Michael Warner, a Street Sense Media vendor since late 2014, is well on his way to pursuing a new career: campaign field directing. Michael recently began his second session of DCCC-U, a program at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for aspiring campaign professionals.
In May, Michael participated in the general course for all campaign positions and on Sept.18, he began participating in a more focused course aimed at future field directors.
The DCCC makes clear in advertising materials that acceptance to the training program does not guarantee future employment, but the pathway there is clear. “The Fall Fellowship is designed to prepare potential Field Directors to run a Congressional field program in the 2018 cycle,” according to a recruiting email sent in early September.
Michael was ecstatic about his selection for the second program at DCCC-U. One of just 150 selected, he said, he will be among those in the field attempting to win the midterms for the Democratic party. “I can’t believe I made this cut,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief and smiling.
It has been a long journey to this point for Michael. He graduated first from American University and then, in 1998, the legal assistant program at Georgetown University Law Center. But his political experience goes back further. His first political job, on a campaign for a city attorney in Montgomery county, was 25 years ago.
He started in field organizing as National Mall Team Captain during President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008. In that role, he helped manage volunteers to control the flow of people on the Mall.
Moving into more challenging areas, Michael took an organizing job in Wisconsin ahead of the summer 2011 elections to recall state senators. Then, he worked for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, registering voters in Southwest Philadelphia. It seemed he had nowhere to go but up.
But in late 2014, he hit a stumbling block, experiencing housing displacement. That’s when Michael became a vendor for Street Sense Media. Shortly thereafter, while he was selling papers on Wisconsin Avenue, he met Paul Bock, a lobbyist for Holland & Knight who subsequently became Michael’s professional mentor and friend.
Michael used the paper for what it’s for—helping people get back on their feet and find a job, according to Bock. Indeed, homelessness and misfortune could not keep Michael down.
Bock connected Michael with a friend at Planned Parenthood who was looking for organizers. But that on its own was not enough, Bock realized. Looking back at the homelessness trap in which Michael found himself, Bock said, “it’s a little bit of a catch-22.” Many jobs today demand access to expensive technology like phones and computers, but without employment it is nearly impossible to afford those items or even the transport required to get to where they are sold. Fortunately for Michael, Bock realized this and helped him obtain the digital tools he needed.
Helping someone climb out of poverty, Bock theorized, may not be as expensive as we often think if people are really motivated to turn a little assistance into something better. “I feel good about connecting [Michael] to people because he’s a talented guy,” Bock explained. He also described Michael as working “like 90 hours a week” with Planned Parenthood.
Perhaps that’s why Michael’s 2016 job with Planned Parenthood led to one with the New Virginia Majority Education Fund and another with Americans for Transit. At the same time, Michael sought to continue his legal education. He applied, unsuccessfully, to Suffolk University Law School in spring 2016. Despite that setback, he plans to apply next year to the public interest program at Georgetown University Law Center.
Michael has found so much success in organizing, Bock said, because, “He loves people” and is filled with “an infectious sort of positive energy.” Both are immediately apparent in his easy smile and effusive manner.
Now, studying with the best the DCCC has to offer, Michael has the chance to take his success to the next level. His sights are set high. First, he plans to help the Democratic Party retake control of the House of Representatives. Later, he said, once he has his law degree, he will run for office.
Michael has inspired volunteer teams across the country in a variety of campaigns and surmounted obstacles larger than many people will ever face. Throughout all of it, he says, he has been driven by a real passion for public service. Or, as he puts it, “I want to see people having a better life, and whatever sacrifices I make to make that happen, I’ll do it.”