Perks of early campaigning, 2007
The idea hit me while I was scraping a dirty plate into the dish pit at work.
“I’m going to meet Barack Obama.” I told my fellow waitress, Alicia.
“Who?” she said.
This was the first time I’d been possessed of the notion to get involved in politics. There was something about Senator Obama that sparked activism in thousands of Americans — even before he formally announced his candidacy. In the days before Obama for America was established, supporters found each other through Meet Up groups. Dozens of North Texans crawled out from under our rocks and met in a hotel ballroom to find out what we could do to make Senator Obama the next POTUS. It was the first time I felt a deep sense of responsibility to my community. When the veteran activists organizing our grass roots group asked leaders to come forward, I stepped up. My primary responsibilities included introducing the elders to social media — this was back in the day before Grandma was on Facebook — and coordinating various campaign events.
I was deeply inspired by the people I met on the campaign. It can be difficult to find other liberals in Texas. We’re outnumbered and personally speaking, often ostracized for our progressive beliefs. (Have you ever been bullied by a Christian? It’s weird). The women I worked alongside had marched with Dr King. My mentor, Molly Hanchey, told encouraging stories about 1968 protests. These Civil Rights activists were moved by the wild, frustrated looks in our young eyes. We worked together and shared tried and true ways to bring the national tension to the surface.
“It’s time to get to work.” Molly would say. It was abundantly clear at every level of the campaign that we were not depending on one man to snap our country into shape — the change we need is on all of us. We are responsible for making this better for our children, for ourselves. We had hope because for the first time, we had each other.
One Sunday afternoon in April 2007, I got a call from the campaign. They needed another volunteer to work Senator Obama’s fundraiser the next day. For the next 24 hours I existed in a sort of ethereal haze. Even though they could not guarantee I would meet the Senator, I knew I was about to meet Obama. Hello? I wished upon the dish pit! Hard working American dreams come true.
I was standing in the ballroom of another downtown hotel when the energy shifted down the hall. Through the modest crowd of politicos and rich Dallas democrats, I could see Senator Obama smiling and shaking hands. One or two cameras flashed around him. Here was a defining moment. It had been less than three months since my dish pit prophecy.
After handing out place cards to the campaign donors, I was able to slip in and listen to him speak. There were about 13 volunteers working that day, and perhaps a handful of official campaign workers — all openly gracious and careful to thank us for our hard work. Finally, we were told to post up in the hall so Senator Obama could thank us himself.
Being tall, I was shoved to the back of our photo-ready volunteer cluster. This meant I got to lurk awkward behind everyone while they shook his hand, waiting to tell him “You’ve inspired us to great things” as I had rehearsed in the car all morning. Lucky for me, Mr Obama is also tall. Once he shook all of our hands, he
swaggered strode over beside me and said “I’m going to stand over here for the picture” and put his arm around my shoulder.
Not wanting to betray the frozen nature of my brain in that moment, I put my arm behind his back and muttered some incoherent nonsense about this being just like Disneyland.
I’m sure there was more after that. But I can’t remember a thing.