2012 is the last year remaining to look at in this opening series-within-a-series reflecting on how I spent the 100 days leading up to the six elections of my voting-age life. That fall, I was more involved than ever. And we won the election. But I felt none of the exhilaration of 2008. In fact, I was quickly burning out.
I had been working for the past year in the role my old boss had in 2008 (see yesterday) at the same Obama-allied organization. With this promotion came more responsibilities and longer hours. If I was awake, I felt guilty any hour I wasn’t keeping up with politics and responding to emails and texts. I knew this was unhealthy and unsustainable, but the importance of the work, and the nonstop culture of the organization weighed on me.
The job of my team was to activate online audiences: email, websites, and outreach to bloggers and social media. Email was the biggest focus, and we’d had success with it in the years I’d been there. But by 2012 the inboxes our messages landed in were crowded with appeals from every cause, candidate, and nonprofit on earth in addition to the even-larger industry of commercial emails from retailers, restaurants, yoga studios, and the rest.
There was a formula to writing these emails, and everyone in politics and nonprofit fundraising followed it: a unique subject line, an emotional appeal that gets to the point quick, and an obvious “click here” link. Then we’d track the small number of people who opened the email, a smaller number who clicked on the link, and the even smaller number who completed the action we asked them to take. Strong openings and simple actions were key to boosting each of these numbers.
There might not have been a rhyme scheme or meter requirement, but it was a restrictive form. Some writers took to it more easily than others. While it did not leave much room for experiments in storytelling, creative nonfiction, or whatever this series is, the best emails did tell stories. Brief ones about inspiring activists and people standing up against unjust circumstances. Stories that made it clear how essential it is to vote, call Congress, and march in the street.
I did some door-knocking in nearby Virginia that fall, and encouraged my team to phone bank and travel to knock on doors in the most important states, as I had in the final days of 2008’s election. As a result, by election night there were few of us left in the office. I let anyone go home who wanted. When the election was finally called for Obama late that night, we hit “send” on the “win” version of our email and shut off the lights. The open rate and click-through rates mattered little on this one.
I met up with my girlfriend to walk home. I’d been thinking all night of the scene in 2008 on U Street when Obama won. It was not far out of the way. Though I was ready to sleep for a month, I led us on a detour in that direction. But U Street was quiet in 2012. Or it was by the time we got there. There were revelers here and there, inside the bars and restaurants mainly. I stopped to look in the windows of the legendary jazz club Bohemian Caverns. A few stragglers chatted casually at tables near the window as MSNBC went unwatched on the back wall. The champagne corks had long ago been swept up. The restaurant staff were ready to go home too.