CHRIS LIDDELL-WESTEFELD The UI alumnus’s correspondence work at White House provides glimpse of how policy affects people’s everyday lives.
Last spring, Chris Liddell-Westefeld dressed up as an Easter bunny for the White House’s Easter celebration, parading around the lawn and the first family, taking pictures with young children.
Since the University of Iowa graduate started to work at the White House in April, dressing as a holiday mascot is only one of the many things Liddell-Westefeld has done at the famous address. Two years after campaigning for President Barack Obama, the 24-year-old is now a senior correspondence analyst in the White House’s Office of Correspondence.
“It’s a great privilege to be able to go to work there every day,” says Liddell-Westefeld, who became interested in politics while attending Iowa.
The Iowa City native began as a history and cinema and comparative literature major at the University. He dropped film studies in 2004 and added a political science major. Liddell-Westefeld’s first political involvement began that year when he volunteered with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s local campaign.
“It had just really sparked my interest, and I knew it was something I was interested in pursuing down the road,” he says.
Liddell-Westefeld interned for Sen. Tom Harkin’s Washington, D.C., office in the spring of 2006, where he helped give tours of the Capitol to constituents, sort mail, draft letters, and research and put together books on different issues.
“I was interested in the internship because I had volunteered on some campaigns before and I was really interested in learning more about how the government worked,” he says.
Back in Iowa in 2007, Liddell-Westefeld stepped up and founded the Hawkeyes for Obama group on campus. He says he had followed Obama’s politics for a long time and had always hoped the Illinois senator would run for president. When Obama threw his hat into the ring, Liddell-Westefeld immediately got involved and organized students to help with the caucus campaign.
“I was inspired by his background in community organizing, and one of the aspects of the campaign I enjoyed most was the number of people who volunteered that had never been involved before,” he says.
Hawkeyes for Obama eventually hosted Obama’s Earth Day rally outside Old Capitol on April 22, 2007. The rally drew nearly 5,000 people to the Pentacrest on that sunny Sunday.
A month later, Liddell-Westefeld graduated from the University but continued to stay involved with the Obama campaign. In June 2007 he became a field organizer for the campaign. After the January 2008 caucus, Liddell-Westefeld campaigned in other states until June, when he was stationed in North Carolina until the general election.
With Obama taking office, Liddell-Westefeld moved to D.C. in hopes of landing a job with the president’s administration. In April 2009, he began work in the White House Office of Correspondence, which receives around 65,000 letters and 100,000 e-mails every week.
“More than any other office, we get an unfiltered perspective on what Americans are going through,” Liddell-Westefeld says of his job, which he hopes to hold for at least a couple more years. “Reading their stories is very humbling.”
Liddell-Westefeld recalls receiving a letter from a man who was going bankrupt paying for medical care for his wife, who was dying of cancer. The man wrote that he wanted the president to know how important it was to pass health care legislation that would make it easier for people in his situation to get insurance.
“Those sorts of stories come in frequently, so you get a real feel for the ways policy affects people’s everyday life,” he says.
by Ashton Shurson; photo by Kirk Murray
January 19, 2010