October 31, 2019
With us quickly approaching the one year mark to the 2020 Presidential election, I wanted to reflect on the events that transpired on that fateful day three years ago when it felt like our world turned upside down.
In the fall of 2016, I was going through my third and final year of law school at UW-Madison. While I was a student, I was working as a fellow with the Democratic Coordinated Campaign out of our office that was just off a corner of State Street in downtown Madison, as well as interning in the Department of Public Instruction.
I first got heavily involved in our campaign efforts that year when I moved back to Madison for the semester in August. I had reached out to the Clinton campaign several times during the primary to help them out, but had little success in being able to contact them (not a great sign!). Over that summer, I had made some calls for them out of an office in Milwaukee after I walked into one on the north side of the county. However, I was interning full-time with the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s office in downtown Milwaukee at that time, so I didn’t have as much time to give to campaigning as I originally hoped. I had every intention, though, of doing what I could to help out the cause when I got back to school.
I sought getting involved for two specific reasons. One was that I really believed in Hillary Clinton as a candidate. There have been few, if any, candidates for President who’ve been more qualified or prepared for the job than she was. I thought she would make an excellent president.
I also got involved because I knew what was at stake if we lost.
From the day that Donald Trump had come down that elevator in New York City in 2015 to announce his candidacy, he made it explicitly obvious that he was running a campaign centered on dividing our country, and inflaming racial tensions in a way that no major party candidate for President had ever done before. He accused people who had immigrated here of being rapists and murders in his announcement. He belittled the struggles of the African American community. He described the cities that Latinos and African Americans lived in as “crime-ridden” and said that they were “living in hell.” He attacked a Muslim family who’s son had given his life in combat fighting for our country. He called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims immigrating to our country. He encouraged violence against protesters, and consistently attacked the press.
Donald Trump was running a campaign that looked a hell of a lot like the fascist campaigns I’d studied extensively in my history courses. His authoritarian tendencies were a clear and present danger to our country. I knew if I wasn’t doing everything I could to defeat him, and the party that was behind them, that people’s livelihoods would be at-risk. I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t taking action.
In those early fall months on the campaign, I helped drive volunteer and attendance recruitment for our campaign in that office. I spent several hours a week making calls to prospective volunteers. as well as to voters who might be interested in attending one of our campaign events. I also got to train new people on how to phone bank, canvass, and enter data whenever they wandered into our office to do a shift. I was involved with helping us register new voters, and I did several canvassing shifts, both during early voting, and during Get Out The Vote (GOTV) to get people out to vote.
We thought coming into election day that Hillary Clinton was in good shape to win the Presidency. Most of the late polls in the crucial battleground states had shown Clinton with a small, but meaningful lead over Donald Trump, including here in Wisconsin. Even though we had encountered some voter apathy and discontent with Clinton in the weeks leading up to the election, we had knocked our early voting numbers out of the park in the county, and were in really good shape on election day with turnout. Things seemed to be looking up.
I spent the entire day of the election until polls closed knocking on doors, and talking to voters both at doors, and on the street. I literally knocked six or seven packets that day for the party, which probably amounted to at least 140 doors in all. I know some of the conversations I had with people that day made a difference.
My plan for when the polls closed was to go back to my apartment and hang out with a few of my good friends from law school to watch the returns come in. Once it got closer to the results being finalized, I planned on heading over to our campaign office watch party we were holding at Lucille’s in the capital square to celebrate what we thought was going to be Clinton victory.
It became obvious, even early on, that we were in trouble. Clinton was trailing in Florida with a large percentage of the vote in, and that was only getting worse the more votes that were counted. She had gone from having a lead in the early vote counts in North Carolina to trailing there. Her early returns in Wisconsin were most alarming of all. The margins coming in from the rural counties looked a hell of a lot like the margins I saw in the several victories that Scott Walker had in our state in his several governor’s races. I knew things were bad.
We wrapped up the watch party at my place early knowing that the results were looking bleak. I decided to head over to the campaign party so I could hang out with the people, including my good friend Anthony Bernardi, who had worked so hard over the past three plus months to help us win.
As I was walking over to Lucille’s, I was on the phone with my best friend, Brent, talking about the election results. We were stunned by what we were witnessing. Even though I always knew that Trump victory was possible, the data that had come in before the election suggested that was a pretty unlikely result.
As I was talking on the phone with him, I got a text from my brother saying that the Senate race in Wisconsin had been called for Republican Ron Johnson. My heart sank. Right then, I knew if Johnson had won that a Trump victory was not far behind.
I got off the phone with Brent about a block or two away from the watch party I was on my way to. When I got to outside of it, I ran into the father of the organizer I had worked for.
The organizer I had worked for, Michael Basch, had given up a successful business operation to work for our campaign. He had knocked on doors in rural Iowa and organized for the Clinton campaign in the caucuses during the Democratic primary. The reason he had come here, to Wisconsin, was because of what he and his family witnessed watching the RNC over the summer.
Michael’s family were survivors of the Holocaust. They had witnessed the rise of Hitler and the Nazis first-hand. What his family saw with Trump and the Republicans at that convention reminded them very much of those Nazi rallies they saw nearly 80 years before. Michael had gotten in this fight to prevent that from happening here. His parents were why he was here.
I broke down when I ran into his father. I knew that we had failed, not just him, but everyone who was about to be directly victimized by this Presidency. We all knew at that party that things were going to get bad for a lot of people. It was horrible.
The emotions that Election day 2016 brought out in me still strikes very close to home today. It’s why I’ve dedicated so much of my time to helping campaigns and organizing. It’s why I’ve chosen to put everything else aside until election day 2020 passes to make sure I’m doing everything I can to defeat Donald Trump and the GOP.
We’re in a fight to save our country from an authoritarian monster, and those who actively support and enable his harmful behavior. We need everyone we can helping us defeat Trump and the GOP in 2020. That battle doesn’t start a few months from now. It’s happening right now!
I encourage all of you to get involved in some capacity volunteering this election cycle. Anything you can give, even if its 30 minutes a week, can make all the difference in helping us win.
This weekend, the Wisconsin Democratic Party is running canvasses all over the state to help us win. You can find an event near you here. This is how we defeat them. This is how we save our country.