Six months ago, Chevy Chase native and Sidwell Friends alum Jamie Donovan, 27, finished up a two-year program at the World Bank. As he weighed his post-assignment options, he thought, “I’ll be sitting at a desk forever,” and decided that before starting a new job or heading back to school, he’d use his earnings for a trip around the world. The American leg of that journey—which he calls the Obama 3000 in honor of his goal to ride 3,000 miles and secure 3,000 individual campaign donors—has been spent on a bicycle decorated with Obama stickers. He’s quietly campaigning for the President all by himself, and he’ll return home tomorrow, just in time for the election. We caught up with him as he stopped for coffee near Roanoke to find out about his endeavor and how it’s been received.
How did you come to be on a six-month trip around the globe?
I studied political science at Ithaca College, and afterward I came back to DC to get into renewable energy policy. First, though, I volunteered for the ’08 Obama campaign, mostly as a motorcade driver. After that was over, I started interning at an energy policy place, and that turned into a job at the World Bank in the Climate Investment Funds.
I was in a weird program where you work for two years and then you have to leave, and you can’t work at the World Bank for at least two years after that. It’s good because it gives you an end date, so you can plan what you’re going to do. I was thinking I’d maybe go to school, but then I decided I’d save some money and take a trip around the world.
At what point did you decide you’d do this whole thing without flying?
I didn’t always plan to make a flightless trip. I flew to the Caribbean, and while I was there I decided to take a job on a sailboat headed to Croatia. We got pretty close, but then our rudder fell off in the middle of the ocean, and we ended up getting towed to Portugal. I was planning to meet some friends in Croatia, so I made my way over there by train, and the plan grew from there.
Mostly, I was thinking that when you don’t use airplanes, you meet the locals more. And being a climate change guy, I thought it would be best to make the smallest carbon footprint possible.
And as you made your way back to the US, you just thought: I’ll finish this off with a bike ride that doubles as a campaign fundraiser?
Well, I was struggling to decide how to get back to DC. I was thinking of the different ways to do it, and you don’t have many—train, bus, bike. I have some friends who do charity rides, so as soon as I thought of a bike, I decided to make it an Obama fundraiser. I had been thinking while I was overseas that I wanted to get involved in the campaign—the thought of the Republicans winning the House, Senate, and presidency when they’ve taken such a fast and furious turn to the right isn’t something I’m comfortable with.
Then when they picked Paul Ryan—I have a problem with his deficit proposal, where he cuts taxes, increases military spending, and then guts education and infrastructure to pay for it. I was in Beijing when he was announced, and I just decided I wanted to get involved.
And how has the fundraising been going?
I’ve raised about $7,000, from 50 or so people, most of them from DC. All of that money goes to the campaign—I’ve assumed all the costs of my trip.
What are the days like?
I ride alone every day from 7:30 to about 5. All the people I’ve met have been so nice. They sort of think you’re crazy, but they respect it. I tell these people what I’m doing, and a lot of them are hardcore Republicans, but they respect my effort. They even buy my meals a lot of the time.
Do they know what you’re doing just from looking at you?
Probably. I wear an American flag jersey, but there are Obama bumper stickers on my bags, so they see my patriotism first and my politics after.
And when you get back?
I’m so excited to come home and see everyone. I’ll need to get a job, obviously. I’ve been blogging my trip the whole time, and I’ve sort of caught a writing bug. I’m hoping to find a place to write about public policy or climate change or both, but I guess we’ll just have to see.