Inauguration diaries: James Meincke


James Meincke, 18, of Hudson, Wisconsin was all set to go to college at the University of Wisconsin last September until he met the Barack Obama campaign. This week, however, he moved into the dorms in Madison where the new semester starts next week, but he’ll have to skip class. He’s going to the inauguration.

Meincke, a 2008 graduate of Hudson High, started working as a volunteer in the Obama campaign in Eau Claire last summer, but just before he was to head back home when things were wrapping up, the campaign offered him a job as a field organizer in a Republican-leaning area of Wisconsin.

It’s a grueling job of long hours and low pay. But it’s nowhere near as hard as telling your mom and dad you’re not going to college, at least not right away.

“My mom kind of thought, ‘Oh this sounds like a great experience,’ and my dad, he started naming off all the negative consequences: ‘You’re going to have to buy a car now,’ ‘You’re not going to get the classes you want when you go back to school,’ ‘You’re going to be behind everybody.’ I made a list of all the pros and cons and I figured (missing) one semester isn’t going to be too bad,” he says.

The Obama campaign sent him to two counties north of Green Bay. “It’s all about voter contact. We’re the people talking to volunteers and training volunteers. Anyone who would volunteer would come through us,” he says. “It’s a lot less glamorous than the name field organizer suggests. We’d work about 100 hours a week and there were times I thought, ‘Oh man, what did I get myself into?'”

He says he didn’t know until he worked in the field how important volunteers can be. His two counties voted Obama by 8 points each.

Now comes Meincke’s reward. A ticket to the inauguration next week.

“I was a little hesitant about going because I started college late and everyone had been there for awhile, and then we got information that we received tickets to the inauguration and the inaugural ball and now I think it’ll be a fun time. But I was worried about missing two days of school,” he said.

This time the roles have been reversed. James was hesitant to go; his parents not only wanted him to go, they wished they could go, too.

He’s staying with a friend at Georgetown University who he met in Green Bay. He’s going to the Youth Inaugural Ball on Tuesday after inauguration. Then there’s a “staff ball” for all the Obama workers, where he hopes to meet the new president.

He’ll send us pictures.

  • Minn whaler

    Gosh, What’s the matter with kids these days??

    What a great story. Wish you could find at least one a day to help all of us hold onto the hope that better days really are ahead!

  • Bonnie

    This is really inspiring…my kid and lots others have foregone getting on the treadmill to really seek and learn about their culture, their country, themselves, the world. And ultimately that will be what saves us. We should encourage more of the “gap year” or whatever it is called.

  • David

    James is one of my good friends and is taking me along to the inauguration. SOOO… I want to know why I didn’t get a story. I am going too. Oh right, cause I didn’t do the work, I’m just tagging along. Congrats James on all your hard work and now some well deserved recognition too. I can’t wait to see you in DC tomorrow.