I remember the excitement of participating in my first political campaign so clearly. I was 17 and a few months into my freshmen year at The University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was already enthralled with college – my newfound independence, new friends, and beautiful new city. It wasn’t just any city, Madison is one of the most politically active college campuses in the nation – it was a hotbed for the Vietnam War protests and when I was there protesting was still a way of life. One especially cold day a bunch of kids even protested winter (a cause we could all get behind in Wisconsin).
It was the Kerry-Bush election and the election was taking place a week before my 18th birthday. I was excited to join “College Democrats,” but embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t vote yet (this was the time in your life when being young was uncool). I was out on election day encouraging people to vote and envisioned scenarios in which they would say, “When did you vote?” and I would have to admit that I couldn’t vote.
That night I watched the election results in someone’s dorm room with my new boyfriend and new friends. When the election was called later that night for Bush I remember feeling powerless and down. My newfound political activism was squashed and at 17 years old I was already adamantly against another 4 years of Bush.
Three years later in my Senior year I advocated passionately for Hillary Clinton –despite the fact that Obama was probably the cooler candidate for young people to support. I would ramble on to anyone about why I was supporting Hillary. I voted in my first primary.
My next election memories involve being in New York City and sitting in a quiet bar with a friend on the Upper East Side, staring at the TVs, when they announced Obama’s victory. That night I could hear people on the streets (28 floors down from my apartment) celebrating. It was my first taste of the excitement when your side wins. I also remember sitting in a huge conference room at the law firm during the inauguration and asking my new boyfriend (and future husband) when would be an appropriate time for me to leave the room to pee. Maybe it was excitement or maybe it was because I always have to pee, but I was so uncomfortable and squished in the front row making it impossible for me to get up and come back discretely. As a paralegal we never wanted to draw extra attention to ourselves in a room full of associates and partners so I sat through the moving inauguration ceremony trying not to pee my pants.
Two years after that I would work on my first election campaign for a Senator. It was one of the most exciting times in my life. I lived and breathed the election working 7 days a week and spending all my time with the rest of the staff. I had the exciting moments of meeting Presidents Obama and Clinton, but I also remember the sheer exhaustion I felt leading up to the election. We had a big glass wall in the office and I started the countdown to election day on it, crossing off a number each day we survived. I have never worked so hard in my life and never slept or ate less (anyone who knows me knows that if I am not on a regular meal schedule something is very wrong in my life). All of my energy went to the campaign. I felt such sheer excitement and giddiness that election day. As part of the finance/fundraising team our job was basically done so we got out of the office and on the streets. We did “viz” which basically means standing on the side of the road holding signs, wearing tshirts and hats with the candidates name on them, and getting people excited about voting. They called the election pretty early for the Senator that night, at about 8:30pm, and I remember it being an almost anti-climactic experience in the moment. Did that really just happen? Was that it? What now? Later that night we were like kids at a slumber party jumping back and forth on the beds in our hotel room.
This election I have followed the news, watched every debate with outrage (and then importantly every SNL skit mocking the debate), and tweeted my heart out, but it wasn’t the same. It was harder for me to volunteer alone without being in a dorm or on a staff where we all did it together. Tonight I stopped making excuses and made 30 campaign calls with only my dog as company. I felt better than I have felt in weeks because I remembered the thrill of being part of something important. Tomorrow I am going to New Hampshire to canvas. Canvassing isn’t the most fun and to be honest I am not even sure whether it makes a difference or not. But at the end of the day it makes a difference to me and to know that I still have the passion of that 17 year old freshmen who was so excited at the opportunity to volunteer and was truly devastated at not being able to vote yet. As I am a week away from my 30th birthday I finally get that chance to vote for Hillary Clinton (the first female candidate for President!) and am remembering the pure joy in volunteering for a cause and participating in the democratic process.