Florida has always been a political troublemaker. The most prominent example of such was the 2000 Presidential Election, wherein Al Gore lost to George W. Bush by 537 votes in Florida. A prominent Purple State (also known as a Swing State – a state where the vote is often split between Republican and Democrat), Florida has long been one of the most exciting arenas for politics and political debate in America.
So from October to November 2018, I had the opportunity to fly a few thousand miles from Ireland to experience the Mid-Term Elections from Miami, Florida. I travelled alone, but met up with a group organised by Politrip – a political travel group currently in its first year. We had a training day a month or two prior in Belfast – various other training days were held across the UK – but this was the first time we were all meeting.
For the month we worked on Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s Congressional campaign in Florida’s 26th Congressional District, and we also worked on Andrew Gillum’s Gubernational campaign. Experiencing campaigns at two different levels of government was an incredible experience. Seeing the differences and similarities between how each campaign was run, how volunteers and paid canvassers acted, was inspiring. Each campaign office we worked with was so committed to change, so hopeful that America could lift itself from the trudges of Trump, that it inspired hope that anything is possible.
Whilst in Miami, we had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences to meet some astounding politicians. Although we weren’t lucky enough to meet him, we went to see President Barack Obama speak at a Florida Democratic Party GOTV rally a few days before the election. We also got to meet House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, at a rally for democratic candidates in Miami. This whole event was potentially overshadowed by a raging Republican protest outside the building, an event that made national news and even received condemnation from Republicans.
Most inspiring of all, however, was the opportunity we had to meet Senator Kamala Harris (pictured above), a politican hotly tipped to announce a 2020 Presidential candidacy. We met Senator Harris during a GOTV rally at Andrew Gillum’s Miami Gardens office, where office organiser Darnell introduced us as “the Irish kids.”
Experiencing American politics through acting and interacting within it and with those involved in it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It provided not only an amazing opportunity to live in a beautiful part of the country for a month, but showed grassroots political determination in action. Seeing politics work from the ground up showed how it should function in any democratic society; a series of debates, with organised action and continuous campaigning towards one common goal: instating change.
For a citizen of Northern Ireland, experiencing such political work in action was inspiring. It showed how things can be done, and led to questions of why does this not happen at home? Why is political action not widespread, and ultimately motivated to be better than we have been before?
Such widespread grassroots action in Northern Ireland is what we need for this country to progress, so it was incredible to see it working in action; and led to hopes of such change happening for us as well.