Friday, November 21, 2008

Meet the Obama volunteer from Italy: Andrea Liberati

Andrea Liberati with Shelly Simmons

Andrea Liberati came into focus slowly over several brief meetings until late August, when I was flying from Miami to Denver. Joe Garcia was on the flight too, and as the plane was taxiing to the terminal I was plotting to catch up with him and hear how his congressional candidacy was developing. I glanced across the aisle and linked gaze with this young man whose face was a little familiar … from, as it turned out, a meeting of the Miami Beach Democratic Club, and from registering new citizens as voters after naturalization ceremonies.

We exchanged surprised greetings and got our names straight. Andrea Liberati and I were both in Denver as lightly accredited observers of the Democratic National Convention, I as one of about 10 bloggers from the Florida Progressive Coalition sharing one media credential, and Andrea as an Italian citizen intending to write a book about pitching in on the Barack Obama campaign, and having no credential at all.

My cousin Kim Papka, my host in Denver, picked me up at DIA and graciously let Andrea come along. She dropped us at a Light Rail station where we rode into the center of Denver and plunged into the fringe of the convention, already in its second day.

Andrea is a story to be blogged, I decided. He agreed, and we’ve talked a few times in interview fashion, and he’s supplied some text laying out how he came to be a line Obama volunteer in Florida.

Some profile: He’s 31, single, a university graduate. Worked for nine years for the Umbria regional government in central Italy, was assistant to Enrico Melasecche, whom he describes as a “superhonest and passionate politician.” ( Very adept at the Blackberry. Quick to respond to calls and text and email. He’s an unpublished memoir writer.

Here’s how he came to be an Obama supporter:

· Starting with a lean toward Rudy Giuliani, back in 2007. Yes, because of Rudy’s half-Italian ancestry. “My reasoning was small -- ‘This man could help the interest of Italy, too’ -- without considering the real problems of ordinary people here in America. It was egotistical, nationalistic reasoning.”

· Watching the campaign through the lens of Italian TV and newspapers, he became impressed with Obama, while Hillary Clinton was “too much silent” about the Iraq war. “Obama reminded me of the real problems of America – and American problems are the world’s problems: the war, bad international relationships, the expensive health care system, foreclosures, the price of gas, and the relationship between our need for energy and the environment.”

· “Obama was the unique answer, especially for a European citizen who couldn’t just watch, who couldn’t stand the risk of the sunset of a culture, American culture: It was my own culture, it was me.”

· “I grew up with Walt Disney comics, with the emotions and imagination and tears of such movies as ‘ET,’ ‘Ghost’ and many others, with the songs of Simon and Garfunkel. And at the university I had discovered American law, human rights, freedom and the real meaning of the American dream.”

· “I had to do something.”

· “I had to go to America … I wanted to meet my future, even build it with American people if it was possible … I wanted to give a hand to the Obama campaign, right there in America.”

At the end of June he resigned from his job and a few days later was in Florida, chosen because it is a swing state and difficult for Democrats. “But I am ready – in my region we were opposition.”

Through a lucky encounter with an Obama supporter festooned with campaign buttons, Shelly Simmons, he joined the Miami Beach Democratic Club and – like thousands of others around the country, including a scattering of other visiting foreigners – began volunteering for everything. I kept seeing Andrea at meetings or places where volunteers were pitching in. He also helped the Congressional campaign of Annette Taddeo in FL-18.

“I am learning many, many things, above all about American people, so different and so incredibly welcoming, so far from the stereotypes in European media.”

Some of his notes about the Obama juggernaut in Florida: 160,000 volunteers in the state, 3,000 lawyers working on election day, 350 paid staffers (against 30 in John Kerry’s 2004 campaign), starting from nothing in July when the campaign was launched without a computer or an office for an Italian volunteer to walk into.

From somewhere an image of Sarah Palin leaps to mind, one showing her never having had a passport until recently. How can she think she knows about the world without having looked at it, and I mean close up, not from across a body of water? How much better a citizen of the world is Andrea Liberati, for having had the curiosity to venture out and take part?

He was not alone, and his notes mention South Americans, Asians, Canadians and a dozen Danes who turned up as volunteers. He ventures into speculation that the “more perfect union” enshrined as a goal in the Constitution was created on election day, and that it’s a worldwide property: “It is also ours, in some part; today we are all really American.”

Back in September Andrea wrote to me, “Obama is one of us: his story, his personal story, so simple, difficult and moving, is our story. His dream for another America, better than this, is our dream. This is also my commitment here: to serve America. Paraphrasing the great JFK, We are all Americans, We are all Obamas.”

Now that Obama is elected, Andrea Liberati is returning to Italy soon, to complete his diary/book about his American campaign, feeling that his American dream came true.

Another of his notes: “There will be a before-Obama and an after-Obama, not only at macro levels (for the destiny of the whole planet and for the innovative approach to politics) but also at micro levels: new friendships and love stories born between public initiatives and ringing doorbells, and which tied very different people and volunteers making all people united in a country which is not foreign anymore – and not only for me. Maybe it has never been a foreign country to me.”

1 comment:

Larry Thorson said...

Andrea now tells me he's writing his book on the Blackberry, in its entirety! I may be tempted away from the iPhone.