Ballonteering for Barack

By Stuart Hersh

2008 was the year I volunteered for the Barack Obama for President campaign. I knew from previous campaigns that this would be hard work. I never knew I would have a ball working as a volunteer. So I invented a new word to describe the experience of having a ball while volunteering for a political campaign: ‘ballonteering’.

Before the 2008 presidential campaign began, I knew who I was going to support for the Democratic Party nomination. In 2004, I had supported Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina for President. His talk of two Americas and his life story resonated with me. John Edwards’ father was a factory worker. My Dad had worked as an electrician in a textile mill and a tire plant for more than 30 years. Edwards spoke about my America, where many families and friends lived paycheck to paycheck. They had to choose between rent/mortgage, food, medical care, heating and cooling, water and lights. So when John Edwards announced that he would run for President in 2008, I knew that I would support him financially and in other ways. I had been a precinct and county delegate for Edwards in 2004, and would try to do this again.

In the summer of 2007, I attended Edward’s packed rally at Scholz’s in Austin with my partner Roxann and one of my sons (Alan). I was thrilled to see Edwards in person. Both Roxann and Alan had attended Obama’s rally of more than 20,000 on Town Lake a few months earlier, and I had chosen to stay home. With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as the likely frontrunners for the Democratic Party nomination, I expected John Edwards to be competitive in Iowa and other states. I expected Edwards and other candidates to stay in the race until the convention in Denver. I thought Edwards’ supporters would play a key role in choosing the Democratic Party nominee for president at the Denver convention. Like so many assumptions I would make during this campaign, I was wrong!

John Edwards finished second to Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses. He could not win New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina. His poor showings meant that the campaign could not raise enough money to stay competitive in the caucuses and primaries. So when Edwards dropped out of the race before Super Tuesday, my choice was to support either Clinton or Obama.

Since I was a member and former officer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1624 (the city employees’ union), it was logical for me to support the presidential candidate that AFSCME supported. AFSCME was providing the Clinton campaign with significant resources in the primaries, and there was the possibility I could work in the Clinton campaign as funding for my City job went away. The conventional wisdom was that Clinton would lock up the nomination by Super Tuesday, and it would be to my political advantage to join the Clinton campaign before Super Tuesday.

But I decided to support Obama because his campaign was not the conventional Democratic Party politics I had seen for more than four decades. I read his first book, and his story resonated with me just as John Edwards’ story had four years earlier. My decision to support Obama was clinched when my son Alan decided to go to New Mexico with a friend to work for Obama in the days leading up to Super Tuesday. I told my fellow AFSCME members that I was going to work for Obama.

This is an excerpt from a much longer memoir chronicling campaign work in New Mexico.

Stuart Hersh received his M.A. in government in 1975. Hersh is a teacher of American Government, Labor History, and Building Codes. He worked in Building Inspection, Code Enforcement, and Affordable Housing for the City of Austin for more than 30 years. He is the author of three books (Remembering Uncle Harry; Ballonteering for Barack – Tales from Albuquerque; and DUH – Designing Unaffordable Housing) and three plays (Austin In DenialAustin 3275, and John Brown from BOB).