I spent the best part of last year in the trenches working for President Obama's reelection. Less metaphorically, I saw more dairyland than trenches as I plied back and forth across the battleground state of Wisconsin, periodically dropping by Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago.
At Obama HQ, there was a tradition called "the clap out." When a staffer was deployed to a swing state, the room would pause, grow to a swell and send the journeyman or woman on their way.
It was a joyful, not a tense, not a bittersweet, event. These were the hungry agents of change headed into the heart of the action. Action happened door-to-door, person-to-person, organizing grassroots by the bootstraps. Each individual's impact was immediately felt as field offices tended to take on the traits of their organizers like a dorm room (because they more or less lived there).
Families were born in these field offices, extended by volunteers who were the real fuel for the campaign. Not only did neighborhood teams enact the program as needed, but they also provided emotional reinforcement and local validation. They made activism social and personal. Whether meeting upstanding Americans like Tom the union worker from Kaukauna, Wis., or getting calls from friends on the coasts as they dialed in to swing states, it was these expanding relationships that motivated the ground troops. Personal stories spoke volumes, drowning out the negative adverts -- blood, sweat and tears triumphant over money.
That was how victory in 2012 differed from 2008, when ecstatic celebration was about forging something unprecedented. This time it was more about shaping an idea into a thriving enterprise. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, it felt like on November 7 we dissolved a booming startup the day after a wildly successful project launch. The company was young, ambitious, and united by a cause -- an ecosystem with a cast of characters near impossible to replicate.
A few will continue on to become "Washington insiders," but the majority will find new roles as "outsiders with purpose." This is what grabbed me most when President Obama stated in his teary-eyed speech to staff and volunteers, "your journey is just beginning... you're just starting." He spoke with absolute conviction - that's why I absolutely believe it.
Those words still tug at me. I am proud to be connected with a movement, with people that promoted a rational, generous vision of progress -- these people, whatever they may do after this, are the positive disruptors who form a critical public. Nothing is more American than that.
When President Obama is sworn in on Monday, the encore will elicit a final "clap out" -- one last acknowledgement of our personal and collective accomplishments. Afterward, those thousands of organizers and volunteers will fan out, returning to their respective corners of the nation, fired up and ready to keep moving forward.
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