He told me that they hadn’t opened an office in Santa Barbara yet, but if I was willing to drive down to the Ventura office I could help make volunteer calls. For those not familiar with California’s Central Coast, Ventura is about a 45 minute drive from the UCSB campus. But I was inspired by Hannah Beth and saw this as my opportunity to make the jump from being a student activist to actually becoming a real campaign organizer, so I did it. Five days a week after class I’d drive down to the Ventura office, make 4 or 5 hours of volunteer calls with another intern and staffer, and then drive home. On the good nights, Chris would order us this delicious pizza with cashews on it from some local joint I never got the name of. On the bad nights, homeless people would wander in demanding to know where they were. A month in Chris arranged for me to get a gas stipend so that I wasn’t out of pocket on the whole thing and told me if I kept working hard and proved myself I’d be given more responsibility and might even get hired.
Shortly after that I got to start staffing the candidate at events and experienced the unique terror that is driving with Hannah Beth. A month later when the Santa Barbara office opened, I was hired as a phonebanker, then as a field organizer, and ultimately overseeing the internship program I was initially recruited for. Chris was my first campaign manager, and without him taking a chance on me and giving me that chance, I don’t know that I’d actually be an organizer today.
But I didn’t really get the chance to become friends with Chris until the following year. We both ended up working for the Party running a coordinated campaign for the Mayor and City Council. I have no idea how many hours we spent together in the cramped little cubicle we called Dem Headquarters. In quieter moments he told me stories about campaigns he worked on in New York and I got to meet his little nephews who he loved more than anything (at first it confused me why his email handle was “Henry’s uncle” but seeing him with them it made perfect sense). The rest of the time was spent doing the hard work of the campaign, he taught me the finer points of the art of cutting turf, gave me my first opportunity to write a mail piece, and narrowly averted a fistfight with a jackass campaign manager who was verbally abusing our volunteers.
Since then we worked together closely on a number of projects and Chris always threw work my way when he could. More importantly to me, he made the effort to make sure we got together at least once a month for a meal or coffee just to catch up and shoot the breeze about politics. I don’t think I realized how much those gab sessions meant to me until they were gone. After more than a year of struggle, Chris finally succumbed to cancer yesterday. He taught me so much, from the practical (“get to the ask as quickly as possible”) to the more philosophical (“there’s no one you can’t beat if you can out organize them”), but I think the most important thing he taught me is this:
Politicians will let you down and the petty personal bullshit will drive you crazy, and absolutely none of that matters compared to the importance of the work we do. Politics affects real people’s lives and you have to look beyond individual cycles, candidates, and personal vendettas at the broader agenda you are trying to enact.In victory and defeat Chris always provided that long angle view. I can’t express how much I miss you already, but the work goes on my friend.