Thursday, 15 November 2012

Fired Up? READY TO GO!

I'm sat in the departure room at Milwaukee airport waiting for a flight back home. That's a sentence I never thought I'd write. It's just the final chapter in what has been one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences in my life working on President Obama's election campaign in the battleground state of Wisconsin. In case you hadn't heard, we won.

About two weeks ago I got a Facebook message from one of my best friends Nick Roberts who had been based out here for a month working full-time (but unpaid) in Obama HQ in the small town of Waukesha, Wisconsin. I'd met up with him just before he left, he'd told me all about his plans and I left feeling quite envious about the adventure he was about to go on - I also left him nursing the biggest hangover of my entire life, but that's another story.

Nick said the race there in Wisconsin was neck and neck and that they needed all the volunteers and help they could possibly get. I didn't have any plans and knew I'd regret it if I didn't go - and so suddenly I was on a plane bound for the American Midwest...

I've always had a big interest in American politics - especially so after completing my degree in American Studies at uni - but had never done any volunteering or campaigning before. I had no idea what to expect. I got picked up at the airport by 79-year-old volunteer Bob Posner (a Korean war vet who told us the most incredible story of being shot down from his plane in the war and being rescued from the Koreans by the actions of a sole Marine) and we drove into Waukesha and straight to the campaign HQ, met everyone and then went to the pub for the evening where I got incredibly excited and geeky about American IPAs. 

Meeting Michelle in the Waukesha HQ.

Working hours each day were typically 8am-9pm. Our purpose in the last week of the campaign wasn't to persuade people to vote for Obama - that part had been done a long time ago - but instead to ensure that citizens who are traditionally Democrat supporters actually get up and go vote. It involved tons of phone calls and lots of door knocking. I found it fascinating to see inner city America, how it's political system worked and I was so encouraged in how immersed the whole nation seemed to be in the race. Whether they were Democrat or Republican supporters everyone seemingly had an opinion. It was a refreshing change from here in the UK where we are so apathetic towards our politics (myself included).

Two days after I arrived we found out that Obama himself was coming to Milwaukee for a rally! He also brought along Katy Perry in a spandex mini skirt to help secure those vital extra votes. 

K-Peps with a cool outfit on.

I got to work the event meaning I was there to recruit volunteers to help our team out, but also got to see Barack speaking in person. He's incredible. Such an inspiring, charismatic and likeable guy. He must be the greatest speaker in political history too - just in the time I was there he cut two speeches that brought a tear to my eye. It's worth checking them out below.

Obama (in white) speaking at the event I went to.
Speech One from Des Moines, Iowa (check out the last 20mins specifically): 

Speech Two, his acceptance speech on election night: 

I was in downtown by myself for a few hours after the event finished at about 5pm so naturally I went on a solo bar crawl. I was already pretty wasted by the time Nicko met me. The legendary Peter Fox soon joined us and we got to bed at 2am an absolute mess before leaving for work the next morning at 6am. Ugh.

The last three days of the campaign were spent in an area called Brown Deer. It was a much poorer area than Waukesha (which is predominantly white and middle class) and had people from all demographics working as staff or volunteering. Some had been doing it just for a few days or weeks, some people had been volunteering all year. It was remarkable how much time, effort and commitment people were willing to put into Obama's re-election campaign. We had former lawyers, submarine captains (!), crack Marines and all sorts working alongside people from below the poverty line.

More than anything else, the people that you meet on trips like these are what you remember. I'm sure I'll forget somebody here but Peter Fox, the boss Sam Rikkers, Sam Byker, Charlie Young, Mike Peters (the submarine guy), John Schlitz, Dawn (who housed us for free), Tim Rayburn, my good mate Nicko and many others were all great, incredibly talented people that I would love to stay in touch with. 

There was a huge push on election day itself to canvass the streets like mad men and get out the vote. I was mostly stationed in areas populated by black families and most of them had already been to the polling stations by the time I arrived. It was quite damning for the Republicans to see that 93% of the black US population (hope the stats are right) voted for Obama. Nobody wanted to say it out loud but there seemed to be a distinct inevitability of victory on that last day. As soon as the first polls started coming back it was nearly certain that Obama was going to be re-elected. Specifically for us the state of Wisconsin was also staying blue. In our office there were cheers of joy and tears of happiness for all of these people who would have been strongly impacted in a negative fashion if Romney had got in power. 

Just some of the Brown Deer staff - including Krystal, Dominique, Tim, Michelle and Naomi - celebrating victory! 
No one person or volunteer can ever know how much or little difference they made but it’s a fact that the Democrat’s vast, vast nationwide network of volunteers absolutely made a huge difference in a close campaign. Again, this type of campaigning that involves and doesn’t exclude the individual citizen is something UK politics will surely have to embrace in time.

Election night was fun – we went to the Democrat victory party in a large hotel downstairs and immediately Peter bought us all a half pint of neat Jack Daniels. The night started as it meant to go on – and continued that way for three days before the flight home. It was definitely something worth celebrating though and one of the best experiences I’ve had the opportunity to do. When unique, slightly weird opportunities like these crop up in life you should seriously consider doing them. Nobody wants to have any regrets.

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