“Hello. My name is Evan, and I am from the League of Conservation Voters. We are just going around the neighborhood to talk to people about the upcoming presidential election. Have you decided which candidate you were planning to support?”

I must have repeated these sentences 1,000 times over the course of two days. Stilted, perhaps. But the answers they elicited mean the world.

I spent last weekend in Orlando, Fla., canvassing neighborhoods to pinpoint John Kerry supporters and talk to residents about this election, the most important one of our lives thus far.

Seventeen Georgetown students departed the front gates at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday evening, Oct. 21, and left George Washington University with 300 other area college students. We arrived back at 1:30 a.m. Monday morning.

We endured 16-hour bus rides both ways, several sick students, sharing six-bedroom houses with 35 people, very late nights and a cold jacuzzi. These material factors made our weekend all the more interesting but did not constrain us from achieving our real purpose.

We were there to talk about John Kerry, the future president of the United States of America. John Kerry – the man who will help improve the economy, re-establish our place as a respected and admired member of the international community and assist those marginalized by the Bush administration.

Our group spread out over the greater Orlando area. We knocked on 48,000 doors over two days and talked to thousands of people. These numbers dwarfed the miniscule official margin by which Bush won in 2000 – 537 votes. Our efforts most certainly made a difference.

On Friday afternoon, I canvassed a small neighborhood called Piney Point. It consisted of small, pastel-colored duplexes and one-family homes.

As the sun beat down, the street seemed to sag under a heavy weight. None of the cars looked new, and cracking paint was the norm. A fenced-off, deep-brown pond took up half of one side of a road.

The people I spoke to represent a variety of opinions and ways of life. Evenly split between Latinos and Caucasians and evenly split in their voting preference, their situations and perspectives were quite dissimilar from those I encounter daily at Georgetown.

Some were excited at the prospect of a new president, full of hope for a better future. Others wished to maintain the status quo and feared for their safety. Still others disdained politics altogether.

“When I was your age,” a shirtless 61-year-old man told me, “I was like you too. But now I don’t vote. What do politicians do for me? Before the election, they ask for my vote. After, they disappear. When I needed help, they weren’t there. You see this wall, I painted it. I can’t talk to anyone, not even the mayor.”

I told him that in giving up his vote, he was ignoring one of his fundamental rights as an American.

It is a sad time when our citizens cannot trust the government, and when political apathy and disillusionment have become all too common.

It is a sad time when fear must dictate voting choice, and when those who need help the most will vote for Bush even though his policies have and will continue to hurt them.

Saturday was spent in a housing development whose wide roads were lined with leafy palms and many houses with backyard pools. And yet again, the residents were split down the middle. I was told that Bush stood for values, not issues.

A customs worker said that a new administration needed time to get settled, and so this opening could lead to costly mistakes. I wonder about the costly mistakes of the past four years, and how much more costly the next four years could be without a change of leadership.

To paraphrase one resident, Kerry is going to allow freedoms Bush would never support. I was told, however, that some Kerry supporters in the area were being harassed due to their ideology.

The election has come down to this: a few people, scattered in diverse neighborhoods, who have yet to make up their minds. Our job was to talk to them, to tell them that a Kerry administration is indeed a change for the better, and they need not worry for the safety and happiness of themselves and their children.

I gave up a weekend of parties on the Village A rooftops to get little sleep in a room with four others so that my next four years will not be the mess that the last four were.

I relinquished M Street gourmet for lunches of granola bars so that my future is protected. I gave up comfort at Georgetown for a hot, smelly bus so that civil liberties will return to America.

I knocked on doors of strangers in the South and exercised my right to have a president who will represent me, who will uphold my freedoms, and who will protect my rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Sure, I got my picture in the Washington Post. But I also helped Orlando see that John Kerry should be our next President.

Evan Caplan is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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