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: Gabrielle Farrell
Occupation: Traveling press secretary, Elizabeth Warren campaign
Gender Identity: Woman
Location: Boston, MA (and on the road)
As the traveling press secretary for Elizabeth Warren, I criss-cross the country with her on the campaign trail, keep her briefed on the latest news, and coordinate media access for our traveling press corps.
Day 1: Friday, January 3, 2020
Please note: Times are Eastern Standard Time unless otherwise noted.
12 a.m. — It’s been a long day, so, heck, why not light a few WoodWick candles. I turn on the news and flip between all the major networks. Pause. I can watch Supergirl. I turn to On Demand and catch up on the latest. Then I plug in every. single. electronic. device: MiFi, iPad, laptop, external battery chargers (all five of them), because I’m constantly on the go. And for a press secretary to be useful, she can’t be without a charged phone, laptop — you name it.
1:30 a.m. — Still on the couch, checking Twitter and reflecting on the day.
5 a.m. — I wake up to my alarm. I’m in my hometown of Boston today, which is rare! As Elizabeth’s traveling press secretary, I’m on the road with her whenever she’s doing campaign events. It’s taken me to 29 states! When I’m up this early, it’s usually to do a “news binge.” I check all the popular newsletters and print publications, with the TV playing in the background, sometimes on mute with subtitles to catch the headlines. I love silence, sometimes, especially in the morning. I only listen to music (Genre: Soca) while I’m on planes, really, to help with my nerves during turbulence.
7 a.m. — Between all of the fun distractions that come with surfing the news in the morning, like texting my cousins from Montserrat, the U.K., and Antigua (they’re early-birds), I think through which questions the press might have today.
8 a.m. — Hop in the shower. Get dressed. Breakfast?
9 a.m. — Conference call!
9:20 a.m. — Fly out of my apartment like a bat out of hell. Make a pitstop at the gas station to fill the tank of the car that I hardly ever drive, unless it’s to New Hampshire. Pick up laundry from Dependable Cleaners in Savin Hill, Dorchester.
10:10 a.m. — Say hello to Jon Keller, political analyst at WBZ-TV News, Boston’s local CBS station. Catch up, learn what he’s interested in asking Elizabeth, and do a brief walk-through with Elizabeth Stockton, who’s one of our press advance queens (our advance team focuses on all event and meeting logistics). We await Elizabeth’s arrival, and I text Nora Keefe, Elizabeth’s right-hand woman, to let her know we’re ready.
10:45 a.m. — Elizabeth arrives with Nora. We walk them right past the green room and into the studio.
11:15 a.m. — Now, I’m on my way to see Mefa, one of my hairstylists; I have been seeing her since I was 12 years old. I’m so rarely in Boston, so whenever I’m home, I have to run all my errands: hair, laundry, doctor’s appointments, anything my family needs help with, etc.
11:50 a.m. — Hair is being prepped for a wash. Responding to emails on my laptop. Ordering lunch to be delivered.
12 p.m. — I have a conference call coming up, but I’m pretty sure my hair will be submerged in water by the time things kick off. Will my AirPods get wet? Could this lead to an electric shock?
1:30 p.m. — Dial the conference call number. Slip on AirPods.
1:42 p.m. — I’m asked to chime in. Unmute. “Sincere apologies, everyone, if you hear running water, I’m currently getting my hair washed,” is how everyone starts their spiel on conference calls, am I right? No one could hear the water and the announcement was unnecessary, so there’s that.
2:30 p.m. — Conference call. Emails. Still in the salon. Currently in the press-and-curl phase.
4:15 p.m. — Dart over to the pharmacy in Dorchester to pick up a prescription. Last year, while on the trail, I was diagnosed with diabetes. I’m still learning how to navigate it. I can’t mess around and skip meals, so I always try to keep light snacks in my bag.
5 p.m. — Conference call. I’m in the car, en route to Mattapan. Have to see my mom before I leave again. Even if it’s just for a hug.
5:10 p.m. — Hop on another conference call.
5:30 p.m. — Stop by Lenny’s Tropical Bakery on Blue Hill Avenue to pick up a cheese beef patty (for me) and a regular one (for my mom).
6 p.m. — Reach my mom and aunt’s house. I hear barking. My babies Skippy and Butter are in the yard and recognize my Jeep right away. (I used to have three pups: Skippy, Peanut, and Butter; Peanut passed the day after the Ohio debate in October.)
6:20 p.m. — My aunt opens the door. Then it hits me. Shit. I miscalculated my mom’s schedule. She’s already at work at Mass General Hospital. I text her and she reassures me that everything’s fine and that that’s what FaceTime is for. I visit with my aunt and pups and stay on top of email.
7:30 p.m. — Conference call.
9 p.m. — Pack my suitcase as best as I can without busting the latches.
10 p.m. — Catch up on email. Eat the beef patty that was supposed to be for my mom. Charge devices.
Day 2: Saturday, January 4, 2020
6 a.m. — News binge! From Boston, I will soon head to Manchester (Iowa, not New Hampshire)!
6:24 a.m. — Order a food delivery from Emma Lisa’s Breakfast & Lunch: homemade corn-beef hash and eggs with a bagel and cream cheese.
7:30 a.m. — Get showered and dressed.
9 a.m. — Last-minute scan of the apartment for anything I’m missing.
10:30 a.m. — Wheels up! (I repackaged my takeout order into Tupperware, more easily managed on a plane!)
12 p.m. CT — Doors open for the Manchester Town Hall. At this point, I’m checking my phone for updates on which press will arrive at the venue.
12:30 p.m. CT — Conference call.
1:30 p.m. CT — Swing by the press-file area to say hello to our embeds, the reporters who travel with us across the country and have become familiar faces at this point. (Hi, y’all!) I track Elizabeth’s movements, making note of when she hits the stage, timing her remarks, and noting the questions the audience asks her.
2:35 p.m. CT — My phone blows up. Reporters are texting me, “Will she gaggle?” (FYI, a gaggle is another term for media availability or “avail,” where reporters cluster together to ask questions to, in this case, Elizabeth.)
2:40 p.m. CT — I head over to Elizabeth to go over any news that came out while she was on stage. Before my left knee got bad, I would kneel down and squat during avails to avoid being in the camera shot. But now, I wear a knee brace (bummer). I try to capture the best audio of her remarks.
2:50 p.m. CT — Elizabeth wraps up her media avail and resumes her famous selfie line.
4 p.m. CT — Event wraps! Kristen Orthman, Elizabeth’s communications director, and I hop into a car to make our way to Dubuque, Iowa. You guessed right — conference call!
5:20 p.m. CT — Elizabeth does a taped interview with Mary Green for local news station KCRG-TV.
6:15 p.m. CT — Elizabeth hits the stage at her Dubuque Town Hall, gives remarks, answers questions, and wraps it up with that photo line.
9:15 p.m. CT — We’re overnighting in Dubuque. Charge devices. Eat popcorn and answer emails in bed.
Day 3: Sunday, January 5, 2020
4:30 a.m. CT — News binge!
5:15 a.m. CT — Repack! Get dressed, showered, and ready. Check my blood sugar levels.
6 a.m. CT — Meet Bryan Doherty (one of our press advance gurus) at a conference room where the Sunday-show interviews will be held via satellite. I’m introduced to the makeup artist on site, as well as the camera technician. Our NBC embed Deepa is there and we chat for a few before things get going.
6:30 a.m. CT — Conference call! Running to the lobby to grab a quick bowl of oatmeal to inhale and a cup of tea to carry back with me.
7 a.m. CT — Elizabeth and Kristen arrive with Nora and we get the senator settled. When we realize there’s only one IFB earpiece, I dart out to the satellite truck with my laptop, tea, and iPad in hand, without a coat. I drop my MiFi and the back of it pops off — battery flies out. I try to pick up the pieces without dropping anything else and make my way to the truck. I manage to pry the door open with my hands full.
7:20 a.m. CT — Elizabeth does a taped interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. I’m staying out here in this satellite truck, where it’s more than 28 degrees (and the sound is great). Elizabeth questions the timing of the Iran strike on the eve of the impeachment trial, and calls Donald Trump out for taking us to the edge of war for his own personal political gain.
8 a.m. CT — Elizabeth does a live interview with Jake Tapper on State of the Union. I have a chance to say hello to Daniella, our CNN embed, after things wrap.
Today’s reporting confirms what I said on Sunday—why did this strike happen on the eve of an impeachment trial? Trump is taking us to the edge of war for his own political benefit. It’s reckless and dangerous. We must speak out. No war with Iran. https://t.co/4C1ioLVBm8 pic.twitter.com/3hHMmFUWWv
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) January 10, 2020
8:30 a.m. CT — Not going to lie, I run back for a second breakfast just before grabbing my luggage and hopping in the car with Kevin Laio and Sophie Passacantando. I walk up to the toaster and Elizabeth is speaking with her son Alex. She says: “You can pop yours in there, it’s fine, go ahead.” I want to get to the event before she does, so I don’t hesitate to pop my English muffin right in that toaster with hers and Alex’s (check out her story about toasters!).
9 a.m. CT — Conference call!
10:10 a.m. CT — Conference call!
10:45 a.m. CT — Elizabeth kicks off a canvass in Maquoketa, Iowa.
11:20 a.m. CT — Kevin and I inform the press that Elizabeth will be knocking on doors to encourage folks to caucus for her on February 3, Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.
12 p.m. CT — Knock on doors with Elizabeth as the press snaps video and pictures of each interaction with voters.
12:45 p.m. CT — Grab Kristen’s car rental keys (she’s hopping in the minivan with Elizabeth). Yay! Car to myself for about 45 minutes. I call my mom and a few friends. I also stop by McDonald’s for some chicken nuggets, all before arriving at my next destination: The Quad-City Times editorial-board meeting.
1:35 p.m. CT — Arrive at Keppy Hall at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa. Can’t find the right building for this editorial meeting, so I call and find Bryan. He walks in front of the car to point out where I should park (I almost accidentally hit him, but stop just in time).
1:40 p.m. CT — Hop out, run in, and see all of the editorial-board members seated around the table. Make quick introductions. Joke about how cold it is. Quick washroom run.
2 p.m. CT — Elizabeth sits down with the editorial board to speak about her plans.
3 p.m. CT — Town hall in Davenport. You know the drill: say hello to the press, Elizabeth delivers remarks, I track the program, media avail.
7:30 p.m. CT — I fly to New York for our Brooklyn rally, and as soon as I reach the hotel, I head straight to the room.
11:24 p.m. — FaceTime my cousin April for about 45 minutes (she lives in Georgia).
12:15 a.m. — Overnighting in New York City. Charge devices. I wind down, respond to emails, review the schedule for the next day, and lights out.
Day 4: Monday, January 6, 2020
7 a.m. — News binge! Grab breakfast. It’s around this time that Elizabeth usually goes out for a walk, tracking her steps on her phone (she’s aiming to hit seven miles, I’m aiming to hit three!), and she isn’t really into fitness-watch trackers.
9 a.m. — Conference call! (Secretary Julián Castro endorses Elizabeth! Woohoo!) Check my blood sugar levels.
10 a.m. — Get ready to go!
11:30 a.m. — Conference call!
12 p.m. — Conference call (I lead this one). Now, the Brooklyn event will be headlined by both Elizabeth and Secretary Castro, so the press advance team and I go over everything that is needed in the lead-up (we were expecting 100+ press folks!). We anticipate a need for an overflow space and talk about how we’d move press there and back in enough time to capture the full program. We talk through making sure photographers would get extremely good access for the best shot.
12:30 p.m. — Two conference calls scheduled at the same time…
2 p.m. — Head down to introduce myself to the film crew for Shirley Velasquez’s People En Español interview on camera.
2:10 p.m. — Conference call! I hop out of the room, and Elizabeth Stockton sticks around to help with the camera setup. I then run to a nearby store to get a small box of wings. I inhale it.
2:45 p.m. — Meet Elizabeth and Nora in the hallway and give Elizabeth a rundown on what to expect in the interview with Shirley.
3 p.m. — Interview begins.
3:15 p.m. — I let the interviewer know we have time for one last question.
3:45 p.m. — We all load into the minivan: me, Elizabeth, Kristen, Nora, Abby Glime (Nora’s right-hand woman), and Elizabeth’s son Alex. Sometimes Elizabeth listens to books on tape to pass the time.
4:15 p.m. — We arrive at The New York Times for another interview. National political correspondent Alex Burns meets us in the lobby, and a camera is on Elizabeth from the moment she walks in the door, so I have to try my best to get the best audio of her interactions while also staying out of the shot. Sometimes, if the videographer is running, I have to pick up my pace and jog, too. These moments keep me light on my feet.
5 p.m. — Load into the minivan! En route to 30 Rock for a taping of Late Night with Seth Meyers.
5:10 p.m. — Conference call! I pace up and down the hall while the Late Night crew swiftly walks back and forth, busy at work. Seth Meyers stops by to say hello and catch up with Elizabeth (it was super-nice that he said hi to all of her staff, too, nice guy).
6:30 p.m. — Elizabeth heads to the stage, I stay in the green room — easier to hear and track the interview there.
7:30 p.m. — The team heads back to the hotel before returning for Rachel Maddow’s show, but I decide to hang back to catch up on email and check in with Maddow’s producer.
8:45 p.m. — Elizabeth arrives and I track the interview from the green room again.
10:45 p.m. — Back to the hotel for a few drinks with the team. (Honestly, staying in any one hotel for more than one night is a gift.) Pick at Kristen’s artichoke dish at the bar while sipping on some sauvignon blanc (my go-to drink). I get to see Rebecca Pearcey, our national political director (yay!). It had been a little while.
12:10 a.m. — Charge devices, lights out. The fight goes on tomorrow.
Day 5: Tuesday, January 7, 2020
7 a.m. — News binge!
8 a.m. — Get dressed and run out the door to meet Amanda Kules from our advance team.
8:40 a.m. — Arrive at The View; do a quick walk-through. I stumble across a massive Michael B. Jordan teaser ad. “Uh, excuse me!” I say to the woman showing us around. “Is Michael B. Jordan one of your other guests today?” She replies, “No, he’ll be here on Thursday.” DEEP sigh. I’m asked more questions about the senator’s movements.
9:15 a.m. — Amanda and I walk to a cute little bakery around the corner to grab a quick bite and kill time until Elizabeth’s arrival. I hop on a conference call as I munch on a quiche and sip some unsweetened iced tea. I exchange a paper straw for my rainbow metal one.
11 a.m. — The View begins; the audience loves Elizabeth. Selfie lines are going on during each break.
12 p.m. — Load into the minivan! En route to a fun magazine interview, where Elizabeth shares her skin-care secrets.
1:05 p.m. — Conference call! Back to the hotel. Now, some “free time!”
2:10 p.m. — Walk to Sugarfish, a sushi restaurant, alone. Ask for a table for one. I want every single salmon option on the menu, so I go that route and treat myself (this is self-care on the campaign trail). I watch Raising Dion on my cell while answering emails on my laptop. It’s perfect.
4:45 p.m. — Riding to Brooklyn. Jumping on a call with Bryan to share that we’re going to coordinate a media avail with Secretary Castro. He runs through options with me. We pull it all together pretty quickly.
6 p.m. — Connect with Sawyer Hackett, Secretary Castro’s comms director, and coordinate the media avail.
7:10 p.m. — I inform the press that Elizabeth and Secretary Castro will first address the overflow crowd of 1,500+ people outside standing in the rain. They’re all asking if she’ll do a media avail. (So far, she’s done over 170 media avails since the start of this campaign on December 31, 2018.)
7:36 p.m. — Elizabeth and Secretary Castro arrive at overflow and fire up the crowd.
8:14 p.m. — Elizabeth runs out on stage following Secretary Castro’s introduction.
9:05 p.m. — I stay by the photo line and meet with reporters. The selfie line is quickly becoming my office hours for the press — love it! Elizabeth usually changes into her sneakers before things get started.
12:05 a.m. — Take a selfie with Elizabeth and Secretary Castro! My friend meets me mid-selfie line and hangs out with me on the side of the line. We previously worked together in the mayor’s office in Boston. Elizabeth and I part ways for now. Elizabeth is an incredibly thoughtful human being. After a trip when parting ways, it doesn’t matter that we’ll see each other again in 24 hours. As she starts to walk out, she pauses, turns around, walks back, and opens up her arms to give us each a big hug, thanks us for the work we’re putting in, and heads out. Unprompted. That’s just her. And they’re not the fake hugs you could do without — they’re the real ones that help re-energize and give you all the affirmation you need to stay strong and keep going. She’s one of us. She’s a brilliant human with a keen sense of purpose, centered on making people’s lives better. And I watch her fight for this every single day.
1 a.m. — My friend and I grab drinks and stay out.
2:30 a.m — Still in New York City. Charge devices to prep for a 5 a.m. start tomorrow ahead of Elizabeth’s appearance on Morning Joe. Lights out.
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