We were all a part of what a recent article by The Nation refers to as "Generation Obama" - those 20 or 30-somethings that came out of the woodworks in record numbers to volunteer, canvas, make phone calls and vote for the first Black President of the United States of America...but where are they now?
In the November 23, 2009 edition of The Nation, Elizabeth Mendez Berry explores this issue in an article entitled: "The Obama Generation, Revisited." Featured as one of the sources for this article is our very own Zerlina, who volunteered her blood, sweat and tears in the battleground state of Virginia. In pertinent part, the article had the following to say:
To veteran activists used to running campaigns on a shoestring, Obama for America's volunteer-driven strategy wasn't rocket science, but it was breaking news to the establishment. Volunteers on most large-scale campaigns can expect to phone-bank or door-knock and not much else. But on the Obama campaign, they could be promoted to several key roles: team leader, campus captain, data coordinator, phone-bank captain or house party captain. The local field organizer would meet with a prospective volunteer one-on-one; this initial conversation usually involved storytelling, during which the staffer explained what brought him to the campaign and then asked the volunteer for her story. From there, he would ask her to commit to something: hosting a house party or recruiting other volunteers, for example.
"What was so remarkable about the Obama field campaign is that it took a leap of faith in ordinary people," says Zack Exley, the former organizing director for MoveOn.org and the Kerry campaign's online communications director. "For thousands and thousands of young people, it was the first big responsibility they took on." Nicole Derse, 31, the training director of Organizing for America, agrees. "Our success as a campaign depended on young people's leadership," she says. "At Penn State, we told our volunteers, 'If you don't organize your dorms, they're not going to get organized. If you don't get them registered to vote, they probably won't vote.' Young people aren't expected to do that."
While many staffers and volunteers speak of the excitement in the campaign offices, the work wasn't always fun. Zerlina Maxwell, 28, who took a year off from law school at Rutgers to work as a field organizer in Virginia, experienced the highs and lows. The high was Karl, a dedicated 89-year-old volunteer who arrived early for every Saturday-morning canvass. The low happened when she knocked on a door on a quiet street in Yorktown. "This woman said, Nigger, get off of my porch and take your shit with you!" says Maxwell. "She threw the literature back at me and slammed the door."
Maxwell wasn't the only young worker to experience racial tensions while working on the campaign for the first black president...
Absent any systematic attempts to recruit them, hundreds of Obama campaign vets flocked to Washington in hopes of finding work in the administration or the many nonprofits headquartered there. Many remained unemployed as the administration's hiring process dragged on: after working for months with no days off, they found themselves on an extended unpaid vacation in an expensive city, draining their savings accounts.
Some who survived the long wait were rewarded with administration jobs. Hallie Montoya Tansey, 29, known for her work as field director for the League of Young Voters, joined the Obama campaign early and was a deputy field director in Wisconsin for the general election. She's now a confidential assistant to the chief of staff of the education secretary.
At The Nation's request, Montoya Tansey compiled a list of 101 young staffers and dedicated volunteers she'd met while on the Obama field campaign. Their current occupations offer some insight into where field campaign grads have gone since the election. Of the 101 she profiled, about 70 had never worked on a political campaign before. Since the campaign, sixty-three have found jobs within the administration and its many departments. A former drug and alcohol counselor works for the Office of Drug Control Policy; a former producer on MTV's The Hills was hired as a data manager at the DNC. Another nine have taken jobs on new campaigns or with elected officials. Others are back in school, unemployed, working for nonprofits or waiting tables. (Montoya Tansey's sample is consistent with reports from other former field organizers.)...
This is the "Yes We Can" generation. Working on the Obama field campaign has given them an unrestrained, sometimes naïve optimism, and if Obama indoctrinated them with anything, it's a belief in the power of civic engagement. Some plan to use the tools they learned to hold the man they elected accountable. More want to advance their own issues on their own terms. But none of them want to be Associate No. 27 at a corporate law firm. They're just hoping somebody notices and offers them a job.
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