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ND grad working for Obama

Jenn Metz | Tuesday, January 20, 2009

WASHINGTON – Sitting in his new Washington, D.C. apartment on the eve of Inauguration Day, Notre Dame alum Shawn Finlen relaxed with friends.

Working first on president-elect Barack Obama’s campaign in the fall and the Presidential Inauguration Committee for the past two weeks, he has clocked hundreds of busy hours, managing volunteers and organizing events.

“Day-to-day is grueling, working 16-hour days,” he said. “It’s amazing to be part of not just another political campaign – we thought of it as more of a movement.”

Finlen, class of ’08, majored in Political Science at Notre Dame, and joined the Obama team last September.

An Illinois native, Finlen first met Obama in 2004 while working for a House of Representatives campaign and had the opportunity to meet him several more times over the past few months, including Monday, the National Day of Service.

Finlen worked at an event at a D.C. high school, making blankets for Walter Reed Army Medical Center and writing inspiring messages to send to the troops overseas.

Obama and his wife Michelle were among the 300 volunteers in attendance, comprised of members of volunteer organizations, members of the military, and teachers and students from the high school.

Finlen said the Obamas were very social with the other volunteers and stayed for about an hour. Vice president-elect Joe Biden participated as well, and brought doughnuts for the organizers.

After being stationed as a field organizer for two months in rural Missouri, Finlen has some interesting stories about Obama supporters and the campaign, including the strange sight of an Obama/Biden billboard truck rambling down two-lane country roads a few days before the election.

“We were sitting in the office, about three days before the election and this truck pulls up in front of the office, and we’re located about 45 minutes away from a major interstate, there are all these back-country roads. The truck is about 12 by 20 [feet] or something, just driving around Missouri,” he said.

The driver, they found out, was not just a very enthusiastic supporter not discouraged by the high gas prices at the end of the summer, but someone hired by the campaign, Finlen said.

A local politician “thought it was amazing,” Finlen said and made him drive around for two more days, bringing his billboard that read “Vote Nov. 4” with pictures of Obama and Biden to about eight more towns in the area.

After seeing thousands of people flock to D.C. to witness the historic inauguration, Finlen said the Obama movement was successful because it was able “to gain so much support, especially from the youth, and so many people who were feeling disenfranchised.”

“I think his campaign really opened up our political system … so many people came out to vote, we recruited millions of first-time voters,” Finlen said.

After the Inauguration – the realization of hundreds of campaign employees’ and volunteers’ months of hard work – Finlen plans to get a job in D.C. He’s currently looking at jobs on Capitol Hill and seeing what the Obama administration has available.

“I’m definitely going to stay engaged in politics,” he said.