On Tuesday night, after the race had been called for President Obama, the first call I made was to my brother Luke.
When I got married in July of 2007, Luke had to take a few days off of his new job as an Obama campaign field organizer in Nevada to attend the wedding. That was more than five years ago, and in the intervening 64 months, my brother has spent every single day working for the Obama campaign and its sister organization Organizing for America. He’s worked in eight states, at times literally living out of clothes in trash bags, while putting 87-thousand miles on a beat up old white ford pick up truck.
Sixty to ninety hours a week, 52 weeks a year for five years, my brother worked to get Barack Obama elected president, and then from his perch as the Nevada state director this time around, to get him re-elected. I’m biased of course, but to me, Tuesday’s victory was Luke’s victory as much it was anyone else’s.
Luke and the thousands like him: organizers of every hue and background and creed, in states across the union working preposterously long hours doing the grueling, sometimes comically mundane labor of making democracy work: calling people, knocking on doors, sending emails, sitting through endless meetings and conference calls and sorting columns on spread sheets, and buying office supplies (in bulk, or slightly used so as to come in under budget), negotiating leases for field offices, getting yelled at by disgruntled volunteers, getting yelled at by stressed-out bosses, getting yelled at by diva-esque local officials.
There were thousands of people across the country like my brother doing this work. And not just for OFA, for local candidates from city council on up. For the amazing successful, historic progressive ballot initiatives that passed across the country giving us the first popular victories for marriage equality in three states, and a beginning to the end of our insane policy of marijuana prohibition.
When the victory bell rings, we rush to talk about the Great Men of History who made it so, the candidates and the master strategists who ran their campaigns. Or we point to the exit polling demographics and say it was destiny, fated and inevitable. But nothing in politics is inevitable and progress only comes about because of the tireless labor of organizers who never get to give speeches at podiums, who don’t get vacation-home money like the brand-name strategists and who don’t show up on cable news, unless they’re in the background of a photo op.
But the reward they do get is the fulfillment of the soul that comes from struggle.
And the defeat and boredom that are inevitably part of that struggle make the rare moments of victory that much sweeter. If you want to see what that looks like, check out this video from election night of Richard Carlbom of Minnesotans United for All Families, the group that fought the anti-marriage equality ballot initiative in that state. At 1:45 a.m. he addressed organizers and volunteers to tell them it was going to be too close to call and to go home and sleep and feel proud about the work they did, win or lose. And then communications director Kelly Schwinghammer announces that the AP has called the race:
Richard Carlbom: I couldn’t be more proud to have been in a position to lead you guys for the last over a year. And I can’t thank you enough for all your hard work and dedication. It’s blown my mind, every time every time I feel like we’re just about to hit a wall, you guys blow right through that wall to make this a reality, so I want you to go to bed tonight, I want you to be very very proud of the result we have. Kelly Schwinghammer: Hey Richard, the AP just called it.
Unless you’ve done the work that the people in that room have done, you can’t know how that feels.
So to all the people in that room, and around the country and all the unsung thousands who toiled in the trenches of democracy, a toast. Thank you for what you did, thank you for what you do.
Especially you, Luke. I’m proud of you.