Since the age of 11, campaigning has been my life. When I was young, I saw my mother as the greatest progressive champion. She fought injustice wherever she saw it — from stopping shoppers from cutting in line at the supermarket to organizing letter writing campaigns in opposition to what she saw as unjust laws. Until Nov. 8, 1994 — election night.
A spark from a frayed wire met a cloud of gas from the leaking propane tank below the duplex we were renting outside New Haven. An explosion ripped through the house.
I was lucky and escaped injury. The blast slammed my mother against a high ceiling and 12 feet later she hit the floor.
It left her with permanent nerve damage, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress, chronic migraines and a brain injury. She often couldn’t find the words to write the letters. She couldn’t go to supermarkets anymore — the fluorescent lights gave her migraines. Powerless and devastated, she’d see injustices, but wouldn’t be able to fight them. If she couldn’t, I would. Or at least, at 11 years old, I would try.
But soon I realized there were millions of people who, like my mother, would see injustice but could not fight it — the disabled, the young, the impoverished. The thought was at once intensely horrifying and deeply inspiring. My campaign had begun, though I had not yet begun to campaign.
By summer 2006, I’d finished two years at Harvard. But events in Connecticut brought my focus back to home. With two wars raging in the Middle East, Joe Lieberman, a supposed Democrat, was attacking those within his own party who criticized the Iraq War. When I’d check in with my mother over the phone, we would share our anger.
Refusing to cower, an unknown business man named Ned Lamont had risen up to decry the Iraq war and challenge Lieberman in the Democratic primary. Ned had no chance for victory, but his cause was my cause, so I made his campaign my own.
It was a campaign of the leftists of the lefties, civil disobedience types brought back to politics — the wretched and the radicals, the unkempt and unprofessional. I felt right at home. Despite our fervor, the polls had us down for most of the race. Connecticut is the land of steady habits, so no one, even us, thought we could unseat the 16-year incumbent.
But on Aug. 8, election day, that all changed. We beat Lieberman, winning the Democratic nomination. Reporters from as far away as Japan came to cover the upset of the season. Our principled charge had suddenly become a winnable (anti)war. The victory, the gravitas, the media. We were blinded and blindsided by the high. Could anything ever feel this good again? The summer was ending; returning to college was not an option. I told myself, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and this is my fight to finish.”
Losing the general election was unbearable. Regret began to creep in. I gave up a semester of schooling for this? But as soon as I returned to college, I yearned for the campaign. Academia seemed easy, carefree. It was too restful; I was restless. I longed for the intensity, immediacy and importance of campaign life. All the world seemed too slow. I needed my fix.
Barack Obama was it.
I took a light course load and, with a friend, ran Massachusetts Students for Barack Obama. But it didn’t feel pure enough — it was cut with academia.
So I bought an $800, 1987 Volvo and drove out to Ohio. This was my second once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wasn’t going to miss it.
And so it happens with all serial campaigners. There is always the next cause, the next candidate, the next fight. Politics is a never-ending series of unwinnable struggles. Each struggle cannot be missed. The campaign marches on. It is my vocation, my mother’s vocation. It is my drug, my life.