This is my first diary so I hope I'm doing this right. Anyway, I am a 19 year old student at The College of New Jersey that is applying for the Obama Organizing Fellows. When I first started filling out the application I went in with the mindset that I wanted to get a good internship on my resume while helping campaign for my candidate. Then I got to the essay questions at the end. When I finished all three essay questions I discovered in myself the deeper meaning of why I really supported Obama's campaign. I went from seeing this as a way to advance my future career to seeing myself working for higher goals and ideas beyond myself. My short essays are, as you guys say here, below the fold.
1. Everyone has a unique story that brings them to this movement for change. Why are you personally motivated to be involved in this campaign?
What drove me to support and want to work for Barack Obama and his campaign was actually someone who still to this day remains a very loyal supporter of Hillary Clinton, my 84 year old grandmother. All throughout my life I have taken pride in being politically informed and knowing exactly where candidates stand on all of the important issues this country faces. Ever since we invaded Iraq I have always believed drawing down our troop presence there and focusing on eliminating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the most important and immediate thing we should be doing. This led me last year to initially support Joe Biden for president specifically for his foreign policy proposals like Biden-Gelb, even though I knew he had very little chance of becoming the nominee. Following the Iowa Caucuses (and Biden dropping out), I still wasn’t entirely sold on Obama or Clinton and I softly supported John Edwards, the candidate who I thought should have been the Democratic nominee in 2004. I ended up voting early for Edwards via absentee ballot in my home state of New Jersey before he dropped out.
After John Edwards dropped out I found myself leaning towards Obama, thanks in large part to how he had taken more progressive positions than Clinton and his unequivocal stance and record regarding the War in Iraq and the way his campaign hasn’t stooped to the levels of muckraking and stayed on message the entire time. One weekend in March I came home from college and helped my grandmother do her grocery shopping. When the subject of our conversation turned to the Democratic primary she was shocked when I told her I supported Obama. She then told me that she believed that the first amendment entitled everyone to their own religious beliefs, but she could never vote a Muslim who went to a mosque that preached things like "God damn America". When I heard this I was naturally shocked that she had her facts so badly wrong and I told her the facts. I informed her that Obama and Wright are in fact Christians, Wright’s statements were taken very much out of context and reflected a part of black society that was still bitter over what went on during the Civil Rights movement, and that just because Wright said such statements doesn’t mean Obama believes them. Though she still supports Clinton I convinced her to vote for Obama should Clinton lose the nomination.
As I left her apartment I was left wondering how many more people could be just as misinformed as my grandmother. That is when I first realized that I should get involved in the campaign. I could help to convince other voters that Obama isn’t what the latest media distraction makes him out to be and is the right leader on all of the real, substantive issues that our country faces. That in itself I found is worth fighting for and is why I want to get involved in Obama’s campaign.
2. One of Senator Obama’s first jobs was to organize in the South Side of Chicago and register voters in the community. Please tell us if you have any experience as an organizer – either community organizing or political organizing.
In my senior year of high school I led and represented a group of students who participated in a student walkout in defense of a teacher who was being unjustly fired. When a student had threatened to kill her and she had responded by removing the student from her class, she was informed that she wouldn't be getting tenure because of that incident and would lose her job at the end of the year. When the student body learned of this, we organized a peaceful walkout during school hours in her defense which about 200 students took part in. I was chosen as one of the few student representatives to meet and talk with the administration about their mistakes and negotiated terms by which we would end our protest and return to class. Following the walkout, myself along with much of the student body worked alongside the teachers’ union to appeal to the Board of Education to reverse the administration’s decision. After attending several board meetings, we were able to convince the Board to do the right thing and reverse the decision.
It was this experience that showed me that real change in our society comes from the bottom up, far before I knew enough about Barack Obama to even form an opinion about him and his ideas. This experience in organizing part of the student body in defense of our teacher proved something my mother always told me, "If the people lead, the leaders will follow." Our student body took an initiative to change what the leaders of our school district were doing and we were ultimately successful. What I learned from this experience organizing the walkout was one of the things that naturally drew me to eventually support Obama. He realizes that real change, the change he talks about in almost every stump speech is ultimately carried out at the grassroots level not unlike my experience in bringing about change to the school system of the small town of West Milford. Barack Obama challenges us not just to trust his capacity to face the many issues facing our country but he challenges the American people’s ability to get together and tackle the many issues that face their community. It is in this way that Obama’s message of fundamental progressive change in this country will come about.
3. If you have been working with the campaign, please describe your activities (types, dates, locations) and what you have learned. If you have not been involved with the campaign yet, please describe why you have decided to get involved now.
Ever since I was little I’ve been interested in politics. The earliest thing I can remember was the night of November 3, 1992 when I was four years old. I can remember my parents celebrating the election of Bill Clinton that night and I can remember asking them what they were so happy about and in return receiving my first lesson in democracy. As I’ve grown up since then I have learned more and more about both the good and the bad parts our government and politics in this country all the while maintaining a great interest in it. One of the sad realities I learned about electoral politics was the relatively static voting patterns of the majority of voters. I learned from watching the campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry that they pretty much conceded large parts of the American electorate instead focusing on very specific states and demographics that were liable to swing either way. I remember seeing Al Gore in 2000 being ridiculed for his "lockbox" solution on providing long term solvency on Social Security and seeing him lose his home state. I remember John Kerry getting swiftboated in 2004 and seeing his campaign never recover from it. All the while I can remember that in both of those cycles the American people were deluded into voting for the lesser of two evils. I saw an America that was cynical towards the political process and voted for the person that they would rather have a beer with.
What I have seen so far in the 2008 election cycle was something capable of changing the entire nature of politics as we know it. I have seen a campaign that is rewriting the book on how to campaign and changing the assumptions on who votes for whom. There is no major demographic that this campaign is not appealing to. This campaign is one that is highly capable of bringing about a progressive shift in state and local elections as well. This campaign is powered by people that want to transcend individual and political differences and move on from the mistakes of the past. Most importantly, this campaign is one that most resonates with what President Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." This campaign is challenging Americans to believe in their individual ability to improve their country for themselves. Once this realization came to me, I realized that we had a candidate that only came along once in a lifetime and I believe that it is time to do my part in not only getting Barack Obama elected, but working to make my country better for everyone. When I ultimately vote in my first presidential election in November, I won’t be voting for the lesser of two evils but for a person who I believe can provide the good, progressive leadership this country has been yearning for. I want to help others think the same way.
And that's all. I would also like to encourage any and all college students to get involved and apply for the Obama Organizing Fellows. Any advice on how to improve the essays would be gladly welcomed.