Thanks, Obama. For helping me understand what I stand for
My Obama story began very quietly compared to the impact it had on my life — I received an email to travel to Texas from Denver to volunteer during the 2008 primaries. I was a lifelong Republican and had started to question my party’s stance on gay marriage. After a cousin joined the Obama campaign in Iowa, she eagerly (let’s be real — we were all pretty eager and earnest back then) encouraged me to sign up too.
A few weeks later, I was crashing on a stranger’s couch in Austin and knocking on doors, doing data entry, and supporting our precinct captains on caucus night. I was hooked. I had volunteered for a countless number of campaigns (I started folding napkins at a fundraiser aged 8) but had never before felt quite like this — I felt as I was working with people who gave a damn.
I felt I was part of a bigger community working towards a more just, equitable country.
The campaign motto Respect, Empower, Include was brought to life by you and everyone I worked with over the coming months. Here I was, a random former Republican in a random state working with random strangers, and loving every minute. I returned to Denver and volunteered at a rally and during the Colorado caucus. A few weeks later I quit my job, packed up my car, and joined the campaign.
Thanks, Obama. For helping make the internet a force for good, both in the campaign and public services.
Thank you for fighting through when the path to victory was uncertain. As it became clear you would win the Democratic primaries, I applied to join the New Media team. I loved the campaign’s emails — I’ll always remember the original “Hey” email — and jumped at the chance to become Barack’s friend on MySpace. Eventually I was accepted (after some initial skepticism at hiring a republican) and, once again, I found myself on another journey that I’d never before imagined possible.
After a short stint in Chicago for training and learning how to reply to every.single.text.message (even texts that said “Hey Barack UR Hot” got a reply with an ask to volunteer) and MySpace message and accepting each new MySpace friend manually and so on, I went to North Carolina to become the Director of New Media.
There are too many highlights to recall, but here are some of my favourites (bear with me while I walk down memory lane, because that’s what this is all about, amirite?):
- turning North Carolina blue ❤
- this video created by our vegetarian videographer for one of our volunteer pushes
- so many friendships, including having the wonderful opportunity to work with the late Alex Okrent.
- meeting countless volunteers across North Carolina who gave so much time and energy to help elect the President. They most definitely gave a damn.
From that experience in 2008 through to my final work with the administration in 2012, what was always clear was that you all gave a damn. You and Michelle gave a damn about the campaign volunteers and staff, about the America you are working so hard to build, and about the bigger world in which America operates.
Having been inspired by what digital can do to a campaign and directly help connect people to a larger mission, a bunch of us on the digital team moved to DC to help bring this change to government. We understood what it took to change hearts and minds — and now it was time to change the government. Because of you, we all gave a damn.
Thanks, Obama. For the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and creating a shield for every American
The CFPB was created in response to the 2008 financial crisis to regulate and supervise all of the financial products that Americans use everyday — credit cards, student loans, mortgages, prepaid cards, credit scores, checking accounts, and so on. I was hired as one of the first employees at the new agency, serving the digital lead building our technology team. It was a great opportunity to take what we’d learned about digital on the campaign trail and put it into action to help Americans in a real, concrete way.
Starting the CFPB was an experience that I’ll never forget — the early days of the CFPB were serious, focused, frenetic, breathless, confusing as we laid the foundation for our policy, supervisory, legal, comms, technical infrastructure and more. We were employees with radically different skillets, different educational backgrounds, private and public sector experience — but every single one of us gave a damn about what we were building. We understood the gravity of the situation for millions of individuals who had lost their homes or retirement funds or savings — America’s (and the global economy) was hurting. Furthermore, we were aware of the legacy we were creating — an institution designed to prevent the next crisis. Seeing the CFPB grow from 10 of us to a powerful institution that protects millions of Americans and reminds banks to play by the rules is the proudest accomplishment of my lifetime.
Thanks, Obama. For Elizabeth Warren.
Thank you for appointing Elizabeth to stand up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and bringing her into my life. (She even gave me advice on how to bring up my kid.) As I mentioned, the work was challenging and intense, yet we managed to have fun and come together. We used to have all staff meetings in a small meeting room where we could learn about how the various teams were making progress, ask questions, and report any obstacles. Over time, we moved into larger and larger conference rooms until — finally — we held our meetings in an elevator bay, the only place in the building where we could all fit and not break the fire code. Like, who does that — who meets in a huge elevator bay while people sit on the floor and crowd around hallways? Elizabeth Warren does. Because she gave a damn about her staff and the agency that we were building.
At one point we redesigned mortgage forms — yes, those disclosure forms that each mortgage applicant receives — and through the website, and user research, we made them significantly simpler, and easier to fill out. After launch she told our team:
“You changed government today — you change how government works because the people that are going to use this actually helped create it.” — Sen. Elizabeth Warren
By helping people and by redesigning how government works, we helped reset the expectations that the public has for government; they expect more, better, more helpful services. And the CFPB was a part of those changing expectations — expectations that won’t lower. This wouldn’t have been possible without Elizabeth’s vision and guidance.
Thanks Obama. Thank you for your continued hope and reminding us to keep fighting.
It’s been a heckuva ride and while I haven’t been there for a lot of it, it’s been a life-affirming, adventure that I believe left the country in a better place than when you began.
Thank you, Barack and Michelle. Thank you for caring . Thank you for giving a damn about your decisions and the impact that comes with one of the most powerful positions in the world. I hope I’ve been able to give back just some of what you’ve given me.
This past week, I’ve been reflecting on Michelle’s last speech as First Lady:
I want you to remember something that my husband and I have talked about since we first started this journey nearly a decade ago, something that has carried us through every moment in this White House and every moment of our lives, and that is the power of hope — the belief that something better is always possible if you’re willing to work for it and fight for it.
It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and in the life of this country.
I have struggled to feel very hopeful since election night. I’ve struggled to see a clear answer or path forward, or even a ‘something better.’ I live in London now and feel so far away, unable to have a direct impact or even get a coffee with friends who want to talk (or listen to me ;)).
As I thought about this, though, and thought about what this election meant to me, I am hopeful for my Obama campaign family. I had the wonderful pleasure to work with so many fun, brilliant, stubborn, focused, and talented individuals who gave a damn.
Mr. President, when you spoke to us at the 2008 Staff Ball, you said
And after I’m out of office, you’ll set the next person right. And maybe someday you’ll be in office and you’ll set the country right. Maybe you’ll never be in office and you’ll make your neighborhood right. Or you’ll make your job right.
I’m confident in you. I have faith in you. I am grateful to you. You, together, can change the world.
Your administration might be ending, but this isn’t the end of what we all created, together. We won’t allow the progress we made to derail. You’ll see us setting the country right in the years to come.
Oh and thank you for Joe Biden. I mean, that guy. The best.
Merici Vinton is a co-founder of Ada’s List, a forum for women in technology in London and globally. After working on the Obama New Media team, Merici built the web team for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and led the successful and praised launch of consumerfinance.gov. Her work at the CFPB was featured on the cover of Businessweek, as well as in the New York Times, CNN, and the L.A Times. Merici now works at Fjord, Accenture’s innovation agency. She lives in London with her husband and kid.