Joe Doesn't Know: Firsthand Thoughts and Reflections on a "Joyless" Campaign
Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign was many things.
It was hard. It was tough. It was challenging. It was time-consuming. It was exhilarating. It was thrilling. It was frustrating. It was nerve-wracking. It was scary. It was confusing. It was hopeful. It was terrifying. It was exhausting. In short, it was everything you'd expect a presidential campaign to be.
And it was never joyless.
Despite what former Vice-President Joe Biden may have stated in his recent Vanity Fair interview, I for one, can attest to the fact that the Clinton campaign brought thousands of us great joy along with great sorrow. There were extreme highs and lows, sometimes only hours apart. There was so much beyond our control from what surrogates said, to what the candidates themselves said, to the logistics and weather for campaign events, to the division of time and resources based on what was needed, to the closing and/or reopening of GOTV staging locations, to the last-minute transfer of hundreds of organizers days before Election Day. We did all this, and rolled with the punches, because we believed in that the work we were doing and were willing to do whatever it took to help elect Hillary Clinton as the 45th president of the United States of America.
This kind of work is undeniably difficult. But you don't do it if you don't find joy in the work. For five months, I was able to find great joy despite working 70-80 hours a week in the hot, Florida sun. I was not alone in this as I was part of a Florida team that brought over 600 staff members to the Sunshine State, with 90% of them working as field staff in every corner of the state from Tallahassee to the Keys. In Palm Beach County alone, we had nearly 40 organizers who joined the campaign from places such as California, Texas, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, D.C., and even London. Some organizers had been with the campaign for well over a year and some joined during the last two months. Some took time off from work, others took time off from school, and some, like myself, specifically sought out work on the campaign and rearranged our lives in order to do so. Regardless of how we got there, we were united behind a common cause and that cause was to elect Hillary Rodham Clinton as president of the United States.
As organizers, our work was long and arduous. Hundreds of volunteer recruitment calls had to be made every week. Dozens of voter registration forms had to be collected, while simultaneously trying to identify Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters among aging populations. Communities had to be canvassed, many of them gated with access being provided by someone on the inside. No organizer could meet his or her weekly goals alone so we relied upon an army of volunteers to help us out. Volunteers ended up being the heart and soul of the campaign and it was their efforts that not only help the organizers meet our weekly goals but helped provide us with inspiration that would last well beyond Election Day.
Like the organizers, volunteers brought their immense talents and experiences to the campaign. Some high school students were volunteering for the very first time. Other volunteers had extensive experience working on the Obama campaign. Others still have been politically active for their entire lives and had been fighting for social justice for a half-century or longer. There were some who were compelled to get involved after hearing the rhetoric coming from the other side. There were even some who were foreign students who joined because they knew how disastrous a Donald Trump presidency would be not only to the country but to the entire world. As the election approached, volunteers would come from out of state with some coming down for a month to run campaign offices while others joined specifically for GOTV, all coming down on their own dime being housed by local volunteers willing to open their homes to complete strangers. In the end, each separate campaign office was alive and buzzing with dozens of people from across the country canvassing or making phone calls in an effort to maximize voter turnout.
As exciting as all this way, perhaps the most exhilarating part of the campaign was the visit of a significant campaign surrogate. Being at ground zero, Palm Beach County had no shortage in this department. While there, our region saw Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, and yes even Joe Biden himself appear to rally support for the presidential, senatorial, and congressional candidates on the ballot. Biden, in particular, was anything but joyless in appearing at Palm Beach State College as he fired up the crowd in support of Hillary Clinton as well as senatorial candidate Patrick Murphy. Biden was also personable in true Biden form as he recounted the painful experience from his childhood when he his father told him that he didn't have sufficient funds to send young Joey to college. But in the end, Biden returned to the hopeful message of the Clinton campaign and stressed the importance of voting in the election. Afterwards, he walked the rope line taking pictures with several adoring fans while wearing his trademark Aviator sunglasses.
Perhaps Joe Biden was tired that November day. After all, he had been campaigning for months, jetting across the country from state to state as Election Day approached. But as someone who was in the audience, I can say that people in attendance were joyful, hopeful, and excited about Hillary Clinton. Many of us who worked the 1 PM event had been there more than three hours before the event started and we would be there for an hour afterward as well. Later that evening, a half-dozen of us who remain at the campaign office until 11 o'clock putting in the names and contact information of new, prospective volunteers who signed up at the event. It had been nearly two months since our last day off but we were there, laughing, listening to music, munching on snacks, and reflecting upon how amazing it was to have personally heard "Uncle" Joe Biden speak that very day.
And this is the part of the campaign that Joe Biden never saw. The after-hour bonding over late night data entry. The amusement when registering voters at the Friday night local concert. The disbelief at the sudden downpour when it had just been sunny a minute ago. The relief when the Trump-supporting private security guard was not working that day we were doing voter registration at the local plaza. The celebration when the delivery car in front of you kept the gate open long enough for you to drive in behind him. The smiles and laughs when doing volunteer recruitment calls at the local bar during Happy Hour.
A political campaign is a weird, wondrous experience. The pain I felt on the night of November 8th was nearly overwhelming. But it wasn't, and the reason it wasn't was that it was shared by a team of us whom we considered to be family. On November 9th as each of us returned to the campaign office to break it down, we were greeted by hugs from each and every one of our team members. Tears were flowing as we listened to what would be our final statewide call. That evening, we all got together to laugh, cry, and smile about everything that had happened over the past few months. That night was a culmination of many different experiences and there were many different emotions from shock to dismay to anger to disbelief. But despite the Election result and the uncertainty it brought all of us, not a single one of us felt like our campaign experience had been anything but meaningful.
As someone who experienced living history firsthand on November 4, 2008, one would hope that Joe Biden would have a sense for the ups and downs that even successful campaigns go through. For him to categorize the entire Clinton campaign as "joyless" is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of dedicated staff and volunteers who gave up so much blood, sweat, and tears to help make history in 2016. At the very least, Biden should have seen the excitement as his own campaign events. That excitement was not created in a vacuum but was a reflection of the campaign from the top down. In Florida and across the country, Hillary Clinton inspired millions of people to get involved in the campaign from being part of her staff to volunteering to simply casting a vote for her at the ballot box. You don't run a campaign that earns the third most votes in history without bringing joy to millions and millions of people throughout the county.
And Joe Biden, of all people, should know that.
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