In a Harrisonburg minute

November 7, 2012 at 11:51 am 3 comments

Isaiah shouldn’t have shared the picture of Amber. But then he did take her to the hospital, so I guess he had the right.

And the sheriff probably shouldn’t have released the picture of Colin, but then he was more or less required to by law.

Amber and Colin were the same age during the campaign of 2012. Both held deep beliefs that they chose to express in part by working to elect political candidates. They both probably felt like something about their world would end if the other side won. They may have been right, allowing for some mild dramatic exaggeration. But that exaggeration is what makes it possible for them to do what they do. They’ve graduated college, and the whole world lies in front of them. But they want to change that world by working in politics for less than they could make racking a nail gun, living a few months at a time in other people’s houses, putting in 12 hours on a short day, working in offices that Chicago’s worst health inspector couldn’t be bribed to pass, and making more cold calls than a siding salesman.

There may be something romantic about it, but there’s nothing glamorous.

And if you asked either of them who they worked for, they probably wouldn’t tell you. Not because they were trying to hide anything, but because they might not really know. “I work for Obama.” That might mean I work for “Organizing for America Virginia, a project of the Democratic Party of Virginia,” or as they call it, Chicago. “I work for Romney.” That might mean I work for Pinpoint, the temp agency that took over the payroll contract after the Republican National Committee fired Strategic Consulting because of allegations of voter registration fraud.

Amber’s picture was an iPhone shot of her in the hospital bed. Gorgeous but thin, she didn’t have any body fat to live off of when she began working for the campaign. The hospital gown looked like a sheet draped over a stick and she was wincing from the pain of whatever it is that happens when a healthy young body rebels against its occupant trying to live off diet Pepsi and determination for days on end because she doesn’t want to live in that country the other side is promising. Isaiah only showed it to a couple of people that I know of and I was just sort of standing there when he did.

The sheriff only released the one picture of Colin, but the picture’s been widely reproduced and widely altered. In one he’s compared to a character from a horror movie I haven’t seen. In another, he’s holding up a Romney-Ryan bumper sticker where the prisoner number would be. It’s the kind of picture you can wind up with when you get too intense about trying to stave off the end of a way of life that hasn’t existed since before your parents were born. It’s what happens when a bunch of voter registration forms wind up in a dumpster, and the car that drives away is parked later in front of the local Republican Victory Office. (They weren’t victorious, but then we call our similar operation the Coordinated Campaign, and it’s not either.)

I have dozens, maybe hundreds, of other pictures of Amber, but then I have similar numbers of pix of Isaiah and Rebecca and Jon and Sawyer and the other sleep-deprived twentysomethings. What they seem to have in common is a look of deep intelligence. That look may exist on the other side, but I don’t know a lot of them and most of the ones I saw on Election Day had a look of testosterone-fueled rage. Once circled the Obama HQ and various polls all day in a jacked-up pickup, honking his horn to draw attention to the Romney and anti-Obama slogans on his truck. We spent our gas money on vans to take voters to the polls. A bunch of boys on their side tore down all the Dem yard signs at a couple of the polls late in the day. Our side had forgotten to put any signs up earlier in the day, because they were focused on voter contact. Guess who carried the city.

The other photos of Amber show a dark-haired, fair-skinned young woman wearing a tiny pearl most of the time. They’re all flattering, except for the scowling ambush shot I agreed to destroy after she promised to help me with some volunteer effort or another. (I’m sentimental and charitable during a campaign, but nothing’s free.) I have lots of shots of the young man who limped on a swollen foot for two days because he was registering voters. Isaiah had to take him to the hospital, too. He delivered 1,300 registration forms to the municipal building in one day. Amber’s in that picture with him, along with a dozen other smiling, exhausted volunteers.

There’s just the one shot of Colin. His head is bowed a little bit, maybe in shame or disgrace. The widow’s peak of his close-cropped hair looks off-center. If I’d been the jailer, I might have offered to shoot a better one. I heard second- and third-hand that he sometimes showed up at the municipal building, but with only a handful of forms. We don’t know if there were others, or what may have happened to them, but Virginia’s attorney general is looking into that.

Amber carried her city on Tuesday. She’s got a bright future in politics, but wants to teach instead. Colin had a preliminary hearing on Monday. I hope he doesn’t have a future in politics, but he might be a folk hero on that side. I don’t know what he wants to do.

In one of his darkest songs, Don Henley sings, “What the head makes cloudy the heart makes clear.” Which isn’t quite the same thing as saying it doesn’t matter how much you believe in something, reality can still intrude, but it’s close. It doesn’t matter how determined you are, your body can only take so much. It doesn’t matter how much you believe in what you’re doing if the law says you can’t do it.

I’m guessing Henley may have borrowed the line, at least in concept, because I know he did the other great line in the song. “Somebody’s going to emergency, somebody’s going to jail.” It’s how every street fight ends. Maybe we should have campaigns instead.


Entry filed under: Elections, Politics and/or policy. Tags: .

Some things you can’t just throw out

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Isabella Jones  |  November 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    I am grateful to know there are 20 somethings out there who aspire to a higher form of campaigning besides posting pics of our sitting president with a dog defecating on his image-a young man in Elkton felt this was an appropriate message. Intelligence,ration,reason compassion…I hope this is our future.

  • 2. Andy  |  November 7, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Nice piece Joe.I hope that others take the time to read it.

  • 3. Marie Rietmann  |  November 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you, Joe. I had the honor and privilege of working with all these folks–the ones on Amber’s side, for many hours most days of the last two months of the campaign. They, and all of us, will go far with the good outcome on November 6. We are fortunate for their public service and for how much they care about our nation.



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