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In my first book as a political activist and photographer, I am covering the last 100 days of elections, nation-wide.
In my first book as a political activist and photographer, I am covering the last 100 days of elections, nation-wide.
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How I Tried (and failed) to Find Young Americans for Romney

Thanks to the sponsorship-in-kind of family and friends, I have been able to pull up stakes, leave Manhattan, and look for social politics outside of my native region, and our collective comfort zone.

I lay my head within striking distance of a half dozen of the most electorally decisive counties east of the Mississippi.  Today, I woke up in central Virginia with a simple mission: I was going to use the same casual social media techniques by which I fell down the rabbit hole of NY Democratic organizing to try and catch up with Romney youth organizing in these presidential battlegrounds.  The theory goes... even if their philosophy and policy emphasis are dramatically different, their attitude and style as American youth organizers should be similar enough that I could fit right in, tell them (truthfully) that I appear before them as a sort of political folklorist, trying to find stories on why people get involved with activism and politics, regardless of stripe.  My assumption was that Young Republicans had no intrinsic reason to be less welcoming than Young Democrats, and that it would be no more difficult to find them and enter the mix, albeit as kind of a spy.

My first stop was at a "Victory Rally" featuring Rep. Paul Ryan, in Bristol, Virginia.  I found out about the rally by going onto the Romney campaign website.  I RSVP'd and received a ticket.  However, when I arrived within 45 minutes of the scheduled start of the rally (pro tip: all political events reach peak crowd 45-70 minutes after the "start" time and this is when VIP's hit stages, typically), the local police had already sealed off the road.  I circled around and tried to come at the site from three different directions, but alas, some kind of security dictate kept me, a ticketed attendee, from entering.

I actually pulled over and took a phone call about possibly having access this weekend to a rather highly placed individual in the Administration, within sight of the cops who kept me from Rep. Ryan's Victory Rally.

So I pressed on to Wake Forest U., in Winston-Salem, NC.  At WFU, Senator Burr (R-NC) was supposedly attending a tailgate being hosted by the Young Americans for Romney (YAR).  The Romney website and all forms of social media identified only the general office address of the whole campus in connection with this event.  The campus office closed before my very eyes, before anyone available could furnish me with precise coordinates of the tailgate.  I was pretty excited to meet and photograph another US Senator, and so I parked my car in a lot where you probably needed to pay for a parking sticker, and took a stroll around campus.

Nice campus.

My parents raised children who don't embarrass, and it's fair to say that today I experienced some for the first time in ages because there I was, in my thirties, stumbling around a college campus asking hapless students to show me to the Young Americans for Romney.  Even though my intentions were in their way totally sincere, this was not the precise situation I had mentally prepared for.  I was unable to ascertain the whereabouts of this organization, or its event.  They had not posted up fliers.  The details were not on the YAR Facebook page either. And I reached the point where getting back to my car before a campus cop busted me, and finishing my circuit back to Charlottesville, VA before it got too late became the issue.

Ultimately, I do not have very many days to devote to finding Republican organizers, and while I do not want my book to be about *partisan* politics, but rather *social* politics, this was important to me.  These folks do not really hang in NYC, and so I made a point of pulling this trip together.  However, I can tell you from personal experience going on safari in the Serengeti Valley in Kenya, you have to spend a LOT of late nights at a watering hole before you see a rhino.  Or in this case, an elephant.

I am unclear on my itinerary for the next three days, it may or may not include more Virginia, a third stab at finding YAR and the Young Republicans in PA on my way back north, and a tour through New Hampshire, as originally planned.  I am booking whatever I can, and while I am happy with how today turned out (in that I did take a photo I am 95% likely to put in the book), I am hoping that even if I continue to attempt the mission of socially integrating with Republican organizers, I will not spend any more of these crucial last days missing opportunities to cover events I definitely CAN get into, or at least find. :)

 - Jon

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