Election time

Rounded Rectangle: © Ymke Oerlemans, 2012

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Funny, how things sometimes work out. I flew all the way to the States to get involved in an election; turns out I could easily have stayed at home as well. Both America and the Netherlands seem to be catching the election virus (even though the Netherlands might suffer from the orange virus for a little while before the elections virus kicks in)

Me, graduated in political science, had no other choice but to join this election mania. The choice for a candidate was hardly a choice for a social liberal like me: I mean, Mitt Romney for President?! Not really. No sooner said than done, from now on Ymke is a Summer Organizing Fellow for Organizing for America New York. @DutchyForObama!

Ever since I joined the campaign, I have gotten a better understanding of why the Americans call themselves the greatest democracy in the world. Campaigning in a geographically and demographically divided country like the United States is truly completely different from campaigning in our small, synoptic country. Think about it, New York State in itself already is bigger than Netherlands not just in surface but also in inhabitants. As you can understand, it is a challenge to reach every voter in every corner of the country and from all walks of life. That is a great democratic challenge, but that is what makes it interesting at the same time.

The interesting part of this campaign is talking to all different kinds of people, over the phone, on the streets and at their front door. For example, I had a long conversation with a Vietnam veteran over the phone one day. Besides him wanting to just tell his story, he also wanted to express his displeasure about his current situation. He wanted to be heard and I let him. Despite his criticism on President Obama, he was still going to vote for him and there are many more like him. Hearing these stories, finding out what people’s opinions are about American politics is what I find so fascinating. And knowing what drives them also makes it easier to convince them to vote for the President again this fall. It makes it possible to make them understand that we are on the right path, moving forward.

Of course, you will always encounter people who yell at you on the street, saying I should be ashamed of myself for supporting the President or for being active in politics in the first place. In such a situation, I just tell myself it is not personal. I am generally a nice person, right?!

As mentioned above, politics in the United States is very different from politics in the Netherlands, because of the big geographical and demographical differences in this country. In the Netherlands, a campaign is mostly run from Den Haag and politicians make trips to different parts of the country from there. In America, it basically comes down to one person who has to carry the campaign and be the President at the same time. That is a nearly impossible task. That is why the Obama campaign uses a grassroots strategy.

In short this is how it works. There is a national campaign headquarters in Chicago which basically leads the other states. Every state is divided into regions, which are then divided again in cities and areas. On all levels, staff and volunteers work together to get the President re-elected. My role as Organizing Fellow is to organize events for the campaign and look after the volunteers, making sure they know about the events and are fired up and ready to go!

The big distances in this country do not keep the President from getting out to the supporters in as many places as he can. And this Monday I had the honor to see both President Obama and President Clinton speak in a theatre on Broadway. I worked this event, because when the President makes an appearance somewhere, there is a lot of logistics involved. The Secret Service needs to clear the building and search everybody who comes in the building. Bear in mind this event held to presidents, so you can imagine the security. My job was to support this whole operation and keeping the guests happy while they were waiting. After everybody was inside, our job was basically done. They told us on beforehand they would try to get us in the theatre so that we could see the speeches. Well, they kept their promise. I basically sat in the front, around row 9. It was amazing to see President Clinton and President Obama live in person and to hear them speak. That brought up a new source of energy in me.

The next couple of months are going to be exciting. Even though we are convinced the President will get re-elected, it is going to be a tight race. There is lots of work to do. Over the course of the next couple of months I will blog about this subject more often no doubt. It is going to be interesting to make a comparison between the USA and the Netherlands, both countries in election time. In short, I will keep you posted!

Blog of the little girl in the big city