This morning I’ve been watching the confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. I feel so disgusted and helpless by what I’ve heard that I’ve been inspired to remember happier more hopeful times.
When I was 19 year’s old I was an angry young man. Idealistic, restless to change the world, anxious to matter and do something that I felt could make a real difference. I was a first year student at the University of Manchester and hadn’t travelled outside of Europe at the time.
I remember very clearly & visibly in my mind watching Senator Barack Obama launch his Presidential campaign. I was sat in my dorm room and it was an extremely cold day in February 2007. I sat there awestruck and then Obama said: “For the last six years we've been told that our mounting debts don't matter, we've been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we've been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we've been told that our crises are somebody else's fault. We're distracted from our real failures, and told to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants”.
I sat there just staring at the screen. This man was going to change the world and right there and then I was hell bent of being part of it. Despite being British, I felt then as I do even more deeply now, that the President of the United States has an impact on every person in the world.
So I started looking on the Obama for America website. I saw an advert for interns in the state of Iowa. I put together a CV and applied. A few weeks later I got a call from Mike Blake, the Deputy Political Director of Obama for America Iowa. Michael Blake is now a New York State Assemblyman. He asked me a few questions and then told me I got the position. My family thought I was out of my mind. My friends kept on shouting at me saying Hillary was going to win why was I bothering.
But there was something stirring inside me. The burning hope for a different world that was too irresistible not to be part of. So I got myself a visa and flew out to Iowa in early June 2007. Having never been to America and being 19 I was completely blown away by the experience. I met Mike Blake and got to work. I’m convinced Mike will go onto very great things.
Within one day of being in Iowa, I was asked to go in a car to a small farm in the middle of nowhere. It was the only structure that could be seen in my line of sight. A small stage had been set up back on the stoop. There were seats for about 30 people that were filled. All of a sudden this motorcade pulls up and out jumps Senator Barack Obama. Words can’t really describe how I felt about it or how I feel writing this. Not about seeing him. But about what he did.
He walked into the place and shook the hand of every single person. He then got up onto the back of a farm house in Iowa and proceeded to give one of the best speeches I have ever seen in my career, and I’ve seen a lot. I was convinced that I was watching a man destined for great things. I was asked to ensure that every person who left signed a card with their name, email address and phone number. I felt a deep profound sense of being part of something that mattered.
Then a few weeks later I was asked to go and help on press advance in Mt Pleasant, Iowa. Matt Hardin, a good friend of mine, drove us there. After the event Paul Tewes the Iowa State Director, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, asked the interns if we wanted to meet Obama. And then Paul proceeded to introduce us personally to Obama. I remember shaking his hand for the first time very vividly. I’ve met a lot of politicians and I can honestly tell you he really is different, even then before he was President. Later we went to an Iowa Cubs game on July 4th and I was sat a few seats away from Barack, Michelle and his children. I met Obama many times after that and senior staffers like David Plouffe, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs.
There were many interns on the campaign from across America and the world. An intern I met from Sweden came to my wedding in 2014. We were inspired by hope, something incredibly precious in this uncertain and depressing world of ours.
That 4 months I spent in Iowa remains the best organised political campaign I have ever worked on. It was extraordinary. It is no exaggeration it has fundamentally shaped my life, career and outlook. It left me with lifelong friends, many of whom I am still in touch with. I recently moved to New York City and see many of them.
I’m left with memories like the interns going to a Mitt Romney event as a joke, actually meeting Romney and being falsely accused of putting Sam Brownback leaflets on cars outside the event by Mitt Romney’s son and his head of security. Playing basketball with Secret Service agents. Staying up all night to get the best spaces to cheer for 30 seconds when the candidates entered a debate and then afterwards Obama holding an impromptu rally outside a coffee shop at Drake University. Watching now White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explain in a 10 minute presentation how they were going to win the presidency. And I now bore clients and friends to death with the stories of the brilliance of how they communicated. Above all I remember meeting some incredible people who wanted to change the world.
Was it worth it? When I went door knocking in Philly on election day last year, people had Barack Obama stickers on their doors with the slogan 4 more years.
A stimulus that saved the American economy, the longest period of peacetime job growth in history, a climate change deal, healthcare reform for the first time in a generation, troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, gay marriage, the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell are just some of the incredible achievements of Barack Obama. He didn’t get everything right and many people are losing out from the globalised world that has developed at a frenetic pace on his watch.
I think back to those words that inspired me to go to America and objectively he’s made progress on all of them.
Let me tell you I couldn’t be more proud to have played a very small part in electing one of the greatest American Presidents.
The months and years ahead will be hard and challenging but I will forever remember and treasure those times in Iowa. In dark times, they help keep me going and inspire to keep fighting for what I believe in.
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