My First Principle Event

The heat wouldn’t go away. My memories of September tend more towards the “briskness” of early fall. Perhaps that’s just a rose-colored view of the past. Or maybe it’s global warming. Anyway, it was still hot. To be fair, early September is still basically August. What’s the point of all this weather talk? I was about to spend a lot of time outside.

For anyone that doesn’t understand what I mean by “principle event”, it’s the term campaigns use when a major figure gives a speech or makes a public appearance. For us that meant anyone named Clinton or Obama with Kaine or Biden thrown in for good measure. Trump had himself and Pence. We were a bit busier probably than our Republican counterparts.

Being in the largest city in one of the most fought after swing states meant we were going to be busy constantly. Many of my co-workers still spoke in hushed tones about the joint Clinton-Obama event that had taken place a month or so earlier. At the height of the Southern summer heat. Again, with the weather. Why does it matter? Because organizers don’t set up the event in the cool comfort of air conditioning. That’s Advance.

We work the line.

During my two months on the campaign I worked seven principle events. The majority of those I did sign in and line management. The best way to learn just how angry people can get when asked to give up their email. It’s just an email, ya’ll. Give me the spam Hotmail account you never check. I don’t care. But please don’t act like I’m trying to steal your identity.

Anyway.

My first principle event arrived less than a week after I started. A big one too. Hillary Clinton herself. That’s right, I had to learn event work after only a few days on the job and during a speech by the main candidate.

It went as well as could be expected.

Luckily, I was posted to parking duty. I’m not sure if it’s because someone took pity on me or if fate smiled that day. Parking was easy work and it got easier as the lot fills up. The best thing is no one can yell at you really. It’s easy to see there are no open spots and if you’re not there in time it’s hardly the parking guy’s fault.

None of this stopped some people from getting angry but Americans are an entitled bunch.

Eventually, they stop letting in cars. That’s when I got my first taste of the line. Sounds like I’m talking about starting a cocaine habit but it’s far more exhausting. Remember when I talked about the heat? The parking lot was in shade for the most part. The line, not at all. I handed out bottles of lukewarm water and made sure people were signed in.

Thankfully, everyone in line was on the same team. The mood was joyous and excited for the most part. Spirits were high. I bought my first campaign T-shirt ever from one of the traveling merchants that always spring up outside events. Not a lot of Obama swag made it over to Japan and my political activism in college began and ended at the voting booth.

I put it on over my other shirt, which was dumb. Because of the heat.

A chance to move inside for the speech opened up for me thanks to the sacrifice of one of the organizers I trained with. He volunteered to stay outside and catch stragglers instead of escaping the heat. I did not have his moral strength. I’m perfectly fine with siphoning off some of his for my own use, though.

Which is why he’s currently one of my job references.

I kid of course. We all shouldered the burden together at different times. That’s what it means to be a team. That’s what I was thinking as I stood in the midst of the crowd and its roiling energy. That’s when I knew that I was doing something important. It’s when I knew I’d be able to make it through whatever the campaign could throw at me.

It was when I knew I had made the right choice.

Leaving on a Campaign

I snuck out before my friends woke up. My training for the campaign had just finished and I was about to leave from Raleigh to Charlotte, North Carolina. Standing on my friend’s porch I paused to take a picture of my car in the early morning sunlight.

The car was not as impressive as the moment would suggest. A Nissan hatchback of some sort. What more could you expect from a rental? I had only been back in the country for around five months. This would be my first proper job since leaving Japan so a car of my own wasn’t something I could manage.

Of course, renting a car for two and a half months isn’t exactly cheap but I’m fortunate to have a patron.

I woke up early because it’s a long drive from the capital to the Queen city. I never appreciated how vast my home state truly was until this experience. I drove a lot in Charlotte, which has some of the craziest roads in the state. Five lane highways suddenly split off into three and two. You might be forgiven for not noticing the change because one of those lanes was inevitably an on ramp as well.

Worst drivers too, probably.

I was fortunate during my time on the campaign to see a large part of the city. We also got to have a field trip into the surrounding areas closer to the end, but that’s a story for another day. All told, I put in about 3000 miles over two months. Not bad considering I spent most of my days in an old accounting office glued to a phone.

I don’t remember what I listened to on the long stretch of I-40 between my college home and my new temporary life in Charlotte. Either the Hamilton cast recording, which I had been listening to non-stop in those days, or the audiobook version of Team of Rivals, the classic Lincoln biography. I have a bit of a thing for early American history.

You’re required to be a bit of a nerd if you want to work in politics, I think.

Interstate 40 is an interesting animal. It has long been a part of my life as it was the best way to get from my home town to where I went to school. For the first 24 years of my life I never moved more than 30 minutes away from that stretch of concrete. During that whole time, it’s been under perpetual construction. People from the area know what I’m talking about.

Some of my co-workers were shocked to hear I had never been to Charlotte either in that time. I moved half a world away only to wind up just off that highway once again.

Eventually, I reached Charlotte and made my way to my first voter registration drive. Straight off the highway right to work. I should have expected no less. The drive was at a Revolutionary War re-enactment of all places. This being North Carolina, my first guess would be Civil War as the re-enactors conflict of choice. I couldn’t go in and check it out, though. For one I was on duty. For another they required tickets.

This was when I first met some of the people that would become my fellow organizers. A special bond. People who would go from strangers to dear friends over a span of mere weeks. I knew I was in good company when one of them wore a shirt with a British flag on it to a Revolutionary War event. Cheeky to say the least.

That evening I got my first taste of call time. We did calls during training but there’s no substitute for the real thing. For some reason, I remember the lights being dimmer than they would be for the rest of the campaign. Perhaps my brain wants to remember that time more intimately. Maybe it was because a light was burnt out.

Either are equally possible.