Warning: We’ve always carefully avoided using this blog as a platform to express our political leanings. We know that we have readers from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life – and we respect and honor each of you and would rather focus our energies on the things that we have in common rather than on the places that we might strongly disagree.
(Besides, our obsession with Apple tech is probably divisive enough for some!)
There is however something we did four years ago that we feel called to share retrospectively on, and it’s difficult to share without at least referencing the political context. This story is not about the politics, but about a unique way we were able to use our technology and nomadic status to volunteer.
All comments to this post will be moderated (non-political comments encouraged), and no politically oriented comments will be approved.
And for the record, we always have identied as ‘Independents’.
In mid-September 2008 we were camped in the San Francisco Bay Area, freshly back from hosting the first Camp Nomadia theme camp at that year’s Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert.
Appropriately, the art theme of the Burn that year was ‘The American Dream.’
Maybe our brains were still full of playa dust and we were having an American Dream of our own, but for the first time in our lives we both felt inspired to get involved politically – way more than just reading / researching the issues and candidates and privately voting.
But what to do?
We knew we’d have no sizable impact in California – that vote was already called. But nearby Nevada was a critical swing state, and we thought maybe we could make a difference there.
So we called up Obama’s Nevada Campaign for Change headquarters, and tried to volunteer through the official channels.
The first people we reached had no idea what to do with us – we were not the typical volunteers with a few hours to spare on a weekend, nor were we experienced professional campaign staff. (Actually, quite the opposite. Neither one had been involved in a political campaign in any fashion before!)
We were full time RVers, we were young with tons of energy, we had the flexibility and the desire to give an entire month, we could go anywhere we were needed, and we came with a self contained solar powered trailer with wireless internet.
We weren’t particularly keen on doing the typical volunteer tasks – knocking on doors and making phone calls.
We wanted to do more, and to offer our unique skills. We told them that we could run computer systems, organize, handle social media & strategy, and could take on other challenging tasks. We knew that if given an opportunity, we could do big things.
It took a week before we finally found someone in the Las Vegas headquarters who saw our potential, and he asked if we could be there in three days time to start working in their data center running numbers and processing statistics. He warned us that it would be grueling 12 hour days, 7 days a week for a month up through Election Day.
We said ‘SIGN US UP!’.
We had back-burnered other projects, and were prepared to give a full entire month of our lives. We’d go without sleep if we had to.
But as we were packing up to hit the road to head towards Vegas, we discovered that we couldn’t find a place to park that would work for the full month. Boondocking would not be conducive to us spending 12+ hours a day away from our trailer. And driveway surfing with various hosts would have required us to relocate frequently to avoid risking citation under the Vegas anti-RV ordinances.
And we just couldn’t see ourselves paying $800+ for renting an RV spot that we would barely even see with waking eyes, particularly while we were putting other income on hold to focus on volunteering.
There was just no easy answer to be found from afar that would work for an entire month in Vegas.
That’s when the state headquarters called and put us in touch with their rural office in Carson City instead.
The campaign was for the first time ever sending resources into areas that have never been focused on before – rural Nevada. They told us it would be a bit pioneering and off the cuff. The head of the rural office in Carson City asked us to start driving his way that day, though he admitted he had no idea what he would do with us once we got there. He asked us to trust that they’d find a good way to utilize us, and he was certain that parking wouldn’t be a problem.
It sounded perfect for us renegade technomads, so we took a deep breath, and drove up and over the Sierras.
We parked for free at a nearby casino for a few days, and reported to the rural campaign headquarters down the street, an office responsible for the entire state of Nevada other than Las Vegas and Reno.
We were quickly sent out knocking on doors and working the phones. But more importantly, they started training us to do more. We noticed we were treated a bit differently than other volunteers – we were being quickly rotated through all aspects of the office. We were introduced to running the computer databases, printing our own walk routes, creating handouts and walk-kits, and organizing all aspects of the daily campaign.
After a few days of intense training in Carson City, we were assigned to join one of the lead members of the team to go out to Fallon, NV that weekend to help orchestrate a group of California volunteers coming in for the weekend to knock on doors.
You see, we weren’t the only ones feeling called to make a difference in a nearby swing state. Every weekend swarms of volunteers drove to Nevada to knock on doors – and they needed coordination and training to direct their efforts.
We helped plan the whole weekend, and drove out to Fallon late Friday night to be there to greet our volunteers in the morning.
It snowed that night. We remember the snow.
Fallon was a rural town focused on agriculture and the nearby Fallon Naval Air Station (the ‘Top Gun’ school is there), and it was deeply red. Never before had a Democratic presidential campaign established a field office there, and the small group of local Democrats had always been operating in a vacuum without any way to effectively coordinate with the state organization and the out-of-state volunteers.
It turned out we were the perfect solution.
Since there was no actual office in town, our little Oliver Travel Trailer became a mobile field office.
We parked in a grocery store parking lot for the afternoon, handed out walk kits to volunteers, trained them, and stayed out in the field coordinating them all weekend long.
It was a rush. It fed our activist & project manager personalities. And it took perfect advantage of our robust skill sets and our arsenal of solar-powered mobile technologies.
We had never done anything like it before.. but it was a total success. We thrive on new challenges.
The area leader who had been sent in to supervise (part of the paid professional campaign staff) realized early on we were on the ball, and backed off… letting us run the show.
Despite having only had a few days of exposure and training to how a campaign works, we were now running a weekend long blitz!
Mind boggling! And absolutely fascinating to see behind the scenes how campaigning works!
Exhausted, on Sunday night we called the Carson City headquarters to check in, and they asked us to stay over in Fallon for another night while they decided what to do with us next.
Unknown to us, locals Democrat leaders Nyla & Keith, who had been heavily involved in trying to get momentum in Fallon and who had been knocking on doors for us all day, had also called the headquarters and specifically asked if they could keep us in Fallon for the duration. They apparently loved us. They were even offering their home as campaign office space, and they wanted to host us for the month on their garden side RV pad behind their home.
In the morning we got the call from Carson City and learned what we were being tasked with next…
SETTING UP AND RUNNING A NEW FIELD OFFICE?!?!?!?!
We now had less than a week of ‘training’. We had never done anything more political than voting. And we were not just going to be helping out a local office – we’d be establishing and running one??
We were promoted to ‘Deputy Field Organizers’ – and to our knowledge, we were amongst the only unpaid volunteers on the campaign in the state with this level of responsibility.
Yeah, they weren’t kidding when they said we’d be a bit more pioneering out in the rurals!
The biggest challenge and most rewarding part of the job was becoming a focal point for local Obama supporters to connect with each other. The widely held belief in Fallon was that being identified as a Democrat could get you fired from your job and/or your business shunned – and there were examples aplenty of that in this deep red territory.
But as we got to know the town we quickly discovered there were a lot more closeted Democrats than anyone realized – they just were afraid of the repercussions of showing their true colors in public. We coached so many people through the ‘coming out’ process, and for most it was eye opening. So many people thought they were alone, and were thrilled to discover and connect with others in their town.
We started attending local political events, trying to understand the local community. We went into the local high school and worked with the Young Democrats club to join our team of volunteers. We visited the local Indian reservation and heard the concerns of the tribe’s elders. We met with folks from all walks of life and a huge range of occupations. And all the while we worked to overcome some horrible misconceptions and prejudices that at times made for an actual hostile environment.
By the end of the month, we had weekend California volunteers begging to be able to come back for the final election weekend, because they loved working with us so much. We had them fooled that we knew what we were doing, and so many of them were shocked when we admitted how little experience we had.
And it seems our efforts made a difference:
In 2004, the Democratic vote for John Kerry in Fallon was 25%.
In 2008… the Obama vote was 33%.
We feel that we made a measurable difference on a local level, and Nevada as a whole ended up going blue.
We celebrated the win in our makeshift campaign office at Nyla and Keith’s house with local volunteers now introduced to each other. We cried … a lot.
It was an intense month, and an overall completely overwhelming experience.
30 days of unending hours working inside a voter database, preparing walk kits, reporting results, learning to navigate the regional politics to run our local campaign ‘our way’, being cursed at as we crossed streets, dealing with our volunteers being threatened with guns… There was so much that we had to deal with, but in the end our mission was a success.
Our month volunteering on the Nevada Campaign for Change was one of the most rewarding and intense experiences of our nomadic journey so far. Period.
Establishing, running and trying to work as a volunteer pioneer within a regulated system was so perfect for us. We did absolutely remarkable things there. We grew so much. We made life long friends .
And afterwards, we very nearly literally slept for a week to recover… and then shortly thereafter adopted a spunky little kitten – after all, we needed a new challenge!
We’re proud of the contribution we made 4 years ago, and are fondly reminiscent of those times this election season.
We discovered that even as nomads, we could make a difference on a big and small scale. All you need to do is be creative, stick to your guns and you can find your way to volunteer and contribute in ways that matter to you.
In this political season – whatever your leaning is – we encourage you to thoroughly research the rhetoric on all sides, make an informed decision of your own and GET OUT AND VOTE!