Campaign manager /kamˈpān/ /ˈmanijər/: whether paid or volunteer, someone who coordinates all the functions of a politician’s campaign for office.
Call me rebel. Go ahead.
Call me Harriet Tubman or Willie Velasquez.
Call me Dolores Huerta or John Lewis.
Call me operative, cynical consultant, political hack or numbers cruncher. Go ahead.
At one time or another, all those labels have been slung at anyone who’s ever dared to slug it out in the body politic.
In truth, a career in politics can be dry and tactical: figuring out target universes, compiling budgets, setting up photo and TV shoots, writing direct mail, editing videos and creating effective digital strategies. That’s not to say there is no sense of gratification in the chores of politics, it’s just not the stuff of bending the arc of the universe. Let me explain.
I grew up La Mirada, which was then a mostly white working-class suburb. Anchored by Biola University and the Talbot School of Theology, it was a really conservative place.
In grade school, my best friend was a kid I’ll call Bill Conner. He and I were rambunctious kids, more likely to be jumping from a tree than doing our homework. We also were big music fans. Once a month, we’d have an LP sleepover to share new music.
One weekend, Bill invited a couple of us over to play records. The first record I played was “Frampton Comes Alive!” – a late-career double-live album blockbuster by a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Brit. Wah, wah, wah. Do you feel like we do? Everyone loved the record.
Then came my second spin. I pulled out Earth, Wind & Fire’s seminal “That’s the Way of the World.” I was excited to share. EW&F were cultural innovators who were changing modern music by incorporating genres from R&B and funk to Latin jazz and Afro-pop.
But Bill wasn’t so impressed. He grabbed the album from me as I put it on the turntable and asked, “What’s with the (n-word) music?”
I didn’t know what to say other than, “What are you talking about?”
Bill walked over and picked up a globe and began to explain how people belong where they came from – pointing to Africa, Latin America, Asia. I can still feel that hollow feeling in my stomach as I share this story. Don’t get me wrong. I knew what racism was – it’s just that I had never felt that fiery entitled dagger of white supremacy pierce my side before.
That terrible moment in my personal history led me to never talk to Bill or his family again, and also to study American history. I figured those white supremacist instincts had to come from somewhere.
So, I went looking.
From the Bill of Rights, to the Civil War, to the New Deal, to the Civil Rights and Chicano Power movements. What I found was a nation constantly at war with the purpose of its exceptionalism. A battle between the ideals of equality and freedom and the narrative of Manifest Destiny and cultural entitlement. And, at the end of the day, it is our democracy that gives America the ability to navigate the canyons and to continue to walk toward the mountaintop.
So, I chose democracy and politics. And over the course of my career running campaigns for people I believe in, I’ve been blessed with a few of those mountaintop moments. My good friend, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, is implementing some of the most innovative criminal and restorative justice reforms in the nation. Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia is responsible for landmark environmental justice, ethical reform and women’s advocacy legislation. I am proud to have helped move them into elected positions where they’ve had such a significant impact.
Oh yeah, back to that rebel thing. Of course, I don’t actually think I’m Harriet Tubman, Willie Velasquez, Dolores Huerta or John Lewis. But I do think that I have this in common with them:
I fully embrace the tradition of American democracy that instigates us to be rebellious – to stretch our legs, our arms, and our souls right up into the universe and bend its moral arc.
After all, that’s the (best) way of the world.
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Editor’s note: On Sept. 20, the newsmagazine “Body Politic: People Making Democracy Work” went out to subscribers. While so much media attention goes to politicians, the truth is that citizens at all levels of engagement keep democracy going. “Body Politic” highlighted players in our region’s political ecosystem, getting beyond platform points and party ideology to find out what motivates them, what they care about, and what they hope their part adds to a healthy political process.