LIFE AFTER "OBAMA FOR AMERICA"
18 year-old Dylan Monahan spent 72 hours a week on the phone and knocking on doors during President Obama’s reelection campaign. (David Pelcyger/PBS NewsHour)
WASHINGTON — It was a conversation with then-primary candidate Barack Obama in spring 2008 that was five minutes long and 300-some precious seconds, and Alejandro Alonso-Galva tried to keep his composure.
Be calm, he told himself. He’s just a man. He’s shorter than me.
But when Obama suggested Alonso-Galva work for Obama for America, the then-college student’s voice cracked; his pitch peaked.
Then came two presidential campaigns. Alonso-Galva traded in a college semester for 18-hour canvassing days in Fayetteville, N.C., and returned last year as a regional director near Charlotte.
He, like hundreds of other former campaign staffers, flooded Washington, D.C., this inauguration weekend to celebrate the rewards of his hard work -- this time with a note of finality.
After nearly five years of off-and-on presidential campaigning, -- and even longer for those involved with Obama’s earlier senatorial race, -- Obama for America is no longer necessary as an election-winning machine. Staffers, many of whom bonded like family, will part ways.
But this won’t necessarily end the energy generated by Obama’s campaign staff.
The 2008 and 2012 campaigns were a generational anomaly, a spike in enthusiasm and involvement among young people not seen since the Kennedy days, said Ed Gefe, a grassroots organizing expert who has worked on more than 300 campaigns in 40 years.
Those who helped pull off these elections, Gefe said, should be a hot commodity for potential presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and other activist groups.
“For these young people to learn about the process of change, this is a great boon for our democracy,” Gefe said. “We will see a lot of activism come out of this, in ways we can’t even measure.”
One outlet many will move on to is the recently launched group Obama for Action, an Obama-commissioned grassroots movement tasked with helping the president accomplish his policy wishes in his second term.
Gefe points to student protests and activism surrounding the Vietnam War and civil rights legislation as residual impact of the strong wave of youth support for Kennedy, and thinks the same sort of after-effects could occur with those who worked for Obama.
Zach Koutsky, who has seen Obama staffers come and go in the three major Obama elections he’s worked on, agrees that although the path for former staffers is far from uniform, the outcome is often similar.
“One common strand is you’re interested in the world around you, and change,” Koutsky said. “And this goes off into a lot of different roles.”
Koutsky’s path crossed with Obama’s early in his political career in 2003 when he was running for the Senate. Since then, he’s worked his way up to the North Carolina get-out-the-vote director.
He had six different get-togethers with campaign trail buddies planned for the weekend, some who are still in politics and others who have moved on to graduate school, private consulting or law.
For him, the excitement and empowerment of working for Obama will help steer his already politically inclined career path toward policy-making. He is on track to complete a master’s degree in urban planning this spring, and has big plans for the next changes he wants to help implement.
“You’re a 25-year-old helping to elect the next leader of the free world,” Koutsky said. “You get a real taste for that.”