My name is Hanna Gerhard. I’m 69 years old, and I’m a volunteer with Obama 2012 in Winthrop, Massachusetts.
I came to the U.S. from Germany more than 40 years ago—in fact, I’ve lived here longer than I ever lived there. My experience is the immigrant experience in many ways: I came over when I was young and very interested in public affairs. It was the 1960s, and I was particularly inspired by President Kennedy and his call to Americans: What can you do for your country? I came here not because I had hardships, but because I was curious. I wanted to know more about America—this old democracy that seemed to be rejuvenating itself.
I was quite active in politics right from the beginning. I worked for Senator Kennedy in Massachusetts and on several presidential campaigns—I remember driving around with a bumper sticker that said “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts!” after we were the only state to vote for George McGovern.
After the Reagan revolution, when the country turned sharply right, the public discourse became more and more strident and I started to find myself in the minority of opinion. I wasn’t as involved anymore—I did some minor campaign work, but it was almost as if I had lost my belief in what I thought was so special about America.
In 2008, when then-Senator Obama came along, I immediately decided this was a candidate I was going to support. One of the things I find so important about him is he represents the values I think we all share. It’s not just an economic issue—it’s the idea of being there for one another. When I listened to him then and heard him say “I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper,” I thought: That’s my candidate!
I’ve stayed involved since then, helping to get teams off the ground in cities around Massachusetts—and, of course, my own team where I live. It’s a busy time for us right now. We’re trying to grow our groups, increase our activities, and get the word out about the President’s accomplishments, and more generally the values that he represents. That’s what I always go back to. It’s the most important thing: This President is guided by principle, not politics.
It isn’t just the President who says this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class—I think so, too. That’s what makes this campaign so important and interesting and different. We’re having a nationwide discussion right now—one that can get very heated and not very polite—on what this country is all about and what American democracy really means. On the one hand, President Obama says everybody should have a fair shot, and everybody should play by the same rules, no matter where you grew up, what race you are, or what your parents had. On the other hand, you have the candidates talking about ending “big government,” and rolling back a lot of the legislation President Obama has passed. Our job is to make sure people have a clear understanding of the choices and what’s at stake. Our most important work starts when someone asks “what has he done?” That’s when we go over some of the monumental achievements of this administration and start a conversation about things like health care, or equal rights, or the environment—whatever is most important to that person.
I like to remind people we can’t start building an organization in September, because this is a crucial election—it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be hopeless. It’s going to be a real battle, and we have to have our organization together. We have to give our volunteers a chance to educate themselves and maybe learn some of the new ways to communicate with voters—you can’t learn that in 10 days. And we need to carry certain states and be on target in others, which means that one of our obligations in states like Massachusetts is to do what we can to help people next door in New Hampshire.
The urgency is already here—we had our primary this week. Spring is right around the corner, and then comes summer, and before you know it there’s fall and the election is coming. The way I see it, we don’t have the luxury of all that much time. We need to organize, and it doesn’t happen overnight.