Graduate student publishes new book on Obama

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March 24, 2009

5:28 AM

Many students at the College of William and Mary study history, bust last November, one student lived it.

Graduate student Alan Kennedy-Shaffer J.D. ’09 spent several months last semester working to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States. Kennedy-Shaffer went door-to-door to talk to voters, coordinated volunteers and even ran a campaign office. His book, “The Obama Revolution,” published earlier this month, shares his firsthand experiences as a campaign insider on the history-making campaign.

Kennedy-Shaffer already had extensive experience in politics before he began his work for the Obama campaign. In the past, he registered voters in his hometown of Harrisburg, Pa. having volunteered for Howard Dean’s campaign in New Hampshire in 2004, and served as a minor Democratic Party official in his precinct. Neighborhood kids would follow him as he went from house to house, some asking for their own Obama sticker, others wanting to helping him register their family members to vote.

“It was a great experience to get out into the community and register people to vote because they were so excited to be voting for Barack Obama,” Kennedy-Shaffer said.

In July 2008, Kennedy-Shaffer was hired as the Democratic Party’s regional field director for the Tidewater region of Virginia, which encompasses the 11 counties north of the York River.

He worked out of Gloucester County and established an internship program where several students from the College worked to energize the local community, recruiting and organizing volunteers. Volunteers made thousands of phone calls, canvassed everyday and, as it grew closer to Election Day, ran several ‘Get Out the Vote’ events in the region.

“It was fairly historic for us to go into an extremely Republican, rural area to talk about the candidate who would become the first black president, which created a lot of interesting conversations,” he explained.

Volunteers made thousands of phone calls, canvassed everyday and, as it grew closer to Election Day, ran several ‘Get Out the Vote’ events in the region.

“It was fairly historic for us to go into an extremely Republican, rural area to talk about the candidate who would become the first black president, which created a lot of interesting conversations,” he explained.

Kennedy-Shaffer spoke with a man in Matthews County who had Confederate flags on his truck and who was roasting a pig on his front yard.

Unexpectedly, the man said that he had finally had enough of President Bush’s administration and stuck Obama, Warner and Day signs on his lawn.

“To me, that was representative of the fundamental shift in the electorate… the fundamental move toward change,” Kennedy-Shaffer said. “This campaign was about moving from general hopefulness into actually translating it into change.”

Around mid-October, he left his position to take a job as political director for Democratic Congressional condidate Bill Day.

He remained in that position for the rest of the election season.

When asked to describe the time he spent on the campaign, Kennedy-Shaffer summed it up with one word: “Amazing.”

“Working the campaign was stressful, fatiguing, perpetually frustrating and, in spite of it all, was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. “This really gave me the opportunity to learn how to run a campaign, and this was by far the most responsibility I have ever had.”

However, Kennedy-Shaffer said that balancing his campaign work with his pursuit of dual graduate degrees in law and American studies at the College was difficult.

“I really didn’t get to show up at the Law School in the fall,” Kennedy-Shaffer said. “Fortunately, I had a couple sympathetic professors whose spouses actually volunteered on the campaign, so I was able to get some extensions and leniency on attendance.”

His book, “The Obama Revolution,” written between Election Day and Christmas, is the first book written by an Obama campaign staffer to be published, and contains Kennedy-Shaffer’s insight and observations of the Obama campaign’s success.

The book also holds ten of Obama’s speeches from the campaign trail and examines how rhetoric affected the new president’s success.

“The speeches on the campaign trail were uplifting and motivating,” Kennedy-Shaffer said. “There was just so much raw excitement and hope that came across at every rally. The energy was not only in the speech, but also in all these people who came together.”

Although the book is generally positive regarding the campaign, there is some critique of organizational aspects.

“With any major bureaucracy, there were territorial fights, overlapping jurisdiction and internal controversies regarding who was supposed to be doing what,” he said. “And that’s what I think we can work on for next time.”

Additionally, Kennedy-Shaffer spends a portion of the book discussing policy. He supports a “green” plan that would create sustainable jobs to boost the economy.

The plan would also include government creation of short-term jobs, similar to those offered by Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.

Policy aside, according to him, the most important challenge currently facing the “Obama revolution,” and the Democratic Party is continuing the momentum created during the campaign.

“The important thing is helping everyone understand that this is something that they get involved in for two months during the election year and then forget about. We really need to commit to acting in the best interest of the country,” he said.

Kennedy-Shaffer said that he wrote this book in order to emphasize the importance of community.

“This is not just about a single man—that is not how change is going to come,” he said. “This is about millions of people getting involved. That’s what the campaign was about, and that’s what needs to happen if we want to continue this change.”

Kennedy-Shaffer will be signing books at the College bookstore on April 4th and 18th from 10 a.m. to noon.

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