I listened to Obama's victory speech on NPR last night. I had just gotten home from a huge victory party at the home of one of the most dedicated campaign volunteers I'd ever met, and almost everyone I'd worked with was there. It was amazing; when the election was called for Obama, we were all cheering, crying, jumping up and down and hugging each other. Many of the other guests were field staff who had worked twelve hours a day or more for weeks without a single day off. The rest of us were the volunteers who had been there the longest or worked the hardest. But thanks to Romney being an asshole and refusing to concede Ohio until he absolutely had to, I didn't get to watch Obama's speech before I had to leave.
When I finally did hear it, though, I was in tears. It finally hit me how hard I had worked and that the amazing year I had dedicated to the Obama campaign was really over. I've read great diaries here on Daily Kos about people's experiences knocking on doors and making calls, and I always meant to write one myself, but as the election season got underway, I never found the time. Now, below the fold, is my complete Obama story.
I hadn't planned on getting so involved with the Obama campaign. I had volunteered in 2008 and knew I wanted to do more this time, but I assumed it would just be a couple of weekends knocking on doors or something. One thing I was absolutely certain about was that I wouldn't spend another election just sitting back and waiting to hear the results. In 2010, I had every intention of getting out to volunteer for the Democratic candidates, but I never got around to it. And so I watched Rick Scott become Governor of my state, something I never thought would happen, and watched as the Republicans won races up and down the ticket. I watched as my Representative in Congress became Allen West, a certified nutjob, and as Marco Rubio became my U.S. Senator, and swore I would never let it happen again.
I hadn't been thinking much about the election yet in summer 2011, when Obama had just announced that he was running for reelection and the Republican primary was just getting underway. I actually deleted the first email I got asking me to be a Fall Fellow with the campaign. But my mom read the email, thought it would be a good thing to put on my college applications, and forwarded it to me. And so I applied for the program and was accepted in September 2011.
We started off slow. In my phone interview, my boss warned me that this wouldn't be like 2008, that resources would be tight and we would have to get "scrappy". It turns out that scrappiness is a way of life at Organizing for America. When I first started, we didn't have any field offices, so we had to share a tiny office with the local Democratic Party. We only had phone banks three evenings a week and one weekday morning, and we couldn't start voter registration for another month because the legal staff was still figuring out how to comply with Florida's restrictive new voter registration law (which was later overturned).
Recruiting volunteers was extremely difficult. No one was paying attention to the election yet, and almost everybody I spoke to told me they would volunteer "later"--whether that meant in a week, in a month, or in the new year. Still, two evenings a week and every Saturday afternoon, I drove half an hour after school to the little office to work through my recruiting list, which ranged from about 30-40 names, and ask them to meet me for coffee to discuss how they could get more involved. I scheduled dozens of these "one-on-one" meetings, but fewer than half the people actually bothered to show up. When they did, I struggled to tell my "personal story" and get people to sign up for shifts.
In mid-October, we finally had our first voter registration dry run. A handful of volunteers met for our first training session and got certified to do voter registration, and then we went out to register people downtown. I think I got two forms, both address changes. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Then, in early November, we had our first big "weekend of action" for the campaign. It was exactly a year ago, and we trained tons of volunteers and collected registration forms outside the local library. I registered my first new voter, a recent citizen who spoke in a Spanish accent and was pushing a baby girl in a stroller. I was so happy to have registered him to vote, and for the first time, I understood what the election was really about.
We gradually started the process of splitting up into "neighborhood teams" to hold local events. At first, my city had two teams. Yesterday, we had 11. We still didn't have an office, so we had to hold phone banks out of volunteer homes. I kept making my recruiting calls and scheduling my one-on-ones, with the aim of having a big push for January 2012 to recruit all of those people who said they'd volunteer "later". Meanwhile, we tested out our very first persuasion scripts. The first script they gave us to test was terrible, and the volunteers refused to make the calls. Gradually, the scripts improved and persuasion calls became a way of life.
The year came to an end and with it, my fellowship, but I decided to stay on and keep volunteering. I became the Phone Bank Coordinator for our neighborhood team, and in January, we moved into our brand new office just a couple of miles from my house. That spring was a busy time for me, but I always made sure to come in two or three times a week to make phone calls. Around this time, we had a big wave of volunteers show up, and many of them eventually became phone bank and canvass captains or neighborhood team leaders when we split into more and more teams. The campaign also had a wave of hiring; my boss, who had been a volunteer since April 2011, was hired as a field organizer, and two additional organizers from out of state joined our office. We continued to register voters every weekend and also started knocking on doors, to get vote by mail forms and persuade undecided voters.
After the school semester finished up in May, I had a lot more time on my hands, so I signed up to be a Summer Fellow full-time. By then, the program had changed a lot. I now had my own goals for phone calls (both recruiting and persuasion) and voter registration, which I had to meet every week. One-on-ones also made a comeback, and I found I had much better luck recruiting volunteers. People in South Florida were getting fired up to reelect the President. The summer was crazy--there were so many long days and late nights, punctuated occasionally when we had to work at big events with the President and other surrogates. We went from making mostly recruitment calls to mostly persuasion calls, and the campaign had another big wave of hiring. By then, Palm Beach County, which had started off as one region, had split into three. At the end of the summer, our region opened its second office, which was more than twice as big as the first. However, I continued to work at the old office.
As fall rolled around, I signed up once again to work as a Fall Fellow. That was when things really got crazy. Gradually, I gave up more and more activities in order to spend more time working for the campaign. I got to attend events with President Obama, Michelle Obama, and Vice President Biden. We threw watch parties for the Democratic Convention and the campaign hired another round of field organizers. Our office was getting so crowded that even the staff eventually had to give up their desks to make room for more phone bankers. Our focus shifted exclusively to voter registration and vote by mail, with the goal of cutting into the Republicans' vote by mail margin. When all was said and done, Democrats had requested more vote by mail ballots than Republicans, indicating that we had succeeded.
October was a roller-coaster ride. While everyone was certain that Obama would crush Romney in the debates, I was terrified that he wouldn't live up to the expectations. After the first debate, which we watched in the office, everyone was disappointed, but not too concerned. We knew that we had the people on the ground to win the election. Still, I can't deny that people were getting frustrated. My city was covered in Romney yard signs and signs for other Republicans, and people came into the office several times a day to complain. We tried to explain that yard signs don't vote and that we would win with volunteers, but that didn't stop people from getting stressed. One of our best neighborhood team leaders almost quit, but after we won the Vice Presidential debate and the second Presidential debate, people started to calm down.
With only a few weeks to go before Election Day, we got ready for the final phase of the campaign--Get Out the Vote. This was what we had been preparing for when we spent months recruiting volunteers. We split up into even more neighborhood teams, and we had to hold events out of volunteer homes to make room for everyone, almost coming full circle. We made a final push to get people to vote by mail and tried to persuade the last few undecided voters as we got closer and closer to the big day.
First, though, was the final Presidential debate, which was held in my hometown of Boca Raton, at Lynn University. I didn't get to see the debate in person, like I'd originally hoped. I actually got an even better opportunity--I got to help out a the debate as a volunteer. That day turned out to be the most surreal of my life. I got to hold Obama signs in the background of MSNBC during all my favorite shows, including Hardball, and I met Chris Matthews and told him how I'd been watching his show with my grandfather for years. I also met the Obama campaign's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, and several of us crashed a gala for millionaire donors to the university, which made for a great laugh. But the really amazing part was after the debate, when all the volunteers went into the spin room, where we held the tall triangular signs that identified the surrogates so the media could find them. I got to hold the sign with David Axelrod's name, and he was really nice--he signed it for me and thanked me for my hard work, and then introduced me to John Kerry!
As if that weren't enough, the very next day, Obama came to Delray Beach (only a few miles from Boca) for a huge rally at the tennis stadium there. Because I had volunteered for so long, I got to sit in the VIP section with all the elected officials, where I met Charlie Crist, and then I got to get my picture taken with President Obama himself!
After those amazing couple of days, though, it was time to buckle down and get Obama reelected. We started making phone calls all over the state to turn people out to vote early. Our efforts might have worked a little too well; on the last day of early voting, Palm Beach County had seven-hour lines!
When Election Day finally came, it didn't even seem real. For 14 months, the Obama campaign has been a part of my life. I wasn't ready for it to end just yet. But the day was so busy I didn't have much time to think about it. I arrived at the volunteer's home where we were meeting at 6 am, and I made phone calls the entire day. At 6 pm, my boss called and said that everyone had to go canvass for the last hour before the polls closed, so we rushed off to a nearby apartment complex to frantically knock on doors. Then, we had to rush back to make phone calls to Florida's panhandle, where the polls close an hour later. After another hour of phone calls, we finally got to go to the victory party.
This road has been long, and it hasn't always been easy. But together, we all worked to get President Obama reelected. Whether it was by knocking on doors, making phone calls, giving money, or helping in any other way, we own this victory, and we will own all of America's successes in the next four years. We're going to hear a lot of good news in the next four years, but we can all take credit for every great jobs report, every diplomatic success, every bill that President Obama signs into law, because we all worked together and did what we could to build a better America.
I cried hearing Obama's victory speech last night. A few words stuck out to me in particular:
To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics. The best. The best ever. Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning. But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together and you will have the lifelong appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way, through every hill, through every valley. You lifted me up the whole way and I will always be grateful for everything that you've done and all the incredible work that you put in.President Obama is right. That campaign office that I've spent so much time in the past year feels like a second home to me, and all the people I've worked with do feel like family. I know we still have a lot of work ahead of us, supporting President Obama's agenda and winning a Democratic House for 2014. But I will never forget my time with the Obama campaign, and how we won this election together.