I became very interested in Barack Obama's potential during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. As soon as I heard his keynote address, I asked myself, "Who is this guy, and why have I never heard of him?" The more I watched his progress, the more I became very convinced that he and his message—and later on, his legislation, cabinet picks, and Supreme Court appointments—were the right choices for America, now and going forward. I knew I had a couple options: I could say "Wow, what a great guy," and just sit back and watch. Or I could get involved and try to make sure the future I want for America happens—so that's what I did.
My first event with the 2012 campaign was a voter registration drive at a local farmers market last July. I began working with the Central West End neighborhood team and became a core team member pretty quickly. From there, I became the voter registration captain for our team, then a spring organizing fellow. A few weeks ago, I was invited to become a volunteer regional field director, so I'll begin that work as soon as my term as a spring fellow comes to a close.
The unique challenge of organizing in Missouri is registering as many voters as possible. In 2008, we lost the state of Missouri by only about 3,500 votes—that's how close it was. A lot of support for the President tends to be in the major metropolitan areas, where many eligible voters aren't registered. We want to change that dynamic before the election.
Between now and November, we'll be “doubling down” on our efforts to register voters—and I jumped forward to help out with that work. I want to see us go beyond the more standard activities like house-to-house canvassing and voter registration drives. For example, I worked with our state campaign leadership and local businesses to set up voter registration dropboxes around the city. By doing so, we're not just registering voters—we're renewing relationships with businesses and members of our community as we maintain our dropboxes. This project fits into our "everywhere, all the time" strategy: If we can be in as many places as possible, we become known as supporters of President Obama. People will refer their friends and family members to us for information, one-on-ones, house meetings, and other events—allowing us to serve as a campaign resource in our communities.
Talking with folks here in St. Louis has led me to realize that jobs and the economy are the primary issues on people's minds as we approach the election. People want jobs that pay a decent wage and will help them enter and stay in the middle class. People want to feel confident that if they work hard, they’ll be able to feed their families, educate their kids, and make their mortgage or rent payments, and they’re concerned about retiring with dignity, with Medicare and Social Security intact. So President Obama’s accomplishments—such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Affordable Care Act, funding local community colleges, adjustments to student loan repayment programs, and assistance with troubled home loans—are very important to the folks I’ve met.
I've met many supporters who are constrained by work, childcare, health issues—we've seen it all—but what I tell them is this: In order to have a voice in the presidential election, your best choice is to become actively involved at whatever level you choose. You don't need to rise through the ranks the way I did—just come to our phone banks and help reach out to your neighbors or participate in voter registration events. As the election approaches, help with getting out the vote or help transport people to the polls. I often reference lyrics from “Video” by India.Arie when recruiting campaign volunteers: "Get in where you fit in…."
I'm looking forward to spending the next few months increasing support and awareness—and, of course, meeting our voter registration goals. I’m excited about the opportunity to help build the President’s base of support at the grassroots level. This election is going be close, so we’re going to work harder every day to help President Obama win in Missouri.
Join James by getting connected with volunteer opportunities near you, including voter registration events.