Hill Climbers: Only in Las Vegas

Posted September 9, 2008 at 4:19pm

Until a few weeks ago, Joseph Bastian had never set foot in Las Vegas. Today, though, the 25-year-old is nearly an old hand at his job as a field organizer for Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) presidential campaign.

[IMGCAP(1)]That’s a long way from his life in Washington, D.C., where Bastian had been working as a legislative correspondent for Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.).

The Jacksonville, Fla., native enjoyed that job, especially knowing that he was working for his hometown Representative.

But a phone call from his brother James, who is serving in the Army in Iraq, changed all that.

When James asked Bastian if Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) had really suggested that American troops could be in Iraq for 100 years, Bastian told him he had.

A disheartened James told his brother, “Me hearing that on the ground, that doesn’t move me to do anything,” Bastian recalled. His brother’s frustration at the prospect inspired Bastian to act.

“Pushing paper is good, but I need to be on the ground talking to people,” he said. “I knew I could do more.”

Bastian submitted his résumé to the Obama campaign, and the Las Vegas field office was the first to return his call. He started working as a field organizer there in the beginning of August.

“I knew that what I believed in was enough to get me out here talking to people,” he said.

And so he does.

His workday starts at about 9 a.m. He checks his e-mail when he gets into work and prepares for a daily 9:30 conference call. By 10, he’s formulating a game plan for his day, organizing voter registration forms and gearing up for a grueling shift in the desert heat.

Bastian works the voter registration beat outside the local department of motor vehicles from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, bearing the heat to champion Obama’s cause. It’s a long day, he says, but he draws inspiration from a fellow volunteer.

He describes May, an 83-year-old grandmother who tirelessly puts in her six hours every day under the desert sun.

“I asked her why she does it, and she said, ‘I have to leave this place a better world for my grandkids,’” Bastian recalled. “If May can be out here and do it, then I have no complaints.”

Of course, Bastian is no stranger to politics and working with the public. After graduating from Florida A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in public management, he left the Sunshine State for the District of Columbia. He began working in Brown’s office in summer 2005, when he was awarded an internship through the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Asked about his plans after Election Day, he said he’s not sure what’s up next.

“I’m just living my life,” he said.

Right now, that life includes coming back to the office around 4 p.m., grabbing a bite to eat and starting the next leg of his workday — calling voters to advocate for Obama and persuade them to join the campaign. He usually leaves work around 10 p.m., with a few hours for sleep before he gets up to repeat the routine the next day.

Bastian knew the hours would be long, he said, and was used to a full workday from his days on the Hill. He doesn’t regret the jump to the campaign, but he jokes that before taking the new job, “my social life was a little better.”

Bastian doesn’t have much time to reflect on those days, though. With the presidential election less than two months away, he’s got work to do.

“Right now,” he said, “I’m just focusing on Nov. 4.”

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