The Root's Talented Ten: Addisu Demissie
National Political Director, Organizing for America
Addisu Demissie has logged thousands of hours working for the Democratic Party--first for Senator Hillary Clinton and then Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. Now, this self-described "political junkie" is taking the lead in translating Obama's massive grassroots organization into a force for progressive change.
Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.
Campaign Positions: Deputy Field Director, State Director (Hillary for President); Get Out the Vote Director—Ohio (Obama For America)
Campaign Turf: Iowa, Nevada, Connecticut, Indiana (Hillary for President) Ohio (Obama for America)
New Washington Gig: National Political Director at Organizing for America
Addisu Demissie has a thing for playing hooky: The Root profiled the Canadian-born, self-described political junkie when he and friend Jason Green (also on this list) took leave from their third year at Yale Law School to jump into the presidential campaign. Demissie, a Kerry campaign veteran who was a key aide for Terry McAuliffe during his time as Democratic National Committee chairman, worked for Hillary Clinton through the Indiana primary. Clinton’s razor-thin margin of victory there, he says, was “the least satisfying win ever.” He moved to Washington to work at a public affairs firm after graduation in May 2008, when, “of course, I was dragged right back in” to politics, he says.
He pressed pause on his promising career to serve as Get Out the Vote Director for Obama in Ohio. On Election Day, the highly choreographed turnout effort (he ran a statewide, real-time dry run the week before Nov. 4) all but guaranteed Obama would win the White House.
Demissie, a committed Democrat who helped teach a course called “Blacks and the Law” while at Yale, appreciates the symbolism of young African Americans overseeing thousands of volunteers and staff of all races and backgrounds: “I think too often there’s been a tendency to put young black operatives on the path of doing only black politics,” he notes. “But the young black political leadership have been trained to do a lot more than base vote. … We’re here to help our candidates and our party across the board, with every community.” The 2008 campaign—among all the Democratic candidates, not just Obama—helped to break the mold, he says.
In addition to promoting a more colorblind organizational paradigm, “the Obama campaign made field [organizing] cool,” says Demissie. “Which means there are more young black people now with the credentials to move up.” As the first national political director for Organizing for America, the entity that emerged from the massive grass-roots foundation of the Obama campaign, Demissie knows it had better stay cool. He’ll work with the architects of the successful run to expand the ranks of party activists, young and old. It's no sweat, he says: “When the president of the United States got his start as an organizer, it’s a little easier to recruit.”
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