– The Alaska Airlines stewardess just tried to suggest that my Visa card didn't have a magnetic strip on it. When I mentioned that no, really, it was right there, along the top, she suggested that I was lying or possibly incompetent. I hope that whatever cosmic entity is judging me right now will forgive me if I appeared incredulous.
Anyway. Moving right along! 2008 was a remarkably bad year for a remarkable number of people, but then I suppose that's generally true about most years, to some degree or another. I hope I won't be considered excessively callous if I say that 2008 was an exceptionally good year for me in terms of general tone and personal development and that I'm pretty psyched about this whole “2009” thing.
Highlights of the year:
Winning Henderson for Hillary!
Living in Cambridge!
Lions and tigers and DONKEYS EVERYWHERE OMFG
Beginning to come into my own as a researcher and human being.
Sardines in a Firetrap
So let's start with January. This time last year, I was in Las Vegas. I drove up in to one of the neighborhoods along Horizon Ridge Road, on the southeast side of the valley, to watch the fireworks over the Strip, by myself. Then I went canvassing in the morning! Lots of canvassing.
I want to be a little careful not to overromanticize the experience. One of my coworkers (whom, by the way, I had a reasonably devastating crush on) made a pretty strong case to me later that soldiering on after Vegas and Super Tuesday was a miserable experience, that they weren't even being paid, always, and that marching into an increasingly obvious defeat was pretty much morale-destroying. Which, I mean, I accept. It's not even like I was always necessarily all that happy, in the moment, in Henderson.
But, still, lots about that experience was thrilling: I had real responsibility for real-world goals. This was not an exercise, not a drill, not an intern project: I, Tim Smith, was gaining increasing responsibility for making sure that Hillary Clinton won some 40-odd neighborhoods in greater Las Vegas. I ended up being responsible for making strategic resource utilization decisions and I also provided important technical support to the Henderson region and the campaign. (I am a fiend with The Donkey and the Voter Activation Network. If you ever need a voter file hack, gentle reader, give me a call; you will not be disappointed.) I was doing something that I believed in – something, I'll still argue, essential to the function of modern American representative democracy, even though it's fucking obnoxious. And it was undeniably, unquestionably, unimpeachably intense.
This is one of my neurotic mental tics: that if I'm struggling to do something, I'll generally refuse to accept that it's because the task is genuinely hard. It'll be because I'm not trying hard enough or smart enough, that I'm overcommitted, or, on a bad day, just generally incapable at doing things. It's a little self-aggrandizing – it presupposes that I'm at least intellectually capable of accomplishing basically anything with effortless grace; just poor at time management. And, well, I generally believe that's true. (I also suspect this is true of more people than believe it about themselves.)
But anyway, point is, I assume if I'm being stretched and exhausted at school, it's my own damn fault: not that I'm climbing mountains, but that I'm tripping clumsily over molehills. This is perhaps why I don't have much patience for people complaining about how haaaard Olin is. (Though part of that is my TJ experience, I'm sure. I knew what I was in for; if you can't stand the heat, why'd you come to the kitchen? It occurs to me that this might not be entirely fair.) But on the campaign, you are, by design, stretched and exhausted. It's an authentic, convincing experience of giving 100% of yourself to something, and was something of a salve to that particular neurotic itch.
Winning helped, too. – Okay, clearly we ultimately lost the nomination. We didn't really even win Nevada – though Nevada was never about winning delegates, and the delegate allocation was designed to disenfranchise the state's population centers, which overwhelmingly supported Hillary. Which is my point: we utterly destroyed Clark County. Looking at the Henderson turf, it wasn't even close. We delivered the precincts that we were responsible for, on a silver platter. Would this have happened without us – without me? Maybe. Perhaps even probably – the margins were pretty wide. I don't suffer from the illusion that I'm anything special as an organizer and it's impossible to know for sure. But one thing that we know we can be proud of is that we built a damn strong organization, and it endured. Not that I really know all that much about Silver State politics, which are pretty bizarre in any case, but I don't think there'd even be a chance that Nevada would have voted for Obama this year if it hadn't been for the contested early Democratic caucus that activated progressive activists statewide and revitalized a weak party. So, well, I feel pretty good about it.
And that's what working for Hillary Clinton meant to me!
Beef and Beer
So living in Cambridge this summer was the urban experience I've been waiting for, for years. I grew up in the suburban sprawl of Centreville, Virginia, in neighborhoods perhaps best recently known for being the home of the Virginia Tech murderer Cho Seung and a large teenage heroin-dealing ring that was just busted; my sister was in elementary school with one of the perps. Not that Sully Station or Sequoia Farms were at all dangerous or unusually unhappy – I remember comfortable upper-middle-class homes with neatly manicured lawns. It's just that they weren't very exciting. The most happening joint in town was the Starbucks downstairs and around the corner from the orthodontist's office – which is where the heroin gang met up, actually, because where else?
But we got the Washington Post – still my favorite newspaper. The Post was my connection to the city, with glamorous stories of Congressional doings and hot restaurants about town and ironic media meta-commentary. I credit the Post for both my early fascination with politics and my well-developed sense of snark. (I won a T-shirt once. A column was soliciting clever future careers for Newt Gingrich, who had just been ousted as Speaker of the House. I suggested “elephant feed specialist,” and strategically signed as “Tim Smith (fourteen years old).” My transparent ploy for attention succeeded. I only regret never pulling this trick with the Style Invitational.)
But aren't I talking about Cambridge? The point is, I grew up romanticizing the city, but I've never lived in one. This summer, I got a great deal on a sublet room in an MIT-subsidized apartment just blocks from Central Square. It was everything I could have asked for. All of Boston was immediately accessible, I was surrounded by great clubs playing awesome music, and friends just up the Red Line were throwing parties every week. It didn't hurt that I was finally 21, either. It was liberating. I made new friends, got a lot of work done, and had fun out on the town – and I didn't have to fill my car up more than once in the Summer of $4 Gas. Watching the 4th of July fireworks from an inflatable raft flotilla on the Charles River (Project Best Idea Ever!) is also one of the most ridiculously great things I've done. (Though, not unrelatedly, I'd be happy to never hear or think about the phrase “ledging Killian” again.)
Boy, was moving back to Needham a drag. I need to get out more.
Bush wins the Democrats an election
So that was pretty grand. I didn't do a great job of organizing Olin into New Hampshire canvass brigades, but in the end, I didn't need to, so I guess it worked out. Thanks for putting up / coming with me, if you did either!
I don't really have a lot to say about this, except that we'd better not fuck it up. (I know they told you to do what you're good at, but this is not what they meant.) There's a lot of potential here to execute really well on a lot of critical progressive policy, and a lot of potential to lose sight of the ball, descend into bickering, and fail to deliver. I think that Congress is ultimately going to decide whether Obama is a one- or two- term President, and I sure hope it's the latter.
God, there's so much work to do.I need to choose the two or three priorities I think are most important for myself and make them happen.
This is hard, because there are a lot of causes to choose from. Global warming and climate change, Darfur, health care, global and domestic poverty, humanitarian situations in the Congo and Uganda, GLBT issues, civil liberties and electronic freedoms, education reform, ending the war... for starters.
Not to mention maintaining my GPA, getting into grad school, and actually giving CORe the attention it deserves. And getting my fat ass back in shape.
Keep things from going the dull and wicked ordinary way.
It'll take me a while to come up with a proper set of resolutions. Stay tuned!?