This was not the email from Pete I wanted to wake up to.

Pete’s email to supporters sharing his decision to suspend the 2020 campaign.

„Tonight, I am making the difficult decision to suspend my campaign.“ This was not the email from Pete I wanted to wake up to. But before I could even revel in disappointment, I checked my messages.

I found an outpouring of love and belonging like I haven’t seen in a long time. Support messages in Pete groups. Heartfelt messages from friends. Encouragement from fellow organizers. And through it all, an overwhelming sense of pride: Pete just proved to everyone — we’re not in this for ego, but for country.

Here’s a sample of messages from the morning after.

Joining Team Pete has been a healthy decision. Sure, there’s a lot to juggle, with work, family, campaign, and the constant craziness of modern life, but it’s also been grounding, centering, focusing, even calming to be part of this team. I respect my teammates, I want to learn from them, I feel privileged to get to listen to their conversations, to ask questions, to pick up best practices, and most importantly: to take a stand, knowing I’m making myself vulnerable to attack.

“Politics is soulcraft.” From Pete’s email announcing his departure from the race.

For years, I had followed U.S. politics obsessively. Yet, living and working in Germany, I felt detached, I felt distanced, I felt frustrated by not making a difference, and unintentionally staying on the sidelines. I care deeply about the country, and sitting alone (often in the dark) reading up on every detail I could consume — it brought me knowledge, but also despair. None of this knowledge, none of this care was put to any real use.

My journey from pundit with no audience to an organizer in action started with a meeting of Democrats Abroad Germany. All campaigns got to pitch there, and it was clear who had a real organization that was excited for Americans to join and contribute from all over the globe. Pete’s was one of them. When I reached out to the speaker, I was added to a messenger group, which led to conversation, which led to collaboration, which led to another group, more conversation, and eventually in-person events across Germany with a team across all kinds of borders and barriers.

“Pints for Pete!” event in Berlin last Friday.

Our media environment has become so severe it’s one step shy of outright violence. The verbal warfare has become a serious strain on our mental health. We sit in front of screens, read our way through news articles, watch clips, hear soundbites, rant on social media, attack each other for no tangible reason other than two simple truths underlying it all: „I feel lonely, and rejected, and scared“ and „I need love, and belonging, and a team.“

Turns out, a millennial midwestern middle-class mayor named Pete Buttigieg saw that trend, too, and built a campaign around it. He was the keynote speaker at the 2017 version of the very same meeting I attended at Democrats Abroad Germany. His city, South Bend, has a partner town just an hour from where I went to school. My friend Nico is running for mayor just one town over. Much of South Bend was built by German-American descendants from there. It’s a match.

Pete-Up brunch & playdate in Munich ten days ago.

I had passed a turning point. When I phrased my first message to a group I didn’t yet know, I had to think twice. Speaking to other people made me more thoughtful. I wanted to be more encouraging. To get others excited. And I myself become more encouraged and excited. My knowledge became useful, it gained traction, because now I had skin in the game. I didn’t just thoughtlessly comment on other people’s work (often in my own head), but I had joined in the arena, with all the vulnerability that brings. It’s an act of courage. And it changes everything.

The second point was meeting up in person. Supporting a candidate for everyone to see is a coming out that takes courage — especially given how people talk about each other on social media these days. Like Pete says, getting involved is an act of hope. It’s also an act of courage. The people who show up for in-person events — be the event ever so small — live that hope and that courage everyday.

Munich, Berlin, Cologne, Bonn — we ran events across Germany as we grew.

Hope, I learned from civil rights heroes like John Lewis, is not just an abstract value, but must become a practical way of life. Hope is a daily practice. And this applies to campaigns: If you have the guts to support someone in public, I know I have something to learn from you. If you then also make a thoughtful case for your candidate that manages to excite me without trashing someone else, I know I respect you.

From Pete’s email. Appreciation makes all the difference.

I have not met a single Pete supporter who doesn’t have a constructive case for their support. They know what they are for, not just what they hate or who is to blame for the sad state of affairs in our country, and hence: much of the world. The Pete folks I know lived the campaign’s Rules of the Road.

For me, the whole experience confirmed how hard it is to be in the arena today. In this aggravated atmosphere — ready to blow up into fear, hate, anger, even panic any given second — standing for something, standing for anything really is scary.

All geared up for Pete!

But even when you do choose to step up in good faith and say „hi world, here’s my idea, here’s my candidate, here’s my approach“ — it’s still incredibly hard to cut through the noise with a message that isn’t aggressive, isn’t attacking, isn’t combative, but works and strives for just peace and pluralistic unity.

This is why I joined Team Pete.

None of the powerful algorithms behind the social mass media platforms particularly reward thoughtfulness. To drive engagement (=ad revenue), these algorithms are built on stress and angst.

Stress and angst need social outlets, which trigger rants, which trigger responses, creating engagement and thus visibility. But if engagement determines visibility, we end up in spirals of aggression.

It’s an arms race for attention. Ruthless marketing geniuses win out over thoughtful problem-solvers, unifying orators, intentional listeners, measured temperaments.

For me, the true miracle of Pete’s campaign is that he ran an incredible race without any insults. Some campaigns are based on shaming, on shouting, on putting others down to make yourself seem big. Not Pete’s.

From the very beginning, Pete’s campaign held itself to its Rules of the Road: Respect, Belonging, Truth, Teamwork, Boldness, Responsibility, Substance, Discipline, Excellence, Joy. Now that he dropped out, I see yet again how deeply engrained these rules have become in all of us. Many of the messages pouring through the messenger groups make reference to them: „keep living the rules of the road“ — even in defeat! That is the tenor. That’s the spirit.

The Pete campaign’s Rules of the Road.

Last night, as it became clear that the path had narrowed for Pete, I wrote to a fellow organizer how I think of it: „with this campaign we can model the type of campaign we’d want the nominee to run and I believe that, whatever happens next, this campaign will stand as the great contrast to many of the aggressive and polarizing campaigns on all sides of the spectrum.“

In Pete’s email: “defined not by who we exclude, but by how we help people belong”

Pete’s success will inspire people who’d otherwise get too jaded to stay involved and work consistently towards that new American era Pete models and talks about. We gave the world a promising prototype of a campaign that models how you can be relevant in this coming era without succumbing to the rules of the attention arms race and the downward spiral of constant aggravation.

With bold ideas for the future that tackle the world’s most pressing problems, but also a tone of decency and a language of compassion with those who feel nostalgic or left out by the pace of change and the toppling of norms and habits — such a campaign is still possible and Pete teaches us: such a campaign can still be successful.

Pete-Up brunch in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin on Sunday

As the noise wears off and I get a moment to sit with the news and think and feel my way through it, I more and more realize what just happened. But it’s not the shock that stays. What stays is the incredible joy and exhilaration I feel for having joined this fantastic group of people on Team Pete.

Beaming with pride on the streets of Munich on Monday morning.

If anything, I regret not getting to work with all these great people sooner. It was a long winding journey that landed me in the fold just in time to contribute in the final months. I’m confident this wasn’t the last opportunity to join Team Pete.

Today, more than ever, I am proud to wear my Boot-Edge-Edge button on the streets of Munich. Whoever is the nominee — I hope it will be someone who tolerate me wearing this button a lot longer.

None of this feels like an end. It feels like the beginning. One thing is already clear: The best, I’m sure, the best is yet to come!

PS: Chasten, you’re amazing. Here’s proof.

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Innovation @ARDde @BR_NEXT, Co-Founder @ForumDotEU, Media Ethics @zem_dg, Co-Founder @Wikwiheba

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Jonas Bedford-Strohm

Jonas Bedford-Strohm

Innovation @ARDde @BR_NEXT, Co-Founder @ForumDotEU, Media Ethics @zem_dg, Co-Founder @Wikwiheba

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