Dohiyi Mir
    In Which NTodd Says His Peace

Wednesday, November 26, 2003
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Report From The Trenches

My wife shares her impressions of the Dean campaign as a new volunteer:

First impression? "Whoa, that's a weird place for a presidential campaign headquarters!"

You drive past Ben Franklin on what looks like a service road, cut through the back part of the Shaw's Grocery parking lot, and park where the road ends - which is in the midst of one of those odd identical condo complexes that have sprung up over the past decade. The four story condo equivalent of McMansions. Dean headquarters possess the third floor of one full building. (As it turns out, there are businesses and offices throughout this particular building, but it is identical to all the surrounding buildings which are indeed residences.)

Don't take the stairs if you go. You'll find the stairwell locked at the third floor, just as I did. Gotta walk back down and take the elevator, which releases you into the only quiet space on the third floor. Wave wildly to get the receptionist's attention, and perhaps you will be buzzed through the locked door. Then you whip out your photo ID to be traded for your "guest" or "volunteer" badge, sign in with your arrival time, and sit quietly to wait for whomever is meeting you.

The furniture is more OfficeMax surplus than presidential, and the walls in this first room are covered with blown up pictures from the campaign trail. (The rest of the floor contains all manner of wall decor, from slogans and posters that never left the ground to crayoned letters from first graders to a timeline displaying every state's primary filing deadline.) People are remarkably well dressed. I expected to see mainly scruffy college students but this group is well tailored, very precise, and very, very focused.

I'd peg the median age somewhere in the late 30s rather than the early 20s I had expected. People sprint regularly from one end of the building to the other, clutching cell phones and fistfuls of papers. While I waited, one of the volunteer phone-answerer-ladies put her caller on hold to find out if Trippi was available to take a call from Senator Kennedy's office.

Chaos reigns, but not in an unruly way. The entire place has the energy of a startup company in the 1990s: utterly crazed, but eager and determinedly focused. There are people working literally around the clock, every day of the week. You may be locked in the hallway, but Dean HQ is always open!

After filling out several pages of paperwork and signing my nondisclosure agreement, I was whisked around the entire floor and introduced to 114 people in the space of about six minutes. ("Hey guys, this is Stefanie - she's a new volunteer." "Hi Stefanie!" - 114 times.) Work spaces flow into one another with mismatched Habitrail cube walls dividing, say, the Policy and Research group from the Meetup group. It's an interesting balance of full-time employees, full-time volunteers, and part-timers like me.

Among the volunteers are a good number of Europeans who hopped the pond for the cause, an even better number of American professionals and educators who are on leave or sabbatical to work for Dean for the year, and a ridiculous number of retirees from all over the country. There are very nearly as many people from out of state as there are Vermonters....Dean draws people of all ages and from all places. No surprise there!

Did I mention the energy and chaos? All I did that first day was complete my paperwork, hear the Volunteer 101 spiel, and get my quickie introduction tour. I was there for all of 90 minutes, and I left feeling equally exhausted and revved up. I felt like I did after I presented my capstone project in grad school - completely drained, but more than a little manic. Just being there is exhausting...114 people all working at 120 percent. But it's exhilirating too, and I left feeling like I should either immediately go take a very long nap or go run a marathon.

Fast forward to today: Day Two as a Dean volunteer. In my professional life I am sort of a hybrid writer and webhead, and the Dean folks have assigned me to their web team. (Yay!) There are roughly a dozen people on the web crew, divided between the site and the blog. The blog folks are on the other side of the corridor from the site folks. Bloggers get the big picture window with the view of the Adirondacks over Lake Champlain, but we webbers get an unobstructed view into the teeny corner room that serves as Dean and Trippi's pad when they are in town.

I will be doing the glorious work of closing unclosed html tags, fixing typos, resizing wonky get the idea. As I told them, I'm not looking for resume fodder here, I'm looking to do whatever they need me to do to get the good doctor elected! For the next few weeks, the team is ignoring all but the most egregious typos to focus instead on the massive task of moving from the current and rather clunky content management system to a much more elegant open source application. (The same one Salon uses - it's really slick for magazine style sites!) I'll be doing a lot of busy work, moving pages from one place to the next and checking for dead links and such.

But not today. I was all set to spend my whole afternoon doing my duty for Dean, but nobody had told me to bring along my own computer. Not enough workstations! (Or chairs, for that matter. Lots of people sitting cross-legged on the floor. And the webmaster sits in a wobbly chair with his laptop propped up on a cardboard box.) Grrr. So instead, I had a tour of the old and new content editors and got a better idea of what exactly I will be doing. I will begin actually *doing* it next week, this time with laptop in tow.

I think I'll go on Wednesday....that's the day the massage therapist comes to volunteer her time and services in one of the conference rooms....

I obviously have no clue how other campaigns operate, but I look at Dean's organization and wonder: can such an energetic, passionate group of people be stopped?

I'll likely start volunteering sometime around primary season, depending on my travel schedule. If it becomes clear that the Dean juggernaut really is going to pull off the nomination, I'm considering more drastic changes to my lifestyle to make sure he beats Bush in November. In the meantime, I just contribute money and volunteer by proxy (thank you, dear)!


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A non-violent, counter-dominant, left-liberal, possibly charismatic, quasi anarcho-libertarian Quaker's take on politics, volleyball, and other esoterica.

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