Thursday, November 15, 2012


            I have spent a good chunk of time over the past two weeks breaking into tears.  Some sessions last only a minute and shed a tear or two; maybe just a welling of water in the eyes.  Others have gone on for longer, with drops falling down my face.  Tears grown from frustration, lack of sleep, fear, and in the end: utter bliss. 

            A few months back I made a conscience decision to join the folks on the ground in Pennsylvania to re-elect President Obama.  I was hesitant at first, because there were places across the country I’d thought about going – where could I be the most effective?  Expanding the map in the West was most appealing to me, and I do love Colorado.  Marriage was on the ballot in three states, too, and one of them was Maine.  In 2009, I spent a month in the great cliff state, knocking doors, making phone calls, and talking to people about why marriage equality matters.  In the end, we lost that race by 5 points.  Fast forward to 11/6/12 and we reversed the numbers: equality reigned and we won by 5 points. 

            The thing about working a single-issue campaign is that you’re not working with party people.  You might not believe it, but I worked with Republicans in Maine who were for marriage.  I learned quickly to hold my partisan tongue. 

            I was called upon and lobbied by folks I’d met on the trail there to come back because they’d returned.  But I yearned for something grander.  So I dropped the holding of the tongue and went all in for the Democratic Party to secure the White House for another four years.  Fuck it.  I’m a party person.

The 44th President is also the first sitting president to tell me that I’m equal.  He told me and millions of others that as gay and lesbian Americans, we’re worthy and indeed entitled to the same rights as our straight brethren.  And that to me held far greater weight than winning the rights in just one state.  Now sure, equality is a battle we’re waging town by municipality, county by state.  So in no way am I discrediting the great wins across the nation for marriage on 11/6.  And let’s note that there were three wins, HUGE wins, for marriage at the ballot box: Maine, Washington, and Maryland.  Minnesota rejected an anti-gay amendment to their state constitution – also a first in the nation.  But the national leader was in our boat, and he needed to be kept in office.

So I joined the national fight.

My friend Troy, whom I’d met on the marriage campaign in ’09, was tapped to direct Outer Alleghany County in Western PA.  It’s the whole county, sans Pittsburgh – which had its own team.  It’s crucial turf to securing the 20 Electoral College votes that PA awards when you win the state.  Pittsburgh and Philly turn out big and we buttress those votes by holding the line and pushing it blue in the suburbs on Election Day.  And that we did.

The team I worked with boosted county turn out from a standard 50% to 70% on Election Day this year.  That is remarkable.  And it’s one of the many reasons we won, and won by a solid 5 points. 

Pennsylvania is a unique state.  It’s always in the swing category because you have to fight for it.  It has not voted for a Republican president since 1988.  But it’s blue is not a given.  Romney had money, but didn’t have the ground game.  He also had the gall to show up after being absent for a month three times in the last four days of the election.  How cute. 

Another unique factor is that you’ve only got 13 hours to win it.  There is no early voting and it’s extraordinarily difficult to get an absentee ballot from.  They don’t like voters in the Keystone, and more so since they enacted an oppressive voter ID law.  So you’ve got to fight with what you’ve got and you do that by organizing.  You do so by talking, by planning, by out smarting and being ever prepared for the unexpected.  You knock doors until your knuckles are blue and people ignore you.  You go back to the same doors the next day in the rain, and maybe the next day, too, to make sure people realize just how important it is that they exercise their fundamental right to vote.  And do so on behalf of Barack Obama.

There was a wrench in this battle though, and her name was Sandy. 

There’s a saying, and I’m not sure where I got it, but it’s that Republicans vote come hell or high water and Democrats vote when it’s convenient.  The fear I had from the storm – bringing lots of high water – was that it would suppress Democratic turnout.  Thankfully, that didn’t happen.  It was in large part because of how long organizers had been engaged with voters whom they made realize just how important a role they had in determining the course of this country. 

Dealing with the storm was also particularly difficult for me.  New York City was a direct target of the storm, and it really hurt that I wasn’t there to help.  Everyone tells me how lucky I was to be spared by not being here, New York is my home.  Seventy percent of the people in the district my boss represents were without electricity, heat, and hot water; homes were flooded; lives upended.  These are people I know and have been working with for years.  Not to mention the friends who were in trouble.  While I was thanked profusely upon my return for helping to re-elect the President, it hurt that I wasn’t there to lend them a hand in their time of need.  Thankfully, I was distracted and kept busy by the campaign and an amazing team.  Even once we won, I was nervous to come back to New York.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and afraid of what might have changed. 

Which brings me to time.  A month is a pretty long time though it felt like only a day.  I decided to head to Philly for the close out and party.  Friends sent messages saying, “Are you coming back?  You won!”  And yes, I came back, but didn’t necessarily want to.  Campaigns only come around every so often and the people you work with are some of the most amazing people in the world.  Maybe it’s just because I’ve been working campaigns since before I could vote so know a lot of these types now, but still.  I’m reminded anew each time just how great people are who work to win for something you believe in.  It’s a familial thing.  You work to turn out crazy Americans to vote, but you’re all just as fucking crazy being the ones there day in and day out until 3, 4, or 5 in the morning, or sometimes just not going to bed at all.  It’s because there’s a deadline, and it’s set in stone. 

I’m so thankful to my boss and colleagues for letting me take the time off work to fight.  When I spoke to Dick the day after the Election Day, after we both calmed down about how many glorious victories there were, I thanked him again for letting me join the race.  He then thanked me for doing it, because it meant just as much to him as it did to me.  The same goes for my Chief of Staff and all my colleagues, they thanked me in the end and it means the world to me. 

We won.  We defended every Democratic Senate seat and picked up two more.  We gained seats in the house, and made sure rape continues to be recognized as an egregious and horrific act of violence – not some god created event to bear a child or being such thing as a legitimate or not.  We legalized marijuana in two states.  I call this a progressive cause for a couple of reasons: one of them being about choice.  And with pot legal, we can tax the shit out of it and put that money towards education and infrastructure.  People keep calling for creative solutions to fixing budget deficits.   Well there is one growing right in front of us, and two states said yes to it (CO and WA). 

And we won on equality.  The bigots were sidelined and will continue to be banished to the back pages of history with the likes of all those who have disregard individual liberty. 

So that’s why the tears keep coming.  Headlines and news stories, commentary and conversation all bring an emotional validation of victory. 

The resident of the White House stands for me (not to mention the millions of other Americans who he fights for – for healthcare and jobs, for education and access to contraception).  The wins of 11/6 carry weight because of what was at stake and I couldn’t be happier to have been a part of it.  It feels good to fight; better to win. 

Congratulations to all those who chose to take up the mantle for a cause this year.  Revel in your victory, and when it hits you, let the tears roll. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

13 Hours

Home at 2:30Am, up by 7am. Surely I've joined a campaign.

My host family is just fantastic. I've only spent about three house total with them, but they're caring and delightful. Both retired, she a nurse, he a nuclear engineer, they're always buzzing with energy. Fascinated by what we're doing on the ground and curious about my life, they are the perfect hosts for campaign housing. I keep thinking in my head how I'd love to host someone for a campaign, but in New York I can't imagine why I'd ever have to. Also, unless I was sleeping with the person, my studio isn't necessarily condusive to such long term stays.

Today is Dry Run 1. Testing out the systems for GOTV and reporting to make sure all is working like a well organized and well oiled machine 17 days from now.

Pennsylvania is different than most swing states in that there is NO early voting and getting an absentee ballot is not simple. So, it boils down to having 13 hours on election day to motivate, mobilize, and win.

And that's exactly what we intend to do.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why We're Here

            In my Voter Corps Fellow training today, we all had to share reasons why we joined the campaign.  They were all moving.

1.     Unemployed master-degreed woman, Chicago native.  “If the President wins, then I win.”
2.     25-year-old woman with a pre-existing condition.  “I’m 26 next year and so longer will I be on my mother’s insurance plan – if Romney overturns the ACA, then I’ll never get insurance again.” 
3.     A New Yorker who was a bit lazy in 2008 because of his love for Hillary.  But the President has done great things, including stating that he believes in marriage equality.  
4.     A Floridian since 3-years old, he moved to PA to help his sisters with their children.  However, if Romney gets elected, his entire family is moving back to their native Germany.  
5.     A middle aged attorney who was living in London for 9/11 and the drumbeat to the Iraq war.  He realized the only way he could change things, even after marching with millions in the countries that later followed the US into Iraq, was to help elect people who wouldn’t do that.  Obama was ALWAYS opposed to the war in Iraq.

That’s just a start.  It was emotional and pretty remarkable. 

            Pittsburgh is interesting.  This office is on Smallman Street in the Strip District.  There are tons of lofts and warehouses down the block.  Grand in their brick and limestone, carved granite and leaded glass windows, there are few sidewalks because it's all loading docks.  Some have been converted into nightclubs, others to local farmers-like markets; some are still active for warehousing and manufacturing.  There’s also Marty’s Market where I got a grilled BBQ tempeh sandwich.  It was heaven.  

Day One: Observations

            The train station was nothing to brag about in Pittsburgh.  People park their cars facing either direction no matter what side of the street they park on here.  Also, it is very hilly; bridges of all styles, sizes, and colors lunge across the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. 

Campaign HQ in Pittsburgh is great.  It’s a massive former bar/restaurant that we’ve all floors of.  The old bar is storage for signs, paint, literature, and all things Obama.  Booths double as cubicles for field officers.  And the kitchen remains a kitchen for the endless number of volunteers streaming through the doors to make calls, report numbers, drop off food, or just say hello. 

Today the work begins.  I’ve a three hour training this afternoon and then off to my field office in Monroeville.  My host family is amazing.  Upon arriving at 11:30 last night, they offered food.  When I said I was fine, they quickly insisted on having a beer – I had a few with both of them.  Upon further conversation, it was discovered their son lives five doors west of me on the very same Striver’s Row block in Harlem.

It is such a small and wonderful world.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Taking Another Step Forward

            I’m on a train, going somewhere.  Nearly four years ago, when the United States elected Barack Obama, I partied in streets of Harlem, reveling in the wonder of a hard fought victory.  The thing was, then, the general election was easier than the primary.  I was a huge Hillary fan and remain one today.  John McCain in many ways handed us the election, but America was hungry to take a step forward.  And so we did. 

            Today, as I ride the Pennsylvanian west to Pittsburgh, with Amish farmers plowing fields alongside derelict steel factories, I think we’re yearning for another step.  So I’m on my way to ensure not just victory for the President here in PA, but to make sure we take another step forward as a nation.

            My fear is that if people see the race going towards Obama, voters will say, “Oh, he’s going to win so I don’t have to vote for him again.”  This is terrifying, as there are also many down ticket races that are critical to the future of this country. 

            Now I’m a party guy, both in terms of politics and socializing. Looking at the map though, there’s going to be some changes: It’s likely we’ll have a new Independent from Maine in the Senate; there’s a tough fight going on in Montana to keep a farmer and fighter in his Senate seat; and even in my home state of Connecticut, a wrestling giant has spent exorbitantly and refaced herself to make her lies and indecency more appealing to an otherwise deep blue state.  Which is why the President at the top of the ticket still matters.  And people need to turn out. 

Other Senate and House races in South Dakota and Virginia, New Mexico and Missouri will be fueled by the large push from the Obama campaign, with hopes of giving the President some coat tails again. We all know the tails won’t be as big as they were in 2008 – a time when 59 Democrats were elected to the Senate, then got 60 when the late Arlen Spector change his party because the Republican party left him.  This will not happen, but we need to hold on, and making sure people turn out to vote is part of that strategy.

I won’t bore you with this crap.  Other blogs and talking heads do that already.  So here’s the deal: I’ll be directing a field office/GOTV operation in Monroeville, one of Pittsburgh’s most populous suburbs.  If you know PA, we win by ensuring big turn out in Philly and Pittsburgh and buttressing that vote with a solid win in the suburbs of those cities.  Scranton’s native Joe will certainly be a boost in the northeastern corner of the state, too.  Now we know the numbers look good here; so good, that after GOP leaders in Ohio begged the Romney camp to step up their game there, Romney pulled staff from PA and sent them to OH.  Which is fine.  The President doesn’t have a path to victory without Pennsylvania, and while not the swing state it was in 2008 and 2004, it is a must win.

So I’ll be knocking on doors, talking to people, hoping they’ll see that this election presents a clear choice to voters: that of an intrusive and hypocritical ticket, one that seeks to go back to the failed policies of the past and throw away for vouchers all we were guaranteed for generations as Americans.  Or the other guy, who is fighting for the middle class.  Who saved the auto industry because it wasn’t just about them, but about the millions of jobs that support that industry.  My dad would have likely lost his job if not for the bailout.  My mom’s business could have closed if not for the stimulus and auto bail out.  And then there’s standing up for women’s rights and healthcare; being bullish and astute on the myriad issues of foreign policy; chipping away at what is the No Child Left Behind Act; putting (a paltry) $8 billion towards rail and high speed rail investment.  All these things were small steps, which fueled the bigger one of putting us on a more competitive edge with the rest of the rapidly changing and developing world.

I see it as simple: I’m supporting someone who supports me.  Who sees me as equal, both as a working class person, and for the first time ever, as a Gay American, worthy of the same rights as every other individual.  That part probably won’t be a big selling point in PA, but it matters at heart, and it’s part of the reason I’m hitting the trail.

Stay tuned for dispatches from the field.  I’m hoping to get some audio up here, too.

Now let’s keep going. 

On to Victory.