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.