The Accidental Campaign Activist

The Accidental Campaign Activist

Potomac resident takes a local role in Kerry campaign.

Naomi Bloch didn’t want any of this. The Potomac resident and political novice went to a meet-up for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) last fall in Bethesda, and has become one of the lead organizers for his campaign in Montgomery County.

Bloch said about 30 people came to that first meet-up, back when Howard Dean was the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. After the first few meetings, attendance dropped off dramatically. “Sometimes there were just four or five of us,” she said.

Attendees were turned off by a lack of activity from the group. “They would say, ‘what do we do, we just come here and commiserate?’” Bloch said

“It was like a self-help group for Kerry supporters,” said Debbie Coburn of North Bethesda, another of the early meet-uppers.

Bloch and Coburn, as two of the most regular attendees, fell into leadership roles. “Debbie and I just fell into sort of a natural team effort,” Bloch said.

At first, the Kerry campaign would send people out to the meet-ups to get the names of the people who were there, but the attendees didn’t think to keep track of each other. Then they realized that they should have their own contacts. “It was Debbie who decided to keep the list,” Bloch said. “We’re all scrambling because nobody’s ever done this before.”

“I feel like sort of a reluctant political organizer,” Coburn said.

The small group continued to meet, and their numbers continued to dwindle throughout the winter months. But once the primary season started, and Kerry won the Iowa caucuses, people started coming back to the meet-ups. “After Iowa, we had 50 people,” Bloch said.

As Kerry’s primary wins continued to mount, the group grew larger and became more important to the campaign. “We were the only active, grassroots organization in the county for Kerry,” Bloch said. “I feel like we stepped into a vacuum.”

The pair had very limited political experience to this point, Coburn had stuffed envelopes and Bloch worked briefly on Mark Shriver’s unsuccessful campaign for congress.

In spite of her relative inexperience, Bloch is being described by some as a political natural.

“She understands it [the political process] very well,” said Ike Leggett, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. “She is very committed to the campaign and the candidate.”

Bloch finds her inexperience to be commonplace during this election. “I’m very representative of what’s going on this year,” Bloch said. “I hear it all the time, ‘I’ve never done this before.’”

No one in their initial group had done anything before, either. They all just kept coming together because they felt like they could do something. “What I found is it gives a channel for your extreme fear and frustration,” she said. “We probably have about 500 people in our particular database.”

Through the network, she found that some members were connected to other people who were connected to other people, and she and her group started getting some recognition. “It turned out that there are some people who are fairly connected,” Bloch said. ‘It was like this finger in the dyke and then it exploded.”

Currently, Bloch’s role is unofficial, until the Democratic Convention this summer, which Bloch will attend as a delegate; Kerry is not the party’s official candidate. So Bloch is keeping things going until then. “We’re organizing a grassroots organization that they can plug right into,” she said.

Bloch and Coburn had expected a lull in campaign activities between the end of the primary and the convention when the general election really heats up, but that has not materialized. “I’m telling you, there’s no break,” Coburn said.

“People who have been doing this for years tell us they’ve never seen this before,” Bloch said of the continued pressure to campaign. “Where we’re at is I’m calling every activist I’ve gotten a lead on.”

Bloch is now vice-chair of her precinct, a position which lasts four years. She rejects the popular notion that politics is boring and useless. “I would suspect that the people who are cynical about politics haven’t tried it,” she said. “Politics is really fun because it’s about something. … The vast majority of the people are awesome. If you want your faith in human beings repaired, get into something like this.”

Bloch is also finding that it is important to remain engaged. “We must become involved. Stay involved and not just come out and vote every four years,” she said.

After the November elections, the two women have very different plans. “I’m going to go back to stuffing envelopes,” Coburn said. “I never meant to be the lead of an organization.”

Bloch, however is considering a run for office. “I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility.”