And we turned a RED state BLUE…

8 Years Ago a Community in Carmel/Fishers, IN adopted me (as a campaign staffer for Obama’s first presidential run) then we made history…and now it’s time to close that chapter with a touching account of the bond we made and will always share written by one of my volunteers…

Lessons from a volunteer on the Campaign Trail

September 29, 2008

I have begun this journey to work at an Obama Campaign Office in Fishers, Indiana for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is that I am compelled to practice what I preach. As a messenger of inspirational words and challenger of others to live their dreams I had to take this step when I first heard Barack Obama say:

“I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change

in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours.”

Along my path of life, there have been relatives, teachers, friends and foes that have caused me to question my values, my beliefs and my opinions. These are the people who have formed me, who have allowed me to express myself and who have ultimately been witness to my character.

I know that I have stretched myself over the years and through my adventures have grown. There were times when I didn’t understand what it was I wanted from life. There were times when life didn’t lend itself to any type of understanding and that faith is what got me through. There were times when I was engaged in life and times when I disengaged. But, what I learned throughout my many years is that when I was fully engaged, when I was most aware of my core values, that is when I was open to experiencing the fullness of my faith in human nature and that is when I made a difference. That is when I made a difference in the quality of my life and that is when I made a difference in the quality of the lives of others. And, so, I have decided to be fully engaged in this “Campaign for Change”.

My personal mission in life is “to discover, inspire and restore joy in myself and others”. I am about to live my mission fully. I have been given an opportunity to change history. I have taken the challenge to inspire others to do the same.

The dreams of our fathers have inspired me to do so. It has taken me nearly 60 years to take up the flag and carry this banner. Today I am an Activist and that is a good thing.

October 6, 2008

I am here to work. I have given two days to being trained to be a Deputy Field Organizer and received my credentials from Camp Obama in Chicago. I have made a commitment to be here for five weeks. I have moved into my daughter’s home and invaded the space of my Republican son-in-law. I will have breakfast each morning with my grandsons and then leave to go to a 12 hour job seven days a week. I will take time off only to go to church. My four year old grandson says to me “Grandma, you never had a job when you came here before. You just came to play with me”. I say, “I know Dane, but this is important work and if I do my job well and everyone else does their jobs well, it could make our country an even better place to live”.

The Obama Campaign for Change office in Fishers, Indiana is like many across the country. Rented or borrowed furniture, supplies begged from volunteers, equipment on loan, staff that is somewhat bedraggled from their months on the road during the long primary season and everyone looking for something to do that will make them feel productive.

One of my first observations last week is that while the campaign process itself is extremely organized, tally sheets, reporting documents, phone lists, computer programs and a never ending database of our potential supporters there is also that feeling of “making it up as we go along” that is indicative of any volunteer organization.

Along with several volunteers who keep showing up day after day, we begin to form a team. We have student interns still in high school (some unable to vote in this election) working side by side with retired corporate executives. There are no titles here, only a common purpose. The staff is beginning to know who they can count on and messages begin the “trickle down” of large organizations. So while there are no titles, we begin to get a sense of who will be in charge of what.

The first experience in this organizational basic comes through clearly when data entry becomes critical to staff reporting. Not everyone has the temperament to work under pressure, nor to answer to a twenty something “boss”, nor to pay attention to details, let alone to the goal, the big prize — the election of our candidate.

When the steady hands take over things begin to hum. Some are in charge of deliveries, positioning materials, giving voice to the issues, shredding documents, answering phones, training the canvassers or the phone bankers and others are simply in charge of stapling and making coffee. All is well.

October 13, 2008

Food volunteers have become our favorites. Tired of fast food and cold food, we now have organized volunteer sign ups to feed us hot meals daily. We’re getting to know each other better. Chris and Stuart are phone bankers who come for the evenings and the brownies. Kathryn and Chris, our young interns have a friendly battle going on over who is the Super Intern, the seats at the front desk are ever changing with some claiming rights and privileges and others willing to scour the bathroom. Glenda, Elizabeth, Sandra, Rae, Pat, Bill, Ken people of a certain age have bonded. Emily (who can’t speak) expresses her hopes beautifully and Anna who is young and shy absorbs it all as she sits and cuts out stickers or staples information packets. In the quiet moments conversations turn to why people come to this place where we offer our skills for no pay except the camaraderie, the service to our country and the opportunity to share our thoughts on the impact the government has had on our lives. Hmmm…and we leave each day feeling more fulfilled than a paycheck could ever provide.

We are in the middle of our journey and take pause. The debates are over, the polls are in our favor, and the paper flow of the campaign is nearing its peak. There are times when we are filled to overflow with volunteers on phones or on walks and times when we enjoy quiet moments with staff that allow us to renew ourselves for the tough weekends of campaigning ahead.

As I reflect on my first days here when a crazy lady comes in ranting and raving and the police are called, to the opportunities to see the hope in the faces of those who are signing up to give their precious time to our cause I realize that “now is the moment, now is our time” and I am energized by the man, his words, his mission for our country and that is what allows me to keep others engaged in this process.

Early voting is ongoing, students are being bussed from campuses to the polling places, and absentee ballots are going in the mail to meet the upcoming deadline. We are determining who our supporters are through the trials of hang ups and doors slammed and the victories of moving an undecided voter into a vote for Obama. People signing mortgage papers in the business next door come in daily to be sure their vote will count in Indiana, yard signs are a hot commodity and a man overpays us for a sample Obama shirt he desperately needs for a birthday gift for his wife.

October 20, 2008

I have become quite comfortable talking with teachers, small business owners and taxpayers about the issues of our day. This opportunity has given me voice in expressing my opinions albeit mostly to like minded people with the occasional challenger coming through our doors. This is certainly out of the box for me. To stand tall and state my beliefs for anyone to challenge, to tell me I may be wrong, to make me feel small. I stood tall and I feel taller and whether I am right or wrong, I feel able to express big thoughts that help me grow.

I must add an amusing anecdote. This week I was asked to stand in line at the McCain office (for over an hour) to get tickets to the Sarah Palin event. While standing in line with Republicans I learned that “we” were stealing their signs and they were talking felony charges if caught and I learned that Sarah sets up kissing booths at county fairs and several of the men were telling their wives “I’m packing my bags, honey and going on a trip”. I also learned that no one I came in contact with seemed energized or interested in talking about what the Republican platform was or what John McCain was going to do for this country.

In our office, Joe Biden’s name rarely comes up, in fact, Barack Obama’s name is not the norm in conversation. In our office, most of the conversation is about the issues. In our office, the focus is on change for our country and its citizens. It’s about people who want to be involved in the change. It’s about people.

The experience in the “Sarah” line might not be indicative of how their campaign was run, but it did tell me how their voters were thinking and it made me sad that they didn’t have the same focus on what could be better in this country.

October 27, 2008

One week to go. It’s all about preparation for GOTV (Get Out The Vote). Who is on the Red team — Polling sites (Ken)

Blue team — Voter contact (Kathryn, Brian)

White team — Logistics (Bill)

Training, training, and more training, what will we do if…?

Jerry has assigned me to be the Staging Director. I am learning everyone’s job so that I can fill in where needed. I am now aware of the strategies of the campaign. I am “in the loop” and able now to determine who needs to know what, when and how. I am in my element and my management skills are kicking in.

On the other hand, there is a nervous energy in the office. Those of us who are here often enough can feel the buzz. Regional level organizers are coming and going, meetings are held behind closed doors, we are being asked to pick up and deliver materials and forms to other offices. Truckloads of campaign materials are being delivered daily and we are rearranging the furniture to make room for the doubling or tripling of our volunteer forces.

November 1, 2008

We usher nearly 100 volunteers through our door today. They are on a mission to Get Out the Vote. Canvassers include my daughter, my son and my husband today. I am very proud. I hear one of my new friends tell me what a lovely family I have and another telling me that my son “lights up the room” when he walks in. My heart is full.

For all the business of the days past, I find today being a lot of hustle and bustle with little real work for me. Volunteers have taken over my work and left me to manage. At first it feels like I have been pushed aside but by Tuesday I realize that I am truly part of the operation. I am part of the staff and all of the 300 plus volunteers who we have been signing up to participate for the past month are now looking to me for the answers to their questions. I have been trained well. I am in my groove. Life changing work is happening before my eyes.

November 4, 2008

Today was incredible. It was everything it was meant to be. Like a well practiced symphony, we performed and we performed well. Jerry handled the back and I handled the front. Amusingly the echo of Jerry, Jerry, Jerry became Bonnie, Bonnie, Bonnie as questions were asked and answered. Brian became my partner for the day and we bonded quickly and energized one another.

In the middle of the day a truck pulls up with a HUGE advertising banner of Obama-Biden and we were all ushered outside for a precious minute to be photographed with big grins on our faces to remember the moment. Then shortly thereafter Mohawk returns from the polls — yesterday he was in tears because he couldn’t get a state ID even with his brand new citizenship papers, proof of residency and a voter’s registration card. Today he went to the polls anyway and with his pride and his California Driver’s License told his story and was able to vote. Today he was in tears. We celebrated with him.

In our office was a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama and photos were being captured during the day. Yesterday we were on a call with Barack. He congratulated all of us on the accomplishment of turning a Red state into a Swing state knowing that was a big deal and we were duly proud of our accomplishment. There were many moments to languish in, a call from Jill Biden, calls from other states we had worked in asking for our help knowing that our work here was important too. Emails received from Michelle Obama and Joe Biden encouraging us along the way. Hugs from volunteers we had bonded with. Sincere conversations about life and the struggles we were dealing with during this brief time away from our everyday lives. Whatever would we do when this day was over and we went home knowing we were changed forever.

And then…we elected Barack Obama the 44th President of The United States of America. WE elected him with our vote, with our time, with our words, with our walks, with our calls, with our knowledge of the important issues of the day and with our minds and our hearts. WE elected Barack Obama President today.

P.S. And we turned a RED state BLUE.