by Beth Bishop Kimbriel, reflecting on the untimely, tragic death of Hampton Roads-based Virginia Democratic and Progressive activist/hero Pat Okerlund. Condolences to Pat’s family and to her many friends…
Like many of you, I first “met” Pat Okerlund on the telephone. In the months following the election of President Barack Obama, after all of the campaign staff had returned home for a well-deserved rest, and after most of the door knockers and phone bankers had returned to their normal daily routines of work and home life, some of us kicked into high gear. The momentum of the 2008 Obama campaign could not be stopped.
With no staff, no Votebuilder database, no office, and no way to contact the national leaders of the campaign, I realized I had limited tools to keep our local volunteer base informed. How do you reconnect with an uprecedented powerhouse volunteer base when the plug has been pulled?
That is when Supervolunteer Community Organizer PAT OKERLUND came to the rescue. Somehow both Pat and I had managed to contact Betsy Hoover, one of the first staffers at the newly formed, but not yet solid Organizing For America. Betsy introduced me to Pat via telephone, and a friendship was born. Pat kept a handful of volunteer leads across Virginia, including me, informed and organized until we had a paid OFA staffer many months later. If not for Pat, OFA Virginia would have had a very slow, laborious start.
Through the years Pat never tired. She endured many long days, busy nights, and very little time off. At the same time she traveled from Chesapeake to Richmond regularly to care for her elderly father. It took a toll on her. Yet, SHE PERSISTED.
Pat was driven to do all she could to make our country a just, clean, compassionate land of equality for all. Together Pat and other volunteer leads across the country organized a team of volunteers who helped to pass the Affordable Care Act. We worked toward that goal regardless of constant misinformation from the opposition and despite being maligned and heckled by neighbors, friends, and sometimes even family members. Pat was a key player in that success, though she never received proper recognition for her efforts.
After the passage of the ACA, and after Organizing For America became Organizing for Action, Pat persisted, continuing to press for a more perfect America. It saddens me beyond measure to know that in her last months she watched the Trump administration begin to dismantle so much of the progress she gave her heart and soul to push forward.
I offer Pat’s family my sincere condolences upon the death of their beloved mother, wife, and matriarch.
Let us all recognize the inspiring activism of Pat Okerlund and carry on her legacy. Pat’s sudden tragic death is motivation to persist in our work to resist the tyranny of the Trump administration. Let us remember to rest and take care of ourselves so that we can continue the work. Let us support each other so that we may be stronger. In remembering Pat we can recognize that one person can, without a doubt, make a difference in this world. Think what we can do if each of us works with the same determination and commitment as did Pat Okerlund. Together we are stronger than those who would undo the progress of the past century.