Take it from an Organizer
You’re still talking about the 2016 election. You’re probably having intense arguments with your coworkers/buddies or even a casual “I’m going to hang out with people who only think like me” session to vent and calm your nerves. You might scream at the TV when CNN talks about Russia hacking the election. But the truth is, you’ve probably never asked an organizer about the election, and you didn’t ask a volunteer either. You sat there, frustrated, depressed, and hopeless. And you think to yourself: “Why…?”. Well, field organizers like me want to share one perspective with you:
I was a Politics major, yet had ironically never understood the American political system. Come Spring 2016 of my final year at college, and I was introduced to a whole new way of engaging with politics. I was no longer that person who studied books and focused solely on linguistics and International Relations. I was someone who could make a powerful impact here at home. I was lovingly coaxed into volunteering for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and I started to make calls and knock doors. I had never done any of these things before, but suddenly they became so important to me in making sure that I did not lose my voice. I also always considered myself an independent, until the 2016 campaign when I could not stand the thought of being silent and not vocalizing what side I chose to support and work for.
I graduated, went home to Michigan where my family had moved to in 2015, and watched Sanders lose the primary. But Hillary was there, thank goodness. I was extremely passionate about Bernie, but I just was not a Bernie Bro (I’m not a bro anyways, dude), and I hated the thought of voting third party or sitting out of an election. I was upset, but only for about a day. After that, I looked on the Clinton campaign website to see if there were any volunteering opportunities for the campaign. At this point, I did not have a job. So naturally, I was trying to fill the void in my soul with meaningful activities. Yeah, the job market really does suck that bad, you work your tail off for four years, work 2 part time jobs during your last year, and still aren’t good enough for employers. Hint: Maybe why Hillary should have won? So we could avoid that mess for future generations?
I attended campaign events and met people who worked for the Michigan campaign. My parents pushed me to focus, to see if there were any positions to kick-start my political career (thanks, mom and dad), and suddenly I became a field organizer. It was not long ago that I had knocked my first door, and here I was, telling people how to communicate with voters to make sure we won this election, both statewide and national.
To be completely frank, I did not know what I had signed up for. All I knew is that I wanted her to win, and I was determined to make that happen. The rest is a blur that lasted a whole four months. Those who worked on the campaign did so much in such a short amount of time that it felt as though we had lived a lifetime. And for the first organizers including myself, we had lived a longer and more brutish life than those who came afterwards. We had learned so much that we were humbled, and loved so much that we could not stop fighting for what was right.
Every single day, we woke up knowing that we were working for something much bigger than ourselves. We were not working just for bragging rights (for real though, I would love that right about now), but we wanted to see in practice so many of the values that we stood for. Organizers spent their time knocking doors and registering voters in their turf during the day, and making calls during call time from 5:00pm-9:00pm every night. We spent time meeting with community members one-on-one, eating copious amounts of unhealthy food, and training dedicated volunteers. We were harassed by strangers, and complained about it, but the truth is that we were overly masochistic in our approach with this campaign. Exhausted and frustrated, but loving every minute of the rush that came with gaining an extra vote or convincing someone that volunteering was necessary. It was a unique form of addiction, one that meant that the world was going to be a better place.
Working on a campaign means that nothing you do will ever be enough. We were already working 90+ hours per week, but we could have worked more. We made thousands of phone calls, but we could have made more. We knocked hundreds of doors, but we could have knocked more. You get the deal. We truly believed that each vote mattered, and that even one person could tip the scales in our favor. We were told to work as if we were 6 points behind in the polls. It wasn’t enough. We should’ve worked like we were 10 points behind. Maybe then we would’ve won.
But it did not matter. On November 9th, I put on my workout clothes, and went to the campaign office to clean up (did you really think I was going to work out?). A mere 12 hours ago, I was on the floor in the office sobbing with my organizer buddies. And just recently, my sister found a ticket to the Trolls movie, and it was dated November 9th. Apparently I took her to the movies the day after the election as well, but I completely forgot about it. Given that I was in physical and emotional pain, forgetting these things was inevitable. Nothing like knowing that your rights as a human being may be taken away to get you in a state of perpetual fatigue and despair.
There was a lot of speculation as to why the Clinton campaign lost the election. And at first, as an organizer, I thought that the conversation was complete and utter crap, because we worked to the bone to prevent the exact outcome that was our fate. It was appropriate to blame Russia, sexism, ageism, the non-voters and Bernie Bros, those who voted third party, and Trump voters. Basically everyone who did not vote for Hillary.
But maybe she did not connect with voters the same way that Trump did. But was the American public really willing to allow the man who publicly brags about harassing women…to become president? It was apparent that the more we focused on Donald Trump, the less we were able to talk about Hillary Clinton and what she could do for the country. Many people felt that the personal story and that intimate connection was missing. And don’t forget white privilege. Did I mention white privilege? Perhaps the Democrats were not all one well-oiled, smooth machine. They were a group of human beings who tried their best to put their candidate in office. Let me repeat. Organizers are actual people. We made mistakes. But did organizers or those who worked on the ground game cost the American people the election? No. Again, it was a combination of multiple factors. To blame only Hillary or her campaign is unjust. Sometimes, fate has a way of teaching you what you should value most, and gives you the opportunity to work on yourself from within. It does not mean that you should carry the entire burden of defeat upon your shoulders.
Let me also make clear: I am extremely proud of the people I worked for, proud of the people I worked with, and proud of Hillary Clinton. I am proud of my volunteers, including some who have decided to run for office. I am proud of Democrats for being so dedicated to standing up for what they believe in and putting up a fight during the toughest of times. Do not mistake criticism of an election for disdain of political identity. We have to define our message as a party, but we are definitely strong in our beliefs.
As a final note, I wanted to share with you what I think to be the most important thing I’ve learned from the campaign: never take yourself, your relationships with others, or time for granted.
I still connect with my beloved volunteers, and many of us are still involved politically. A bond developed that outlasted the campaign. It was a love of ideals, a desire to see change. It was patriotism at its best, and a need to protect everyone around us. Yes, even Trump supporters.
I had amazing coworkers and a boss who cared about the work they did, and about why everyone else invested their energies into this campaign, even though we had a chance of losing. I had a family who constantly tried to keep me grounded and to point out to me that I was overworking myself, and that no matter how much I worked, I was only one person. It was humbling. I could be replaced, but the work would continue.
With regards to taking time for granted, the campaign was only going to last a few months, but I had the rest of my life to live. And while the campaign would definitely shape who I was, it was not going to define me. The time that we spent complaining to our Regional Organizing Director about how hard things were was time wasted. The time we spent focusing on Donald Trump was less time spent on Hillary Clinton and her message. The time we engaged in conversation with people at the door was an extra vote. Time matters.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you really cared about yourself, the people around you, and your time, then you would probably invest in defining your next steps. How are you going to make sure that this never happens again? Belief in values is not enough — action is what drives change. My advice is to start by joining your local clubs, donating to campaigns, making calls to your representatives, running for office, and reading up on as much as you can. Now is not the time to be ignorant of reality. If being an organizer has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no room for complacency in a world where everything good and right can be taken away from you.
P.S. I got to work on a presidential campaign for a female candidate. A WOMAN, guys!