Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Campaigning for Obama in Ohio

This time last year, I was told there was a chance that I could spend October 2012 campaigning for President Barack Obama. Obviously, I jumped at this opportunity and refused to let go. Which is how, last month, I found myself travelling 2,000 miles to the swing state of Ohio as part of a contingent from the Labour Party to help our sister Democrats. It was to be one the most demanding, exhausting, and ultimately thrilling weeks of my life.
First we flew to Detroit to stock up on Motown, before starting our road trip east. As soon as we arrived in Cleveland, we were taken to campaign headquarters to be briefed. Here we were told that our battleground was Cuyahoga, the most marginal county in the state. We were armed with clipboards, split into crack teams of door-knockers and given our marching orders. Ohio early voting starts a month before election day, and our job was to get this vote out. The next week passed in a blur of determined canvassing, leafleting and occasional running away from Republicans’ dogs.

We soon discovered that the most rewarding places to campaign were the predominantly poor and African-American neighbourhoods, where there was almost universal support for Obama. Many were practically disenfranchised from early voting by poor access to polling stations and being overlooked by the parties for fancy publicity campaigns. The most interesting part of the week was just speaking to people on the doorstep, talking about things like how the laws passed in Washington really affected their everyday lives; how grand rhetoric about the economy actually translated into wages in the bank and food on the table. Over the course of the week, we knocked on over 10,000 doors.

We were lucky enough to be in Ohio in an eventful week – the local Democrats threw a watch party for the broadcast of the second presidential debate, and on our last day we attended a rally headlined by Bruce Springsteen and Bill Clinton. Locals were particularly anxious about the second debate, after Obama’s flop in the first (there were many, many theories about this – from Obama being kept up the night before due to alien landings to Romney’s skiing experience helping him cope with Denver’s thinner air). Emotions at the rally ran high as Bruce, with Bill Clinton cheering from the side, covered Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’ to a stadium full of people singing along.
Finally, our convoy rolled on towards our final destination, Washington D.C. We said goodbye to our friends in the campaign headquarters before stocking up on everything Obama-related we could lay our hands on. In D.C. we spent the day touring Congress, the monuments and the tat shops, and in the evening we were lucky enough to have dinner with a few local Democratic senators. We finally waddled through customs with our suitcases bulging with badges, masks, and a few ‘Obama for America’ emblazoned frisbees, desperate for our first full night’s sleep in ten days.

Three weeks later, our group, though now far-flung across the UK, was reunited in sitting glued to our TV screens into the early hours. After a nail-biting night, watching Obama’s electoral college votes slowly mount, there was an eruption of several very loud celebrations as Cuyahoga County came through for Obama, and with it Ohio.

Bring on 2016.


Monday, 12 November 2012

Why did Obama win?

After all the hype, the US presidential elections did not look so close in the Electoral College which ended up as 332 to Obama and 206 to Romney.  However, when looking at the popular vote it was much closer: 50.6% to Obama and 47.9% to Romney.
But why did Obama win in the end?  Was it Obama's campaign that was more sophisticated?  Was it Romney who just failed to gel with the voters?  Were people nervous of changing horses mid-race during the economic recession?
What do you think?

Hitler's Charisma

Here is an interesting article on why Hitler was able to appeal to so many German people during the Nazis' rise to power. It links to a BBC2 programme that starts tonight called The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler made by Laurence Rees, who has been responsible for many excellent BBC History programmes.

Student at the UN

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take part in work experience at the United Nations headquarters in Switzerland. I was to be flying by myself for the first time and I knew no one in Geneva or on the study trip. Arriving at the hostel, I began to feel a little concerned about the prospect of being alone in a completely unfamiliar country, but there was no time to be worried with a briefing only an hour later. As I looked around the table at the other students, I was yet to realise that they would become the people I spent every waking moment with for the rest of the week.

It was an early start the next morning as we visited the Palais des Nations. We walked around, taking in hugely impressive conference rooms that had participated in some of the most important decisions in current affairs for years. The tour took us past conferences in session discussing the states of North Korea, Libya, Syria and many more. The building was stunning and I was awed by the realisation that on these grounds I was legally considered to be in no country and on completely neutral ground. There was little time as we moved on fast; next to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Listening to the speaker talk of his experiences in countries facing refugee crises, I was struck by how real the situations became. Watching the news on Syria behind television screens, there can be no true knowledge of the scale and the amount of people working behind the scenes.

As the week progressed, I went to a wide variation of UN agencies including the UN Environment Programme, World Food Programme and the International Organisation for Migration. As the international centre for humanitarian action, Geneva presented opportunities to visit the International Federation for the Red Cross and Red Crescent and Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders). The speakers were some of the most inspirational people I have ever encountered, working in extremely insecure surroundings solely to help people with no personal incentive. The trip overall gave me an amazing perspective on the world’s affairs and assured me that international work is something I definitely want to pursue in the future. It was undoubtedly one of the most incredible weeks of my life and is something I would recommend to anyone, whether you are interested in politics or not.