They Come for the Candidate, but They Stay for the Coffee
In political organizing we have a saying: volunteers come for the candidate, but they stay for the coffee. A volunteer may come into an office to make a few calls or assemble lawn signs because they believe in the candidate or are passionate about a certain issue. But eventually, the thing that keeps them coming back is the community they find within a campaign, the other people who — just like them — believe in accomplishing something much bigger than they ever could alone.
That’s where I found myself in spring of 2007 as a recent high school graduate eager to volunteer on Barack Obama’s New Hampshire primary campaign. Calling strangers in their homes during dinner time was awkward. Few people had heard of Barack Obama back then. But I kept coming back, not just because I believed the little-known senator from Illinois would be our next president, but because of the high school volunteer who wouldn’t even be old enough to vote in the general election, because of my (very good looking) idealistic young field organizer, and the seniors who assembled literature packets and brought us cookies. I came back for the pizza after call time and the laughs we had when someone got a particularly ornery person on the phone.
During the general election I was a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire. What had been various factions during the primary — Obama, Hillary, Kucinich (his lone supporter) — formed into a family. We were a well-oiled GOTV machine, but one that also paused for dance breaks during data entry and watched "West Wing" re-runs while hashing out volunteer shift plans. On Election Day 2008 we obliterated every voter turnout record in the history of Durham, NH. We turned out thousands upon thousands of students through a massive organization of poll drivers, dorm-door knockers, complex data management, and good old round-the-clock blood sweat and tears. For nearly four years there has been a bookmark in my browser’s toolbar marked “History”; it is a YouTube clip of Wolf Blitzer calling the election for Barack Obama. It still makes me cry.
Politics can seem an individualistic pursuit. Many candidates are more interested in personal accomplishment than serving people and many voters cast their ballots in their own self-interest with little regard for the impact of their decisions on others.
I support President Obama because I might not be able to afford health care if not for the Affordable Care Act. I support President Obama because I don’t want my tax dollars funding ill-thought-out wars. I support President Obama because I want free birth control and preventive care.
But more importantly, I support President Obama for all of the people I’ve met over the last five years of supporting his campaign.
I support President Obama because I support my friend David, a proud Colombian immigrant who brightens my life and makes this country stronger.
I support President Obama because I want better education funding for my friend Erin, a teacher whose inner-city first graders were reading at a third grade level by the time they left her class.
I support President Obama because I support my friend Brittany who is working to elect a strong pro-choice woman to the New Hampshire governorship.
I support President Obama because I don’t want anyone trying to stop my sister from teaching comprehensive sex education.
I support President Obama because my friend Vanessa is working to create public policy that supports kids in need.
I support President Obama because I want my friend Christine to have affordable options to pay off her student loans.
I support President Obama because my friend Morgan is one of those climate scientists big oil is trying to silence.
I support President Obama because I want my mother to earn the same paycheck her male counterparts make.
I support President Obama because I support my two dear friends who were raped.
You’ve probably been told this election is all about you — especially if you’re a woman. But as much as it’s about you, it’s about all of us and what our world will look like on November 7. If you haven’t already, find your local campaign office and ask what you can do to help; use the campaign’s call tool to make calls from home; donate so that our ground game stays strong headed into the last days of this election. And, more importantly, get out and vote on November 6.