Offers First Look at Iowa Artifacts That Will Be Part of Obama Presidential Center Museum Collection
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ahead of the fifteenth anniversary of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, President Barack Obama held a roundtable discussion with six former campaign organizers to reflect on their work in Iowa and how, 15 years later, they have continued making an impact within their communities.
“I really rode the wave of your work and that ultimately led to a historic election,” said President Obama, who spoke of how seeing campaign organizers and volunteers working so hard up close inspired him to be a better candidate and the role they played in the early victory that put him on a viable path to the presidency.
Organized by the Obama Foundation, the roundtable reunited President Obama with former Iowa organizers Nathan Blake, Ann Dailey, Million Fikre, James Schuelke, Kiana Scott, and Shannon Valley (bios below) who spoke about what drew them to the campaign and how their experience as organizers informed their worldview, setting them on their current career paths in public service and the nonprofit sector.
In addition to their roundtable discussion, President Obama and the participants also previewed artifacts from the Iowa caucuses that will be included in the Obama Presidential Center’s permanent museum collection – items that were collected through the Obama Foundation’s Iowa Community Collections stops in 2019. The discussion served as an opportunity for the Obama Foundation to continue working as a platform where people can inspire each other, learn from each other, and work together to make a difference — a mission first tested by President Obama 15 years ago on his campaign.
“In 2007, I was working at a law firm in Des Moines and was inspired by your campaign. I thought it was an opportunity to be involved in something bigger. So I quit and took about an 85 percent pay cut,” Nathan Blake, who became a field organizer in 2007 and has served for several years as Chief Deputy Attorney General of Iowa, told President Obama. Mostly young and early career professionals, many organizers had their first experience as an active participant in America’s democratic process through their work on the Obama campaign.
“I remember in 2004, you gave your speech…you talked about America being a great country because it’s a place where a skinny kid with a funny name could have a chance to succeed and that deeply resonated,” said Million Fikre, a first-generation Ethiopian-American who worked as a field organizer in northeast Iowa shortly after graduating college, and now serves as a senior strategy and operations officer at the World Bank.” I wanted to test this hypothesis of what it meant to be an American and what it meant to contribute and give back.”
Now, many former campaign organizers are using valuable lessons they learned in Iowa to strengthen their communities in meaningful ways. “The campaign also really challenged my idea of what leadership could look like,” said Shannon Valley, who was a field organizer in Ames, Iowa before working at NASA and later earning a Ph.D. to become a climate scientist. “What was modeled to me from leadership on the campaign was a lot of really smart, dynamic people…giving other people the space to create this shared vision of what our organization could look like.”
“No wonder I was inspired back then by you. You guys are still inspiring,” President Obama told the former Iowa organizers. “… each of you are still reflecting what I think was best about this country and hopefully what our campaign represented.”
“One of the great joys of my experience on the 2008 campaign was the chance to meet so many hard working, selfless young people who were committed to be a part of a movement bigger and more important than themselves, aimed at moving our country in a different direction. That movement began on the ground in Iowa,” said Valerie Jarrett, CEO of the Obama Foundation. “They embodied the core values that were sought in the people who staffed the Obama Administration, and now the Obama Foundation. I’m so proud of all the ways they continue to make a difference in their own communities 15 years later.”
The Obama Foundation’s mission is to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world. That mission begins on the South Side of Chicago, where the Foundation is building the Obama Presidential Center with a world-class museum and public gathering space that celebrates our nation’s first African American President and First Lady. The Center will reinforce lessons about community, citizenship, and democracy the President and former organizers learned in Iowa and will work to foster those values around the world today. The Obama Presidential Center broke ground in September of 2021 and is expected to be completed in 2025.
Video of the discussion can be found here, along with information on the specific artifacts.
Nathan Blake is the Chief Deputy Attorney General of Iowa. He began his legal career in private practice before quitting in 2007 to join Barack Obama’s Iowa Caucus Campaign as a Field Organizer. Nathan later worked on anti-hunger policy at the United States Department of Agriculture in the Obama Administration. Before serving in his current position, he spent six years prosecuting Iowa Consumer Fraud Act cases and four years as the Deputy Attorney General for Policy. A graduate of Union College, Yale Law School, and Yale Divinity School, Nathan lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his wife, Andrea, and their three children.
Capt. Ann Marie Dailey is an engineer officer in the U.S. Army currently working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy. She was born and raised in Moline, IL and has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She joined Obama for America in August, 2007 as a full-time unpaid intern in Davenport, IA, and went on to organize in several states through the 2008 general election. She enlisted in the Army in 2016, and was commissioned in 2017. The views expressed are those of the individual and do not reflect the official position of the Department of the Army or Department of Defense.
Million Fikre is a first-generation Ethiopian-American, born in Addis Ababa and raised in northern Virginia, where his parents relocated as asylum-seekers shortly after his first birthday. Drawn by his parents’ stories to study international politics, Million joined the Obama presidential campaign as a field organizer in rural northeast Iowa and worked in several states through the 2008 election. Following President Obama’s victory, Million returned to Ethiopia to support community-based organizations, before joining the Obama Administration in 2009 as a political appointee at the U.S. Treasury. Since 2013, Million has worked in the field of international development at the World Bank. He holds a Master in International Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in Integrative Studies from George Mason University. Million is the proud father of two wonderful daughters: Leyu, age 12, and Samra, age 11.
James Schuelke is a proud community college alum and currently serves as Director of Outreach & Marketing at Oxnard College in his hometown of Oxnard, California. After attending Camp Obama in 2007—a volunteer training hosted in Chicago—James temporarily dropped out of UC Davis to move to Iowa for the Obama Campaign, where he was soon hired as a Field Organizer in Allamakee County. He went on to lead various field and communications efforts for the campaign in an additional five states. Following President Obama’s election in 2008, James served in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. He later attended graduate school at Brown University before joining an educational nonprofit led by Dr. Jill Biden. James and his wife Taruna live in Ventura County, California, with their daughter Asha (which means “Hope” in Hindi).
Kiana Scott is a strategic communications expert and nonprofit leader with more than a decade of experience working at the intersection of politics, policy, and civic engagement. She is currently Interim Co-Executive Director and Director of Development for a workforce development nonprofit, and previously helped launch a national organization focused on economic stability. She led external relationships for the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Washington, and while a doctoral student was appointed the student member of the UW Board of Regents by Governor Jay Inslee. She earned her Ph.D. and MA in political communication and her MPA from UW. Prior to graduate school, Kiana worked on political campaigns at all levels of government. She joined President Obama’s campaign in Iowa in June 2007, where she organized Washington and Louisa counties, and organized in a total of ten states prior to the 2008 election. Kiana graduated from Williams College with degrees in art history and history with honors. Kiana is a Vice President, Program Committee Chair, and former Leadership Fellow of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Vice President of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, a board member for the Institute for a Democratic Future, and an elected Precinct Committee Officer. Kiana grew up on San Juan Island and spends as much time as possible on the water with her dog and partner.
Dr. Shannon Valley is a climate scientist working at the intersections of science and society. After graduating high school in Houston and college from Northwestern, she moved to Iowa to volunteer for the Obama campaign in summer 2007. She spent time working as a sandwich maker at a local Subway in order to volunteer full time for the Obama campaign, before being hired as an organizer and being placed in Ames, Iowa. She went on to work in several states for the Obama campaign, and later was appointed as an assistant to the White House Domestic Policy Council and several years as an appointee at NASA. She holds a PhD in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she studied past oceanic circulation. Currently, Dr. Valley is a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow placed at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Before that, she was a postdoctoral scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researching the potential for carbon emissions from coastal marsh systems.
Contact: Ciara Mentzer
[email protected], 847-651-5505