Inside The Life Of Joe Biden’s Political Chief Of Staff

In Trailblazers: Diaries From The Front Lines Of The 2020 Election, we take an in-depth look at the lives of women working behind the scenes to make our country better every day, whether it’s on a presidential campaign or political advocacy organization.
Name: Danielle Okai
Occupation:  Political Chief of Staff, Biden for President
Age: 31
Gender identity: Woman
Location:  Philadelphia, PA

Tuesday, August 18, 2020: Day 2 of Democratic National Convention

8 a.m. — Alarm goes off! It’s day two of the convention, and there is a ton of work to do. I work as Chief of Staff for the National Political Department of the Biden campaign, which means that I work to keep our department moving on any initiatives with elected officials — from town supervisors and mayors to governors and U.S. Senators — across the country. 
I’m personally excited but anxious about my big project for the week. The convention is entirely virtual, and we have hundreds of elected officials attending virtual watch party events. I’m working to sign up these officials and track which events they are attending. I’m also organizing Zoom events prior to the convention each night and publicizing these events to the elected officials and endorsers who have helped the campaign get to this moment.
8:45 a.m. — I find some oat bars and water for breakfast and start running a report on our latest update of watch parties by state so I can update our regional political directors on how fruitful their outreach has been. 
9 a.m. — My first meeting of the day! Every morning, I meet with various partners in different departments, including my co-workers who work on organizing efforts, voter protection, and analytics. The regional political directors in my department manage states across the country, including many of our critical battleground states, and they work with these partners in other departments, so it’s important for me to know what’s going on so there isn’t any miscommunication.
9:08 a.m. — First surprise of the day! My boss asks if I can help her with outreach for Doug Emhoff, Sen. Kamala Harris’ husband. I get to work with my team to create a list of contacts, such as business and elected leaders, that he can call to get to know. 
9:45 a.m. — Another daily call. I meet with my colleagues to discuss watch parties, scheduling highlights, and other political updates from across the country. In the era of a virtual convention, it’s important for all of our stakeholders to feel connected to what’s going on.
10 a.m. — Next, I join a senior political meeting with my boss, her deputy, and our campaign’s senior advisors. We typically use this meeting to capture higher-level initiatives like announcing endorsements and pushing back on whatever Republicans are doing in recent days. This is my first presidential campaign, and I feel honored to join a daily conversation with such seasoned, smart, and knowledgeable folks.
10:30 a.m. — After that call, I give our political coordinator a call to discuss our convention pre-programs and watch parties. We have thousands of elected officials signed up for these events, but some of these platforms are new to me, so I’m worried about how this will go. Feeling less stressed after the call. 
11 a.m. — I lied. I’m still stressed. I check in with my husband, and we decide to take an early lunch and drive to a park for a walk. It’s very, very, very easy to overwork and spend too much time looking at screens, so I have been taking time each day to go for a walk outside and get fresh air. While out, I’m craving a smoothie so we order takeout from a local café.
12:15 p.m. — Back home and I feel energized by my walk so emails, emails, emails, emails.
1 p.m. — Throughout the afternoon, I’m checking in with the regional political directors one-on-one. They work with staff and volunteers across the country, so it’s great to get a flavor for what’s happening on the ground. I’ve only been on the campaign for a month, but I very much miss watercooler talks and these one-on-ones are the best replication of this. Two of the regionals are buying and selling homes so we exchange home-search woes!

My favorite books tend to be fantasy or sci-fi novels written by women of color, and I find that reading fiction inspires me and expands the imagination. I don't want to lose mine. 

5 p.m. — Ugh, speaking of home-search woes…just found out we were outbid for the first house we put an offer on! I’m sad, but the show must go on. It wasn’t meant to be!  We’ve been looking for a house with a backyard so we can work outside, and I can let my plant-mom obsession run free. Fun fact: I have gone from zero plants in April 2020 to over 20! And I have only killed one so far (rest in peace, Maranta prayer plant).
My husband, undaunted, shows me some new spots that have come up on Redfin. Although I’m frustrated, we’re both privileged to be employed, healthy, and in a position to think about these plans — something that can’t be said for many people, including our loved ones, during these unprecedented times. I try to keep that in mind when I get frustrated.
5:12 p.m. — A few more planning calls to prepare for tonight’s watch parties, including one with my boss. I provide an update on the number of watch parties we have scheduled and attendees. We’re up to 322 watch parties with over 6,800 people signed up across the country! In addition to that, I’m working on a pre-program event on Wednesday and another on Thursday for folks who signed up to host watch parties. 
6:30 p.m. — I’m nervous about the watch parties, but I tell myself it’s okay to be nervous. My husband’s free, so we take a moment to go for another stroll around the block. 
6:57 p.m. — I spend 20 minutes completing a guided meditation with the Liberate app, which is specifically geared toward people of color. 
7:17 p.m. — Meditation done and back to work. My inbox is filled with requests, so I crank out responses while I listen to music to give myself a bit more energy.
8:17 p.m. — Break! I set an alarm to force myself to have a quick reading break. I’ve been revisiting N.K. Jemisin’s work throughout this pandemic. I love her short story collection How Long 'Til Black Future Month? My favorite books tend to be fantasy or sci-fi novels written by women of color, and I find that reading fiction inspires me and expands the imagination. I don’t want to lose mine. 
9 p.m. — The second night of the convention is underway, and I stop everything I’m doing to watch the Roll Call Across America, when delegates across the country cast their ballots for the nomination of Joe Biden. Our country is diverse and gorgeous, and I love how different states used their slots to highlight their policy priorities and their excitement for the ticket. I let the convention play in the background as I answer emails and drift to sleep as I always do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020: Day 3 of DNC  

8 a.m. — Today is the first day of my convention events! But I’m so tired, so snooze. 
8:51 a.m. — After hitting the snooze button several times, I get up, wish my husband good morning, and think through what I still need to get done before our first of two pre-program events. Tonight’s guest speakers at our virtual pre-program are my very own Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania; Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate; and actor-director Tony Goldwyn, who played President Fitz on Scandal. When we booked him to speak last week, I screamed. Scandal was one of my favorite primetime shows.
9:01 a.m. — Daily call with my colleagues who provide updates on virtual watch parties and drive-in events. Just like you have drive-in movie theaters, we are setting up drive-in watch parties in select states.
9:30 a.m. — During our morning huddle, a colleague notes that over 40,000 people participated in caucus and council meetings on Tuesday, which is incredible. 
10:07 a.m. — One of my colleagues notes that DJ Cassidy, who famously played at Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s wedding, played an awesome set during a convention after-party event. Once our meeting comes to a close, I crank up Beyoncé and make final edits to briefings for our speakers at tonight’s event. 
10:30 a.m. — I join a brief call going through the logistics of a call Vice President Biden will make to the Wisconsin Delegation later today.
11:03 a.m. — I am committed to taking a lunch break today, so I order a salad and catch up on texts from family and friends. My best friend reminds me I need to order books — I visit Bookshop and order Sarah Schulman’s Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair.  
1 p.m. — I huddle with my colleague to walk through last-minute questions about convention pre-programming and watch parties. 
1:28 p.m. — I walk over to the fridge and munch on some green grapes while I catch up on emails. Will I ever catch up? Likely not until mid-November!
2 p.m. — It’s time for the dry run of tonight’s pre-program.
2:30 p.m. — I connect with one of Sen. Casey’s staffers to ensure that the Senator and his staff are completely clear on what’s going to happen tonight. I am really happy that the Senator could join us and provide remarks. I first met him several years ago working the check-in table at an event, and he was extremely warm and kind. 
2:45 p.m. — While I could work for the next hour, my apartment is a mess and it’s impossible for me to work this way. I tidy up with some Solange playing in the background.
3:30 p.m. — I join a call with colleagues to talk through watch parties and pre-programs that have already happened this week and the programs to come tonight. It’s a good forum to air concerns, highlight victories, and engage in troubleshooting. I’m feeling good about tonight — not only to meet a Black woman history-maker, Ambassador Moseley Braun, but also for all of those who are inspired and energized by our very own history-maker Sen. Kamala Harris.
4 p.m. — The  campaign is still expanding our staff across the country. My boss and I join members of the states team to talk through résumés. 
4:30 p.m. — I. Am. Starving. My husband does some research and finds Veghada Juice Bar in North Philadelphia. We venture out to order. I get a Veggie Fish Style Sandwich that is delicious, and a huge kiwi, peach, pomegranate, pineapple, and apple smoothie. I can sense that this is the beginning of a love affair with this place.
6:30 p.m. — Quick check-in with my bosses. My boss Erin is the host for our Wednesday and Thursday pre-program events, and she’s happy with the guests, briefing, and line-up.
6:41 p.m. — Time for a walk around the neighborhood with my husband. He’s excited to talk about houses, but all I have on my brain is convention, convention, convention. Still, I feel much more relaxed now that I’ve been doing more of these walks throughout the day.
7:40 p.m. — Time to glam it up. And by glam it up, I mean a shower; an oversized blouse I got from Noel Puello, an independent designer based in Philadelphia; and bike shorts. 
8:15 p.m. — Showtime! Our panelists and Erin join the Zoom. Ambassador Moseley Braun is on. It is amazing to be face-to-face with a great trailblazer. She’s very gracious and funny.
8:21 p.m. — Sen. Casey joins us and shares his excitement about tonight and being able to join us. I’m thrilled that everyone is here and start going through our run-of-show, reminding folks to speak slowly because we have a live captioner. Tony Goldwyn will be joining us later!
8:31 p.m. —  Erin kicks off the program, poised and shining. She is so good at this!
8:35 p.m. — Erin introduces Ambassador Moseley Braun, who delivers impactful remarks about the historic nature of this evening, Sen. Harris’ acceptance of the vice president candidacy, and how Black women, who have often been sidelined in the halls of power, have come such a long way. I'm glad she’s saying this because I haven’t really had time to reflect upon Sen. Harris’ journey as much as I would have liked to. I cannot imagine how much resistance she has faced as a woman of color reaching the heights she has reached. Or maybe I can. I have faced misogynoir in previous workplaces, even from people I have liked and respected. To know that we will have a leader who has had that experience, a leader who doesn’t back down from a fight, and who is committed to addressing the Black maternal health crisis, an issue extremely important to me, is extremely heartening. 

I have faced misogynoir in previous workplaces, even from people I have liked and respected. To know that we will have a leader who has had that experience is extremely heartening. 

8:45 p.m. — Tony Goldwyn provides his remarks. I smile broadly and duck behind the computer so my husband doesn’t see my screen as the actor-director talks about how we need to work to remove Trump from office.
8:48 p.m. — Sen. Casey provides his remarks. Scores of comments are rolling in, and I am so happy participants are enjoying themselves!
8:56 p.m. — We continue the program with a training for the VoteJoe app, which you should definitely download right now
9:06 p.m. — Our program ran a bit over, but it’s all good! We’ve done a great job and folks are off to their virtual watch parties. 
9:10 p.m. — My boss sends me a text saying we did a good job. I’m smiling, and it’s convention time! As it begins, I start planning for tomorrow, including finalizing briefings for tomorrow’s pre-program. It’s going to be a late night, but I pause for Sen. Kamala Harris’ speech and her reminder that Black women have been working for years without fanfare or recognition. It’s sad to think that, yes, we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, but we still have places in this country that are wracked by voter suppression, where many Black women cannot vote easily. That said, this is a moment to come together and fight to defeat President Trump. Her words remind me that although there is a hard road ahead, we’re fighting for a better world for all of us. 
11:30 p.m. — I drift off to sleep (on the couch again!) as the convention comes to a close.

Thursday, August 20, 2020: Day 4, final day of DNC 

8 a.m. — Alarm off! I let myself scroll through social media, catch up on texts from my friends and family whom I haven’t been able to communicate with as much this week, and save any funny memes I find.
8:58 a.m. — I open my email and start hammering away preparing for tonight’s pre-program. We will be featuring Georgia State Rep. Billy Mitchell, Texas State Rep. Victoria Neave, and actor Bradley Whitford. 
9 a.m. — First meeting of the day to discuss last night’s watch parties, today’s watch parties, and drive-in events.  
9:30 a.m. — Our daily department call — we’re all pumped for the last night of the convention! 
10 a.m. — Another call to talk through some of the technical difficulties that have come up with watch parties and upcoming initiatives. Tomorrow, I’ll meet with my colleagues who work with our various coalitions — Women for Biden, Students for Biden, and other groups that organize in support of the Vice President — to discuss what we can do better for our next round of watch parties, which will come during debate season.
10:20 a.m. — Call ends early, so I go on a quick early-morning walk around the corner and give my sister, who lives in California, a call. She’s an essential worker and has been going to work for the entire pandemic, and now there’s a heat wave happening in her state so I want to make sure she’s doing okay. She lets me know that she really enjoyed my book recommendation, An Ember In the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. There are so many themes relevant to what we’re living through right now, like government failure and repression of rights. If you haven’t read it, you should! 
10:30 a.m. — I check in with one of my team members to discuss tonight’s watch parties. There isn’t much left to handle, and I’m feeling confident since last night went so well. 
11:05 a.m. — My husband and I go see another house. It’s in our budget, with a backyard, and has a gorgeous kitchen with Nancy Meyers vibes: neutral colors, beautiful windows, and amazing lighting. 
11:30 a.m. — I jump on a call with some of our senior advisors and senior members of the political team to discuss our endorsement process. There are a lot of moving pieces to consider as we announce additional candidates who support the Vice President.
12:06 p.m. — My husband and I pull up to a tree-lined, cobblestone street, and our real estate agent isn’t here. I check my texts again, and our appointment is actually for 2 p.m. Fail. I’m dejected, so we head to McDonald’s for my favorite — fries and a kids' apple juice. My husband will head out later to see the house, since I have meetings. 
2 p.m. — Dry run for tonight’s pre-program. We have roughly 150 parties scheduled for tonight, so we definitely want to put on a good show for everyone for the final night of the convention. Reps. Neave and Mitchell join and ask about backdrops, their briefings, and any other last-minute questions they have ahead of tonight. I feel good about tonight. No sweat, no stress!
3:30 p.m. — One final convention watch-party huddle with the other departments. 
3:45 p.m. — Our meeting ends early, so I start preparing for a project for next week — activities to commemorate the ratification of the 19th Amendment. 
5:30 p.m. — I have a meeting with folks from other departments to discuss how we want to mark the anniversary of the 19th. I really enjoy seeing experienced political operatives brainstorm and collaborate in real time. 
6:15 p.m. — Time for a quick check-in with my bosses. We discuss how tonight’s program will go, and look ahead to next week. 
6:20 p.m. — Now that my meetings are over, I treat myself to a nice 30-minute long meditation. 
6:55 p.m. — I find a yellow, 1950s vintage dress to wear and treat myself to a long shower and glam session. 
8:01 p.m. — I join the pre-program Zoom while the production team does sound checks. They have done such a phenomenal job.
8:15 p.m. — Rep. Neave and Erin join the Zoom “backstage.” Unfortunately, Rep. Mitchell is stuck at another virtual DNC event. I’m nervous because Bradley won’t be on until much later in the program, but Erin assures me that she’ll be able to ad-lib and we’ll shift the program around to make things work.
8:30 p.m. — Our show starts, and Erin does a great job of thanking the variety of folks who have hosted large watch parties. 
8:38 p.m. — Rep. Neave delivers extended remarks and gives her home state of Texas a shoutout. I am truly inspired by all of the local legislators who are a part of our coalition to win this thing. I truly hope to see Texas go blue within the next couple of years! So many great legislators and organizers working hard in that state!
8:52 p.m. — Our special guest Bradley Whitford jumps on, and I’m super-excited. He just seems real and his words on the importance of listening to the youth and courting their vote resonate with me. In a former life, I taught elementary school, and I was inspired then by how sharp, creative, and perceptive kids are. I really believe this next generation will build the world we need. I am so glad he made time to join our program.
9 p.m. — I turn on the TV to watch the convention, and I feel proud to be a part of a group of hundreds that has endeavored to throw a safe, inspiring event for tens of thousands of people to participate in. As the night progresses, and Vice President Biden starts his remarks with a quote from one of my personal heroes, the civil rights activist Ella Baker, I am nothing but thankful for all of the folks who have been working on this campaign and toward this very moment. While I’ve only been on the team for a little over a month, I am so grateful for their work and their sacrifice, and as the convention ends, I’m feeling ready to win this thing.

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