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Volunteers across America: Kansas

My name is Joan Sherman. I've owned a needlepoint business in Kansas City, Missouri since 1967, and I live in Leawood, Kansas. I'm a volunteer for President Obama's re-election campaign.

I'm 76 years old, and my history with politics goes back about as far as I can remember, even if it wasn't always official. I went to Smith College, which was a birthplace of the women's movement—so that activism was always smoldering in my background. It showed up in the little battles I fought every day—even as a businesswoman, when I still had to get my husband's signature on my lease. Finally I told my landlord, "My husband doesn't own this business. If you can't take my lease, I'm going to move." They came around.

I was a member of the Republican Party for a lot of my life—I even voted for Reagan. Then one day, after his presidency was over, I looked at the direction my party had taken, and I felt so snookered. Suddenly I was on the opposite side of every issue: women's rights, fairer taxes, voting rights. Having my business took me almost 18 hours a day, seven days a week, so for a great deal of my career I was unable to get involved in a campaign or anything like that—but I was raging inside over what was going on.

Barack Obama was very inspiring to me when he came along. I had just sold the retail part of my business and I decided to really get active in politics. That's what happened in 2007 and 2008: I just thought, "Hey, get up and get going!" And now, in 2012, I feel more motivated than ever.

Kansas is an extremely conservative state, but I've met some wonderful people as a volunteer. The first time I ever canvassed here, I was afraid every door I knocked on would get slammed back in my face, or that the person who answered would make terrible fun of me. But there's a long history of good, working-class people here in Kansas, and as I went down the line, I ran into people who were friendly and supportive and just so glad to see me. Nowadays I really like knocking on doors and making phone calls.

I would encourage everyone to step up and get involved—especially young women. You're going to build your future on where we've left things for you, and that means staying strong. This whole business of not wanting women to have a choice of what to do with their bodies—that's not a fight we should be having. Women are still struggling to earn equal wages—though at least now we're able to fight for them—and like the President says, that's just basic fairness. And a lot of the Republicans say they would repeal health reform, which would make it acceptable to charge us more for our health insurance, so the deck would be even more stacked against us.

This election isn't about staying where we are—it's about moving forward or going back. That's one of the things history teaches us, and you see it very clearly when you're my age. Today we're having to strike out and fight for things we never worried about when I was younger—health care wasn't as expensive, and nobody went bankrupt because they got sick. You worked hard, and you knew someday you'd be able to retire with a degree of security. But at the same time, we never could have imagined some of the progress we're looking at today—and we need this man in office if we're going to get where we want to be as a country. And that's going to take a lot of work from all of us, but you know what? I'm up to it.

Keep an eye on Joan and the rest of the Kansas crew by following them on Twitter—and check the state blog for more stories and photos.

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