On this, election eve, my mind turns to all those years when I criss-crossed the country with one candidate or another. It was stress producing, challenging, hard work but it had its rewards and often, much fun. Fun, of course, is how you define it. Like it was fun for the staff, but the car rental people from whom we got our cars and had to retrieve them somewhere in Mexico, probably didn’t think it was so great. It was exciting and challenging to put together an event that would draw anywhere from 10000 to 25,000 people. Those numbers seem miniscule in comparison to what Obama is doing, but at the time they were enormous.
We were political advance people – usually generalists divided into teams with an instant specialty determined by campaign and geographic need. There were two or three crowd builders, one or two press people, the hotel site person, the event site people, the airport site guy (often a crowd builder but once the crowd was built, could take on other responsibilities), the staff advance person and the lead advance. These big, last day events were often decided about 4 or 5 days out—because until then you didn’t know where there would be a political-geographic need. There was one year when I packed for Ohio and ended up in New Orleans. Travel was easier then. You didn’t have to pay $25 a bag (although we always did carryon because they would often stop the plane to pull us off and send us someplace we didn’t expect to be). The teams were smaller and more manageable, and the technology was uncomplicated—no cell phones, no Blackberrys, no e-mail. Decisions about the events were made by the lead advance in concert with the Political strategists at HQ. You depended on good gut, judgment, and talent to create a successful event. In other words, you criss-crossed the country unencumbered by all the electronic crap.
One of my favorites (what we called, crowd events) was in New Orleans. I arrived about five days out with a team already in place. At that time I was the “spouse” advance specialist. I was in charge of the candidate’s wife but I worked with the team to build the event. So in addition to my spouse responsibilities I also had to participate in crowd building. The lead was a wonderful bandit named Bill. He was primarily an organizer but had been assigned to be lead advance for this event. At that time, people were never assigned to any geographic location based on where they had lived or where they might want to return to, because the team often left blood. We had to be politically smart rather than nice when we made decisions.
There are three states in this country that are politically treacherous for any outsiders. Texas, Louisiana, and Chicago (yes, there are times when Chicago is a State!). They don’t like strangers. So it was not easy to operate in New Orleans. In fact, I got arrested at least once and physically pushed around at least twice. Curious about the arrest and do I have a record? At about 4pm, I was hanging flyers in a place we were not allowed to hang anything. I was dragged off to the police station and had to plead for my freedom with things like; “I’m someone’s mother. I didn’t know. I’m a nice girl. I won’t be bad again, please forgive me for my sins.” They let me go and I had to promise I would never do it again. And I didn’t – until 3am later on the same day. (The event posters had to get hung because we needed to build a really big crowd because we were in competition with all the other criss-crosser’s around the country.)
So why was that trip one of my favorites? Well, we stayed in the Royal Orleans Hotel. I think it’s now a Hyatt and they no longer write your names on the chocolates they leave on your pillow. The overnight was in the Royal Orleans because I told the campaign that’s where the Secret Service wanted us to be. It was not the truth, but the Service didn’t object. We orchestrated a parade which culminated in a rally – with specially printed doubloons and costumed characters. The people on the team were incredibly colorful and talented, which made every meeting a joy, and the food was always amazing—hence all these things gave it “one of my favorite” status. It was a great “hit”. Thirty thousand people crowded into the French Quarter and were as delighted to be there, as we were for them. When the candidate arrived the enthusiastic crowd went nuts and we knew we had done a fabulous job –after which we had a riotous, most memorable wheels up party. We had many parties, which I hope they still do.
Now I’m a watcher and not sure I’m happy to be one. I would love to be a participant in all the criss-crossing, but it’s a job for twenty year old’s. It requires stamina I’m not sure I possess – but I hope I do. I’m now reduced to polling and GOTV. But this is a special time. This is a time when those of us who worked so hard for civil rights can give ourselves a little pat on the back. We’re just sayin’… Iris