To our Obama family:
I think often about someone I never met.
His name was Alex Okrent. He was, like me, a staffer on President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. With hundreds of people on the campaign, our paths never happened to cross.
At Chicago headquarters on a Friday morning in July, Alex collapsed at his desk. Among the sea of tables and chairs and people in a perpetually bustling office, the way we first realized something terrible was happening that morning was that the office became completely silent. It was never completely silent — not on the weekends, not very late at night.
Paramedics took Alex to the hospital. He was later pronounced dead. He was 29 years old.
When our campaign manager gathered us to tell us the news, he referred to Alex as “our brother.”
And he was right. Everyone who’s worked for Barack Obama is part of a family.
From the stories people told about Alex, he represented the best of that family. He was an early joiner — he put college on hold to join the Senate campaign in 2004, and he served on Obama ’08 before suiting back up for the re-election campaign.
From the stories people told, Alex was a very Obamaland mixture of passionate without being self-serious, humble, to-the-core decent, and with an important core of silliness. From the New York Times’ “The Lives They Lived”: “He organized a campaign book club. He grew what he called his ‘Jew-fro’ to ‘expansive heights.’ He dressed up as the Tobias Fünke character from ‘Arrested Development’ — in tight denim shorts — on a freezing Iowa Halloween. He was demanding, fun and irreverent. And he was never shy about telling people that he loved them.”
From the stories people told, Alex sounded like someone who stood by his friends and was kind even when things got hard. Someone to aspire to be, as much as we could, like the candidate we all first showed up for. Like the best of us.
There was a sign hanging up at the north end of campaign HQ. It said “DFA,” which stood for “Done Fucking Around” — an unofficial campaign motto.
In July, someone changed the sign to say “Do It For Alex.”
We did it in 2012, and in 2008, in the years afterwards and in between: for progress, for the country we love and the people in it, for the family that Alex and our candidate represented — a family of passionate, decent, almost stupidly optimistic nerds who set out to do impossible things and tried to be kind to each other even when things got hard. And they got hard a lot.
I’ve never felt more hopeful, more at home, and more inspired to be a better person than when I’m with you.
I love you, Obama family. It’s been an honor to serve alongside you. DFA.