“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” -Ted Kennedy
It’s the morning after. You’re looking around at an empty union hall, an empty office, with trash and signage littering the ground and weeks-old pizza stinking up the workspace. You spent the past few months working 16 hours every day, 7 days every week, while seriously neglecting your family, friends, and personal health. You knocked on thousands of doors, schleping through the cold and the rain every single day, and spent more hours talking to voters on the phone than you’d ever like to admit. Your supporters said you could win, and you felt your heart pound with the enthusiasm of working to elect a candidate you’ve poured your heart and soul into.
But then you lost; and it’s not just you. Democrats lost more seats in the House of Representatives than any party has lost in one single election cycle in nearly 70 years. Countless state legislative bodies, governorships, and Senate races– Democrats lost them all. And on each of those races also worked a handful, or even many, young staffers that put their own entire heart and soul into that campaign as well, only to feel that same gut-punch of defeat this morning.
This post isn’t to re-hash specific election results, Nate Silver has done an amazing job at that; and this post isn’t about working to identify what exactly went wrong for the Democrats, I plan to go into those themes a bit later. This post is for all the young staffers and volunteers in the field today, many of my own friends, feeling dejected and lost, and how to pick up the pieces and move forward even stronger than you have before.
Barack Obama’s campaign of hope and change inspired millions of young Americans to get involved in the political process for their first-time ever in 2008, and many of these young people today feel their first real sting of defeat- but it’s my hope that you all realize that through this adversity you will only grow into a stronger, and more effective, staffer or volunteer in your next race, and the race after that.
I remember watching the results in Ohio in 2004, watching Bush win re-election and the candidates I worked with across the midwest fall one-by-one to defeat. It was heart-breaking. After devastating loses in 2002, it was tragic to see those I worked so hard to support conceding, one by one.
Yet two years later, I remember balling my eyes out as Nancy Pelosi raised her arms victoriously in the air, celebrating a massive Democratic land-slide that swept many of those members into office that lost their seat last night. But if I had let the discouragement of defeat permanently soil my desire to work in politics in 2002 and 2004, I would have never felt that amazing rush of victory in 2006, and again in 2008.
Losing hurts. What happened last night will have enourmous consequences at every level of our government- from state-based legislation to redistricting efforts to national policy- but we learn from loss, we pick ourselves back up, and we live to fight another day. We point to positive results (like over 100 openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender candidates winning their races), and assess our weaknesses.
So, to my friends out in the field today cleaning up your empty campaign offices, I’d remind you to always remember the prophetic words of Teddy Kennedy: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”