By George Biagi
You may have noticed that Pete Buttigieg, the first major openly gay candidate for president of the United States, is having quite the autumn. The recent Monmouth Poll (rated an A+ polling firm by fivethirtyeight.com) showed Buttigieg as the No. 1 choice among Iowa caucus-goers with 22%, a surge of 14 points since its last poll in August, and the first time he’s been in first in any state poll. This coincided with the Pete 2020 campaign opening more than 20 campaign offices throughout the state, and the birth of the grassroots Buttigieg Barnstormer movement, which brought over 1,200 self-funded grassroots volunteers from all 49 states outside of Iowa to Des Moines for the big Iowa State Democratic Party Liberty and Justice Dinner (LJD) held in the Wells Fargo Arena on Nov. 1. An additional 1,200 volunteers from Iowa also descended upon the state capital for the weekend to help blanket the city in a sea of blue and gold (the official campaign colors, and, not coincidentally, the colors of Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, the city in which Buttigieg serves as mayor).
I was one of five San Diego County — and 160 from California(!) — Barnstormers, for Pete grassroots volunteers who traveled to Des Moines to essentially be everywhere and do everything for Pete that weekend, to create a show of force for his positive, inspiring, and unifying campaign. While the primary focus of the journey was for Team Pete to make a huge splash at the LJD, which drew an estimated 13,000 attendees (one-quarter of which appeared to be Pete supporters), the entire 16-hour day was filled with empowering and energizing volunteer events which created a lifelong bond among the Pete faithful. Whether it was meeting with the California posse in the morning; standing in the rain for three hours holding Pete signs doing visibility; hearing Pete speak at a rally in the park in front of 3,000 Iowa supporters and Barnstormers; marching behind him and his husband Chasten through the streets of Des Moines up to the Wells Fargo Arena; or tearing the roof off the arena (with our uber-cool illuminated wristbands that flashed in unison) during Pete’s address to the LJD crowd — that Friday in Des Moines was one of the 10 greatest, most memorable days in my life.
When people ask me what I see in Pete, or why I was first drawn to him, I tend to fall back on two words: inspiring and relatable. After living through the past three traumatic years, I have been yearning for inspiration and the need to feel good about my country and my president again. When you hear Pete speak, he lifts you up. He’s articulate, thoughtful, kind, insightful, compassionate, and relatable. He has this ability to speak to you in a way that makes you see how we can find a way out of this darkness together, in a practical way that can unite this divided and rancorous nation. That’s why I’ve decided to put so much energy into this grassroots effort, and why I, and the rest of our merry band of San Diego Barnstormers, opted to take time off from work and pay our own ways to be in Des Moines to do whatever we could to give Pete a boost in Iowa.
I’d like to share with you some insight into what prompted my fellow Barnstormers to go to Iowa, and what first attracted them to Pete.
Ramona resident Andrea “Andi” McNew, the founder of San Diego County for Pete, is passionate about Buttigieg.
“The first time I heard Pete was in March on a podcast, and I instantly knew he was my candidate. I’ve never been this inspired by anyone before, certainly not enough to travel to Iowa in November,” Andi said. “Presidential politics in Iowa is totally unique, and I knew there would be no better way to experience it than to go to the Liberty and Justice Celebration as a grassroots supporter of Pete. Iowa voters are informed and engaged, and after seeing it first-hand, I’m motivated to work hard to bring that same energy here to San Diego.”
Marilyn Tawatao, a mechanical engineer, second-generation Filipino, and volunteer organizer for our San Diego County for Pete grassroots group, was drawn to Pete for intensely personal reasons.
“I know what it feels like to be alone, to be different. Coming from a family of immigrants, Pete’s message of unity and inclusivity resonates with me,” Tawatao said. “Aside from voting, I’ve never done anything political, but I took time off from work and went on my own dime to Iowa because I want to know that I did everything I could to help give America the president that we need, the president that will unite everyone.”
Marilyn’s good friend, Gina Opinaldo, a teacher from Orange County, traveled with us to Iowa. She’s still undecided, but for now has narrowed it down to Buttigieg and Andrew Yang. Gina was blown away by the sheer number of Pete supporters who seemed to overrun Des Moines.
“Pretty much anywhere you went in town, Buttigieg Barnstormers in blue and gold seemed to be everywhere. In hotels, restaurants, on the street, and especially inside the Wells Fargo Arena during the Liberty and Justice Dinner,” Opinaldo said. “I saw how being an active part of our democratic process can influence people to think more responsibly about how they will vote.”
“With us were people from so many different backgrounds, but we were all united to help Pete get elected. If he can inspire over 1,200 people from across the country to travel to Iowa on their own dime, many who have never been politically active before, imagine what Pete can do for our country,” Tawatao continued.
Kate De Jong, an organizational development consultant from Bankers Hill, is also a volunteer organizer for our grassroots group who trekked to Iowa. Like many others, she first noticed Pete on television.
“I started gravitating toward Pete Buttigieg last spring, around the time he attended the Fox News Town Hall and handled the questions about women’s reproductive rights so well. He didn’t let Chris Wallace advance incorrect data and biased questioning, and instead answered in-depth his reasoning for a woman’s right to be in charge of her body,” De Jong noted. “But my support for Pete as the nominee solidified during a summer vacation when my husband and I visited (rather conservative) relatives in Michigan. We typically don’t talk about politics with family since we have differing opinions on policies; however, two of my in-laws brought up Pete as someone they admired for his values and his desire to include, not divide.”
Robert Hansen, a 47-year-old gay man from Granite Hills and a Buttigieg Barnstormer who also made the journey to Iowa, was rather frank in relating what attracted him most to Pete’s campaign: “His policies, of course. But most importantly, he can get the job done and make it cool to be nice again.”
The Pete 2020 campaign has allocated most of its staff to the early caucus and primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, leaving, for now, Super Tuesday (March 3) primary states like California to rely heavily on grassroots volunteer recruiting and organizing. As Pete continues to rise in the polls, more and more people want to get involved, but they don’t always know where to go or what they can help with. That’s where our group — San Diego County for Pete — comes into play.
We host a series of weekly volunteer-training workshops (on Thursday nights from 6:30-7:30 p.m. upstairs at Lestat’s at 1041 University Ave., and on Saturdays at rotating locations), organize house meetings, conduct visibility at farmers markets and other community events (look for us at December Nights — we could really use your help!), conduct phone banks, and in the new year, we will be canvassing door to door.
I serve on the local San Diego County for Pete steering committee and am helping spearhead our grassroots volunteer recruitment. If you would like to volunteer, simply sign up at sandiegoforpete.com and I or one of my fellow teammates will follow up with you.
This is an exciting, uplifting, and energizing campaign with a talented candidate inspiring us into action. It’s also a watershed moment for the LGBTQ community. If only Harvey Milk were alive to witness just how far we’ve come in a relatively short amount of time.
—George Biagi was the editor of the San Diego Gay & Lesbian Times from 1991-94. He has worked for the city of San Diego since 1995, serving 10 years as communications director for then-3rd District City Councilmembers Christine Kehoe and Toni Atkins, two years as deputy press secretary to former Mayor Jerry Sanders, and for the past 11 years as the deputy director of legislative services in the Office of the City Clerk.