three questions: What is the most pressing problem for America? Who do you think will win the 2008 presidential election? What does future hold?

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The idea came when a friend put me onto the US 89 Society on Oct. 10 which outlined the basic route with maps showing each leg of the journey. I found I could type in the names of towns into a McDonalds' Restaurant Locator and pull up information which included where there was wireless internet available or not. I hit the road on Oct. 13, thinking I could complete the project in the last 20 days of the election, filing one report each day. All for somewhere close to $1,000. (See Original Plan.)

SINCE THE PROJECT WASN'T A SUMMARY, it doesn't make a lot of sense to try and produce a numbers-based summary of the answers to the questions. However, I think some generalities can be found.

Perhaps the most interesting was seeing how in states are considered red in terms of the Electoral College, there were pockets of blue. These pockets were used by the Obama campaign not by winning the state, but by having people in such pockets take part in winning the battleground states by phonebanking and/or doorknocking. You won't find much information supporting this in the reports as their main focus is on the three questions but people talked about this outside of the questions.

As for the questions themselves, the main response to the question of the most pressing problem for America was as follows:

  • Economy --"I think the most important thing is the economic situation. It's horrible, it's deplorable, it's rotten, it's breathtakingly awful."

  • Greed -- "I think the government is too greedy. I'm not sure they're there for the American people."

  • Divisiveness, not only between individuals but between the government and the people -- "The biggest problem facing America as far as I'm concerned is politicians that have no idea what the average person in this country faces, that are so out of touch with reality that they don't where to start".

  • Other -- Campaign rules, Communication, Energy, Environment, Financial situation, Integrity in Government, International Issues, Media Bias, National Security, Negativity, Personal Responsibility, Political Process, Possible Assassination, Voter Apathy

As for the question of who they wanted to become president and who they thought would become president, their responses fell into three categories:
  • Nada -- "No interest," "No good choice," "Neither," "Doesn't matter," "Both are good choices," "50-50," "Confused," "Hard to decide," "Not sure" (20 people)

  • Want Obama to win, think he will win (9 people)

  • Want Obama to win, not sure he will win (10 people)

  • Want McCain to win, not sure he will win (5 people)

As for the question of what the future hold, there were many responses; to see them all you need to read all of the reports. For now, are a few:
  • "Thirty years ago we decided that we didn't have to work anymore, we didn't have to create any more wealth, and were this service oriented economy; people decided they could get rich by just shuffling paper around."

  • "Everybody in government is more interested in taking care of themselves than in taking care of the greater good."

  • "Everything is corrupt and too much greed from the top; and ordinary people don't live within their means."

  • "I think the government is too greedy I'm not sure they're there for the American people."

  • "The biggest problem facing America as far as I'm concerned is politicians that have no idea what the average person in this country faces, that are so out of touch with reality that they don't where to start."

  • I honestly believe if I were to make that judgment right now, I would say Barack Obama [is going to win the election] Quite frankly, I think that would be a disaster for the nation, as I think McCain has a better record of reaching across the aisle and getting things done."

  • "I think the economy is going to get better Throughout history it's had its ups and downs and it's in another down right now When this happens, I don't know, I don't see any end in sight."

  • America is fulfilling its destiny and all the issues that might be considered a problem are part of her destiny."

  • "We might have to pay for a while, but I think we're here to stay."

  • "As for the future, "It's in God's hands."

  • "There's no doubt about it, our demographics are changing I think Europe is changing pretty fast and we're right behind them."

  • "The future is always brighter because in the United States we have a good system; as long as the financial crisis gets back to normal."

  • "And so some people can take it and some people can't We're have to go back to the old things: use it, make do, repair it, fix it."

  • "I've studied some about the great depression and the way it was supposed to have ended was through massive government spending But we've done that, and it's what's causing our problem So I think personal fiscal responsibility is the way out of this."

  • "Everything is corrupt and too much greed from the top; and ordinary people don't live within their means."

  • "I'm not happy about it, but we've got to pay the piper now."

  • "Hard times."

  • "And my own impression is that the Democrats may be slowly making some inroads in the state, but I wouldn't expect Utah to go blue any time really soon Salt Lake City, is of course a very Democratic area, although Utah as a whole though is a very Republican state."

  • "I think it's going to take a group effort, and for people to stand up and say, Hey government! You need to listen up!"

  • "Reagan was the last president to say, Guys, this is what I believe in If you believe in the same things I do, vote for me; if you don't, vote for the other guy."

  • "One thing I learned in my graduate degree is if you fall on your face, at least you're going in the right direction Sometimes we're going in the right direction on our face and sometimes we're running in that direction But either way, we're making an effort to go forward, and that's the most important part of it."

  • "It's going to be the American people who are going to have to step up and straighten it out They've done it before, and they're capable of doing it again, and I think that's what will happen."

  • "I think the key to any society is an educated society, and I don't think we've done well by our youth over the last 10 or 15 years."

  • "If America wants to lead the world, they should think about the world, they should think about other countries they'll have to realize they are just one part of many."

  • "On a dive-bomb run, you don't look at the flack You look at the target."

  • "Thirty years ago we decided that we didn't have to work anymore, we didn't have to create any more wealth, and were this service oriented economy; people decided they could get rich by just shuffling paper around."

  • "Tightening of belts."

  • "We have to be honest with the people in this country: we can't fight a war in Afghanistan and Iraq and tell people we're going to pay for it by going shopping."

HOW WELL DID MY PLAN WORK OUT? Well, the first thing that went was filing one report each day. It took me longer than I had thought to select and transcribe what people had said and even it took even longer to Photoshop the images. Further, at home I work on a G4 Mac with two screens, one for the images/text and the other palettes, but I was trying to do this hunched over a Windows laptop.

©2008 D. McLane
I shot all the photos in RAW mode with a Nikon D80 which are then color corrected and converted to Photoshop PSD format and finally resized to screen size. I only have Photoshop version 6.0 for Windows and it doesn't handed RAW so I used Nikon NX for the conversion to PSD but couldn't get uniform color + brightness the way I usually do. First because I wasn't that familiar with NX and mostly because the brightness of my laptop screen depends on the angle it's viewed at.

While I found that many of the McDonalds listed as having wireless did in fact have so, there were problems. First, the staff didn't know how to make it work (you click on Wayport while your browser is open to a blank page and you get the sign-in). Second, sometimes it didn't work (all three in Flagstaff were no go). Third, if you did get a good connect it cost $2.95 for two contiguous hours which works for uploading a completed article but no good for researching over a longer time period.

When I couldn't get a connection in Flagstaff, I went on to Page which had a McDonalds that wasn't listed as having wireless on the chance that maybe it did and the listing was wrong. But no go. I wound up asking the staff at a Motel 6 if I could pay to use their wireless and they said I could use it for free from the lobby.

I didn't need another connection till Provo where the wireless at McDonalds looked like it would work as I saw some guy connected with his laptop. I chatted him up and found he was the contractor doing some renovation work on the place and was using Verizon, not McDonalds. He said that, in general most motels with wireless don't have security on it and all you need to do is get close enough to get a free ride. I rode free for all the rest of the journey.

A minor mistake was not including Idaho as one of the Red States even though the map showing the route ran through the south-west cornet, I but didn't think it was worth trying to go back and rewrite stuff that had already been published.

AS FOR THE BUDGET, I was not so far off. I'd estimated the gas for the roughly 4,000 miles would cost $700; it cost $650. The cost of food was estimated to be $450; it was $350. I had hoped the incidentals would be only $100 but came out to $280. Thus the total came to $1,280 not $1,000.

A major part of the incidentals was a $124 USB hard drive which I decided on after I had started as I wanted to make double sure I could keep duplicate copies of my original photo files. I'm using the drive for other projects so it could be considered a general equipment cost, not a cost for this particular project.

The main site for the reports was OMNI (OhmyNews International) which pays $20/article that get on the main page so that came to $240 for the 12 articles. I also put them on CNN's iReport, AZ Central, and Open.Salon which don't pay anything. I had one supporter who made a one-time donation via in $100 via the suggestion at the bottom of the Original Plan. Thus the net cost was $816 if we don't count the USB drive.

Not cheap, but worth the effort as I got to connect with a lot of people who don't show up in either the mainstream media or blogosphere.

©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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