by Sandra Gionas Wednesday November 7, 2012

Former Ontario Liberal MPP (Hamilton Mountain) and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Marie Bountrogianni first met Barack Obama's campaign advisor David Axelrod when Axelrod came to Ontario in 2003 to work on the McGuinty Liberals' ultimately successful campaign. Bountrogianni returned the favour by heading to Chicago this past week to help Axelrod and the Democratic Party campaign during its final days. She writers about her experience below.

I remember watching the Obama victory four years ago with my children in Toronto. We were cheering, hugging, and crying — lots of crying. Our reaction was similar to so many millions of others around the world, and when I reflected on this as a psychologist, I asked myself, "why?"

Why this outpouring of celebration? I realized it was due, in part, to relief. Relief, because the United States matters. Relief, because the previous eight years were tense and frustrating for peaceful and progressive-minded people worldwide. We craved change. We were desperate for it.

My decision to volunteer for the president's re-election was due in part to the fact that my family has a home in the U.S. We also have many relatives and good friends south of the border, and my volunteer and professional work takes me there frequently. The decision to campaign for Obama was ultimately decided because of the horror I felt when listening to the tone and content of the Republican primary debates. The leadership and path taken by the president of the United States matters to Canadians and to people all over the world. As President Obama often says, “We can't go back now.”

And the experience was amazing. It was the most organized campaign I have ever been a part of. Lists were updated minute-by-minute. The technology and fundraising was nothing like I'd ever seen in Canada. The volunteers I met were passionate, energetic, and from all walks of life. It was truly humbling to be a part of. I was based in Chicago, hosted by friends who support gay marriage and Obama’s position on it.

U.S. President Barack Obama hugs his campaign manager, Jim Messina, during a stop at his campaign headquarters in Chicago, the day after his re-election victory. 

I spent last Thursday and Friday at Obama's Chicago headquarters, making calls to voters in Iowa. On Saturday, I took a four-hour bus ride to Iowa with some 200 other volunteers to spend the day knocking on doors asking for voter support. On Monday, I drove to Michigan for an overnight stay at the country home of David and Susan Axelrod, in preparation for the final vote push on Tuesday.

But what struck me more than the organization and size of the campaign was the drive — the collegiality among volunteers and the hospitality shown to non-Americans like myself was humbling. I met young people from all over the world and even a French parliamentarian! The appreciation for our efforts was palpable.

Americans, for the most part, felt universally despised before Barack Obama. They didn't want to lose the hard-earned respect fostered by the president on the international stage. I also had numerous conversations with women who were infuriated by the "rape" comments made by Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate. I met parents of children with disabilities, seniors, university students, professors, business owners, teachers ...

Upon arriving at the Axelrods' home, I met their friend, Karen. "You are a Canadian,” she said. “It is an honour to meet you. My wife and I were married in Vancouver. What a wonderful country!"

I felt proud. Proud to be Canadian. Proud to be among passionate, committed Americans who want their country to continue to embrace diversity, human rights, and opportunity for all. It was a great synergy — a metaphor for the relationship between our two countries.

The celebration and the president’s acceptance speech in Chicago last night were historic. Bravo to the American electorate for re-electing such an elegant man. It is an experience I will never forget. It was an honour.

Image credits: Photo of Marie Bountrogianni courtesy Ryerson University; image of President Obama courtesy the White House (photographer: Pete Sousa).