Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
The most gratifyingly productive and exhilarating hours of my life were spent frantically typing by the glow of a laptop on a desk in the dark corner of a crowded basement office. Glamorous, working in politics is not. When the campaign office in which I toiled for most of my waking hours didn’t smell like dirty feet, it was due to one of two things: someone had:
- emptied a bottle of Febreeze in a futile attempt at air freshening or
- opened one of the mini-‐fridges that were crammed with ancient leftovers and energy drinks.
The harsh overhead fluorescents added to the unhealthy glow surrounding even the most defiantly active/healthy members of the campaign staff. We worked exhaustively, putting everything else in our lives on hold. A few of my colleagues, and best friends because of the campaign, joined the campaign in lieu of going to back to college. Another postponed his wedding. I neglected, to a certain extent, my friends and family. We did all of this because we shared a common commitment to what it was we were working for. We did all of this for a losing candidate.
Of course, we weren’t planning on losing at the time. When I met and began working with Congressman Tom Perriello’s field director in January 2010, I had no idea what I was getting into. Returning his January phone call turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. After working during the early months of the campaign as a volunteer, reaching out to party activists around the district and helping to build a field program from scratch, the campaign hired me as paid staff for the summer. This was, of course, excellent campaign strategy. Whether I was leading database training over video conference or traveling to and working in Rocky Mount, Virginia, (yes, it’s exactly as rural and charming as it sounds) for two weeks during the dog days of summer, I had opportunities to meet and work with incredibly dedicated people at every turn.
Despite our best efforts and great work, we failed. There’s really no sugar-‐coating that point. Tuesday, November 2nd, was a rough day for many in Democratic politics, to be sure. While we were able to find some consolation in the nitty-‐gritty numbers (we out-‐performed expectations in virtually all metrics, except in the pesky vote count), it still didn’t change the fact that Tom’s days as the congressman from Virginia’s 5th district were numbered.
When the dust settled, and after everyone got a few hours of sleep, the up-‐sides of losing became readily apparent. Losing is worthless unless you take the skills that you honed in the process, land on your feet, and apply them to your next adventure. Tom Perriello (occasionally pronounced “Per-‐jell-‐i-‐yo” in 5th district vernacular) is democracy building in Egypt. Several of my former coworkers are working for the President of the United States, which is super snazzy. A couple went back to college. Me? I’m figuring it out.