Volunteering pays off
Activists put personal plans on hold to campaign for Obama
Steamboat Springs — Few people in Routt County slept better Tuesday night than Dylan Roberts.
While other supporters of President-elect Barack Obama may have been too keyed up to sleep soundly, Roberts was more overcome with contentment than anything else.
“It’s a good day,” Roberts sighed Wednesday afternoon, noticeably more relaxed than he was the previous morning, on Election Day. “I woke up in the morning with the snow on the ground, realizing it’s a new day – a new country really.”
The Lowell Whiteman School graduate and Boston College sophomore took a semester off and returned home this fall to run President-elect Barack Obama’s “Campaign for Change” office in Steamboat Springs. Since Aug. 8, that has meant 14-hour days coordinating a small staff and a large army of volunteers. The field organizer estimated 500 different people volunteered for the Northwest Colorado arm of the Obama campaign this fall.
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The office was dismantled Wednesday, and, for Roberts, the madness of the past three months will be replaced by relative calm as he awaits his return to school in January. Local Democrat Lynn Abbott helped with the cleanup and attributed much of the party’s success in Routt County this year to Roberts and the presence – for the first time in Steamboat Springs – of an official presidential campaign office.
“This was an extraordinary year,” Abbott said. “And a lot of it was having these kids here.”
Roberts hasn’t declared a major yet at Boston College, but his emphasis has been on environmental studies and – what else – political science. He enjoys school and is anxious to return. He said the decision to take time off was difficult.
“Definitely, at first, it was a hard decision,” Roberts said. “It was tough to decide because I was excited to go back to school. But I couldn’t picture going back to school, watching CNN and not doing anything. I kind of realized it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and school will always be there when I get back.
“I’m not sure where this leads me,” he continued. “I’ll go back to school in January and go from there. The experience was amazing and opened up a lot of doors for me.”
Roberts’ road to political junkie status began with the 2000 presidential campaign, when he didn’t have many opinions of his own but became fascinated with the process. In 2004, too young to vote, he volunteered for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry by walking door-to-door in Steamboat Springs. In the aftermath of Kerry’s loss, like much of the nation, he became enthralled with Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s protracted battle for the Democratic nomination.
Obama also inspired Steamboat native Topher Simon to come home this fall. Simon was the deputy field organizer at the campaign office. While Roberts has been a political observer for years, Simon is a newcomer.
“I was never really interested in politics before Obama,” he said.
Simon, a Steamboat Springs High School graduate, returned home from France, where he lived for three years. He now plans to enter a master’s program in the U.S.
Comparing his experience with the Kerry campaign in 2004 with his work this year, Roberts said the transformation he saw in Routt County voters was like night and day.
“It certainly wasn’t the operation we had this year,” he said about 2004. “This year, it was a lot more exciting. Colorado for Kerry was not a big movement.
“It seemed like there were way more Democrats, and people were way more willing to say they were a Democrat,” Roberts continued. “That’s what’s really cool about the Obama campaign. We’re bringing so many more people into the process than ever before.”
One of Roberts’ favorite stories from the past three months is about a woman volunteer who returned to his office in tears. She had just convinced three undecided voters to vote for Obama, largely because she was the only one who had taken the time to talk with them and share her convictions.
“Feeling like a part of that story by giving her the opportunity was amazing,” Roberts said. “I think that’s why we won (Tuesday) night, because these little stories happened all over the country.”
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