On April 19th, 2007, I, for the first time in 13 months, set foot on American soil. I planned it like this on purpose, to travel for a year, experience the world, volunteer in third world countries, grow as a human being, then return just as the political season was getting heated up. It was less than nine months until the Iowa Caucuses.

On November 2nd, 2004, I, like many of us here, was devastated. Another four years of George W Bush? My idealism and my innate belief in my own ability to change the world had taken a serious beating, and the floodgates were open leading to the dark waters of cynicism.

Yet, the very next day, as people began to face the truth, I faced reality in the eye and made a vow. That day, I wrote this:

This is horrible. Yesterday I felt like everyone was angry alongside me. Today, though, that number has shrunken dramatically. How? Yet not so surprising. But this election has ignited a fire inside of me – in 2008 this will not happen again because I will be actively involved and actively working to ensure it.

I feel – more powerfully today than even before the election – that I can make a difference.

Now, with four years of experience behind me, 2008 was here. I was ready to go, and three weeks later, I was zipping down I-70 towards Chicago, on my way to Camp Obama. I’d found my candidate – Barack Obama – I saw in him the hope and potential to move America past the failures of the past.

Crossposted at DailyKos and OneMillionStrong

Camp Obama

Obama, like Howard Dean in 2004, was bringing into the process tons of people who’d never been involved in politics before. I was one of those fresh faces in ’04, part of the leadership for Los Angeles for Dean. Besides knowing that we were right, none of us knew what the hell we were doing, and besides meeting weekly at a chic Mexican Restaurant, sharing cool online videos, and playing with Dean’s fancy online social network tools, we did nothing to help Dean win in California, much less Iowa. Phone banking? What’s that?

The Obama campaign knew this, and, voila, Camp Obama; an attempt to rectify this problem and instill in selected volunteers basic campaign and messaging skills, which they, in turn, would pass on to others down the line. It was a unique, innovative idea, and I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural Camp in Downtown Chicago.

We were, essentially, the Guinea Pigs for an untested idea. Kind of like the thought of someone like Barack Obama winning in Iowa. From my post about Camp Obama in May of last year.

What really struck me was how the campaign is willing to take us, relative unknowns, recent graduates, college students with academic skills but who have no idea what the deal is with Iowa. Yet, the campaign took us all and brought us into their confidence, though, there really was no dirt to tell. Obama is who he says he is, young, inexperienced in Washington politics but very experienced in real politics – working on the grassroots, as we will do in Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, and New Hampshire, the early states that will determine who the Democratic nominee for President will be.

Iowa

After finishing my summer obligations, I drove three hours to the center of the political universe.

Des Moines, Iowa.

More than 100 days until Caucus night.

It’s amazing to think about the number of hours making phone calls, organizing precincts, training and retraining volunteers – just the total, raw effort that goes into organizing for the Iowa Caucuses. The amount of human effort per actual caucus minute must be extraordinary.

Iowa was incredible, a once in a lifetime experience that everyone should experience. I could go on and on, but one moment really sticks out in my mind, the moment where the Obama campaign turned the corner, found its voice, and turned the heat on Hillary. The Jefferson Jackson Dinner.

From my first ever rec listed diary, posted the following day.

The real congratulations goes to the campaign staff. If they can turn 5,000 people on a dreary Saturday to march in downtown Des Moines, bring 3,000 people from all 99 Iowa counties to sit for 5 to 6 hours in a old, badly lit arena, then just imagine how many people they will turn out on caucus night. Organization wins the caucuses, and last night, Barack Obama’s organization won the JJ dinner, hands down.

Did anyone imagine over 250,000 people?

I left to Kansas (see below) immediately after JJ in November, but returned to Iowa the morning after Christmas for GOTC week – see my posts on Obama’s Iowa Organization and why he won for more about that. I could feel the change in the air – from my canvassing and phone calling, it seemed like everyone on our lists were going to caucus, and knew where to caucus. No one slammed the door on me, no one hung up, and unlike in October, the atmosphere at Barack’s events was absolutely electric. The night before the caucus, over 1,500 young people showed up to see Barack speak at a Des Moines area high school.

On January 3rd, 2008, they all caucused.

In 2004, I watched from a distance as Howard Dean unraveled in Iowa. This time, I was there, at Hy Vee Hall in Des Moines, surrounded by the most raucous non-concert crowd I’d ever encountered. A sea of 5,000 supporters, of all ages, colors, and creeds, and 20 feet in front of me was Barack Obama. I was experiencing history; an African American male with a funny name had done what Howard Dean couldn’t – engage and turn out thousands of new caucus goers, and win Iowa.

I think this email I received the following morning from someone abroad tells it best.

Dear Nithin,

Don’t know if you know me, I’m one of Kathrin’s friends…she was telling me you were campaining for Obama in Iowa and I just wanted to congratulate you, it was a great day and a great speech at the end of it. The coverage in Europe is massive and liberal people here would look forward to have him as your president! Wish you all the best for the further race! Keep going!

Simon

During my travels, I often had to explain why George W. Bush had “won” twice, and that Bush did not represent America. People looked at me with disbelief when I told them that in 2008, we would elect a real, Progressive President whom the world could look up to, and that I would help make sure that this was happening. On January 3rd, 2008, we took the first step in that direction.

It wasn’t over, though. We all learned that the hard way on January 8th.

Kansas Caucuses

With the drain pulled on the Iowa political sinkhole, I followed the 1-35 pipe back home to Kansas City, where, in about one month, it would be time for our own caucus and primary. The Obama campaign made a prescient decision in November – they began organizing extensive field operations in all of the Feb 5th caucus states – Kansas, Colorado, Minnesota, Alaska, and South Dakota, and in the highest priority Feb 5th primary states, Missouri included.

I’d been involved with Kansas City for Obama since April, when I attended Obama-rama, barely ten days after my trip ended, at the beautiful Uptown Theater in Kansas City. It was there that I bought my fantastic “Kansas for Obama” shirt, with the Obama O embedded in our state symbol, the sunflower.

From my post-caucus diary entry.

Only one candidate can win Kansas this fall. Only one candidate can win Idaho. Only one candidate can win North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and numerous other “red” states that are just as frustrated with Republicans as the rest of us. I got into a conversation with one lifelong Conservative Independent, who admitted that his party had ruined America. He was caucusing for Barack, but he hated the Democratic party, and was going to switch his registration back to a Independent immediately upon returning. He would never vote for Hillary.

Obama won Kansas by almost 50% – a blowout by any count.

What’s Next?

It ceases to amaze me what has been going on – and what is yet to come. My journey is nowhere near finished, in reality it’s only just begun. But one thing sticks back in the dark corners of my brain. What if it happens again.

How will I cope this time? How will I keep my idealism when over a year of hard work was all to no avail?

I can’t let that happen. We can’t let that happen. 2004 was a painful loss, but we recovered and kept going. But if we lose in 2008, we will be back at square one, another four years of Bush-Cheney-McCain, and no idea how we can win. The cynics I met abroad, Americans and foreigners alike, will be proven right, and I might join them.

We are at a historic crossroads – the most important election of my lifetime, the election that will decide what direction America is going. For me, it will set the path that my life will take, whether I will continue to believe in myself, and in my ability to bring about change, or whether I’ll realize that I’m no more than cog in a machine far beyond of my control.

Right now, though, I only believe one thing.

Yes we can.

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