Reliving My 2016 Campaigns: A Reflection

For my birthday, I was given a book by my mother, who believes that I need to really study the 2016 election to find out what went wrong so I can work to help prevent it next time, as she knows I’ll be on whatever campaign that is. This book is the much disputed, much hated-by-the-left, Shattered, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. But the book is hard to read. Not because of the content, but because of the emotional attachment to what occurs within.

I’ll give a more in-depth review of Shattered when I finish the book, but reading it has brought back to me a lot of the memories from my campaign-filled 2016. So I’m going to tell the story of it all (from my point of view). (By the way, this will be long, so if you’re short on time, come back to this later)

In the spring of 2015, I was at the end of my first year of high school, and the 2016 race was just getting started. Then, I paid a fair amount of attention to the news, but politics wasn’t really my thing yet. I was preparing to be an engineer or a computer programmer, something in a STEM field. Nonetheless, I was still watching the week or two when everything started to ramp up.

Everyone around me was ready to join Hillary Clinton’s campaign when she announced her candidacy, and was too. I wasn’t thrilled about it, per say, but I still knew she was the best, and maybe only option. This was before the emails were a big deal, and she seemed to be quite popular within the Democratic party. But at the same time, an old, balding, Jewish guy from Vermont, an independent senator who refused to join either party, was gearing up for his campaign.

As my friends cheered Hillary’s entrance into the race, I watched Bernie Sanders’ bizarre campaign as well. And then I decided to actually learn about his plans.

And boy was I confused.

What on earth was “Medicare-for-all”? How on earth would we pay for free college? Was income inequality as bad as Bernie made it out to be? But it was all going to work out, I was assured, when I read the whole tax/budget plan his campaign put out. And I was on board.

I can remember those early days, maybe August 2015, when Bernie sat around 5% in the polls, nothing happening for his campaign, no line of sight ahead to the Democratic nomination or even the presidency. But by January 2016, everything had changed. He was polling close with Hillary nationwide, and at that moment, I decided I wanted to do something.

I joined Bernie’s campaign a day or two after he won the New Hampshire primary in February. Super Tuesday was about 20 days away, and that was when Colorado would vote. So for 20 days, almost every other day, I went to the bustling main campaign office in Denver. And it was a disaster.

Despite Bernie’s appeal with young people, I was still the youngest person at the campaign (aside from the occasional little kid who’d come in, dragged by their parent). For those 20 days, I made calls, knocked doors, and kept that office organized. Mostly the latter. I cleaned up after the staffers who worked 18 hours or more a day, I organized our front desk so when people came flocking in wanting to get their hands on some posters or yard signs or bumper stickers, and I answered our main phone as volunteers began to sign up in mass quantities to be a part of the revolution.

On March 1, we won in Colorado. I know now that was due to the Hillary campaign totally ignoring the state while they ran up huge margins in the South and built up a massive delegate lead. But that didn’t matter at the time. We had won more states already than anyone could’ve imagined. There was still hope that Bernie could win the nomination. Everyone was joyous as we left our office on March 3, sending some staffers on to other states, and the rest of us back to our regular lives.

Unfortunately, Hillary was just too well known to lose. And although Bernie wouldn’t drop out until right before the convention, there came a point in May where I gave up. It wasn’t worth the struggle of supporting something that would lose, and I needed time to get to the point where I could fully support Hillary.

So I downsized. I decided to help out the campaign of Aaron Goldhamer, who was running for a Colorado State House seat. He was a young guy in the mold of Bernie, running on his platform, backed almost entirely by young people. I didn’t spend much time with the campaign, only a few phone banks before the late-June primary (the presidential caucus and other primaries are at different times in Colorado) and a day of canvassing. Nonetheless, it was fun. I met more people, got to see the candidate in action (we were run from his house), and saw what a lower-level campaign could look like.

Goldhamer lost the race, big time (or shall we say bigly). But he was optimistic about it all, knowing his opponent had been a strong candidate, and was ready to move on and keep working. Meanwhile, we were halfway through the year and both of my candidates had lost their races in the primary.

Let’s fast forward a couple of months. On August 29th, I left school for the day and went on over to a little pink house just a few blocks from my school. The empty lot next to it was filled with abandoned cars. The house wasn’t well marked, until you got pretty close to it and could see the Hillary Clinton signs in the windows. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and walked up the steps and through the door. It was time to start with the final campaign.

In June, before I had joined the Goldhamer campaign, I had left the Bernie campaign behind. I took down the posters hanging in my room, changed my Bernie-themed cover photo on Facebook, and tried to get ready to support Hillary. In early August, I joined Hillary’s email list with the promise of a free sticker (it didn’t show up until October, one of many issues that I had with the campaign that I believe plagued them in the end). I got an email from the organizer for my part of Denver. It was a general email to everyone in his region, but it came at the perfect time. I was ready to join the campaign, ready to get a woman elected president, ready to make sure a cheeto didn’t.

So let’s go back to August 29th. I entered the East Denver Hillary For America (HFA) office with the intention of doing some form of volunteering. As I walked in, a young man, 20, freshly shaven, dressed far to formally for Denver in the late summer, came into the house from the back and started loading groceries into the fridge in the back of the house. (He didn’t live there, but you know, we get hungry while campaigning) The man sitting at the front desk asked me why I was there. I thought for a second, then told him I wanted to volunteer for Hillary. He asked me where I lived, and referred me to that young man in the back.

Charlie Losche was taking a semester off from the University of Colorado to be an organizer for the HFA campaign. A week before I had shown up, he’d been promoted from a fellow (a non-paid labor heavy job that for some could lead to an actual job on the campaign) to an organizer, an was still very unsure as to what he was doing. And right away, he decided to interview me to be his fellow (which is also essentially an intern to the organizer, you do a lot of volunteer recruitment as opposed to voter outreach) on the spot, having just met me.

I didn’t have a resume with me that day, I wasn’t dressed appropriately for an interview, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a fellow for the campaign. But he interviewed me anyway, and the next day, after having seen my resume and a cover letter, he hired (I guess, I don’t have a better word) me.

My general responsibilities were to make calls to people we had heard from who were interested in the campaign and wanted to help out. I would call them, try to schedule them for a shift with the campaign to volunteer. It took a lot of convincing. A lot of time spent begging people to come in and give an hour or two of their time. I also spent a lot of time registering voters up until the October 17th registration deadline to get one of Colorado’s awesome mail-in ballots. If you’re looking for a good strategy, go knock on people’s doors to register them. I registered more people that way than by standing outside Sprouts or by bothering people on the street.

I remember in early October, Charlie came to me after he had gotten back from a retreat for the organizers. He told me that he couldn’t show me things, but it looked good. Was it the internal polling? Yep. The internal polls a month out showed Hillary easily beating Trump. It made things more relaxed.

The cool thing about the campaign was the opportunities that came with it. In September, we held an event with the actor Don Cheadle (Ironman, Oceans Eleven, Hotel Rwanda). I was given the opportunity to get up on stage and introduce the man. Backstage, I met him briefly before I went on stage. Shook his hand, told him name, not much else. Got up on stage, listed his resume, welcomed him, and gave him the mic. And left the stage. But in the process, made my way onto the national campaign Facebook via the video. I met numerous actors along the way, who stopped by the campaign to get us energized and to make calls. I met politicians from Germany (that was a weird time).

In October, close to the election, my old man Bernie stopped by in Denver, with Elizabeth Warren in tow. I got to help run a rally with them, in which thousands of people showed up to see two of the most popular Democratic senators in the nation. At the end of the night, after they had both spoken, I got a chance to meet both of them, and escort them out to their cars to leave. 8 months after I’d campaigned for him and 4 months after I’d abandoned him, I’d finally met Bernie and heard him speak in person.

On November 8th, things were a madhouse. I showed up to a newer office we’d opened in the get out the vote (GOTV) portion of the campaign to have a final run (literally) at getting Hillary elected, at least in Colorado. Around 6:15, 45 minutes before the polls closed, I was literally running through a neighborhood, going door to door, trying to get the last few votes I could in time. I returned to the campaign office, returned my packet from the canvas, and went home.

In retrospect, my decision was smart from there. I decided to go home. I’d been invited to the Colorado campaign party, I had a seat at a table with some big-name donors, lots of people on the campaign wanted me to go. But I always watch election returns on the same couch in my basement. It serves as a sign of good luck from the Obama elections in ’08 and ’12. I went home ready to go.

On the way home, I was listening to returns on NPR. I noticed that after Virginia had been closed for almost an hour, it was still too close to call, in a state that was sure to be a win for HRC. That was the first bad sign.

You know how the rest of the night goes. I didn’t bother to stay up to the point where Wolf Blitzer declared Trump the next president. No need to hear that. I cried myself to sleep that night. At school the next day, I spend half of the day with the school psychologist trying to understand it all.

I went home and relived it all. I watched Bernie’s speeches from early on. I watch his amazing “America” ad. I watched convention speeches. I watched Hillary on SNL. I watched her speaking just days before the election about her views for America. November 9th, 2016, was one of the hardest days for me to operate. At all. I just couldn’t seem to come to terms with anything.

I’m not sure I have yet.

I still imagine myself waking up one morning and it being November 8th again, and everything plays out the same way except she wins big and easily. None of this nonsense so far happens. She continues Obama’s legacy for 8 years, and we do it all again with new candidates. But that won’t happen. And thus, here we are. Let the resistance do its work.

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