Alumni ProfileJohn Zwier '05
Hands on the arc

John ZwierHard at work in the national campaign headquarters of Barack Obama, John Zwier '05 still believes God is not a Republican—or a Democrat.

In the spring of his senior year at Calvin, Zwier and friends organized an effort to print “God is not a Democrat or a Republican” on lapel buttons and distribute them before President Bush's 2005 Commencement address. Just six months earlier Zwier had been in Washington, D.C., and Ohio, taking a semester off to work on John Kerry's presidential campaign. In a Chimes editorial about the buttons, Zwier wrote, “This visual statement … encourages the type of intellectual debate for which Calvin College should be known: open dialogue about Christianity's role in the world.”

That editorial (paired with one by President Byker) not only found its way into a textbook on argumentative writing, it also helped land Zwier a post-graduation job on another campaign: that of Virginia House of Delegates candidate Dave Marsden.

“In the job interview I talked about how, if we're going to integrate our faith and our politics, we have to have an honest discussion about what that means,” Zwier said.

It's his passion for discussion across dividing lines of all kinds that drew Zwier into the Obama campaign a year ago. He'd just come off an intense year working to elect Democratic candidates from the state of Washington to U.S. House and Senate seats. “I knew how exhausting a presidential campaign is,” Zwier said. “I didn't think I wanted to work on another one.” But when Obama headquarters in Chicago called and asked him to join, Zwier said, “Absolutely.”

“Part of what I hope to do in politics is to reach across party lines and knit together a community on common principles and universal values.”

Part of Zwier's job is to take note of every word Obama says on the campaign trail. He also notes which of those words the media publicizes. “Out of a 30-minute speech, full of subtleties of language and nuances of thought, the media will pull one quote,” Zwier said, “and oftentimes out of context that quote doesn't convey what he was aiming for at all!”

Also frustrating for Zwier are the false claims made in e-mails, like the one circulated widely among evangelicals that reported Obama to be a Muslim. Zwier helps the campaign's communication department try to correct distortions from all sources with challenges to media outlets, postings to blogs and Web sites, and revised speeches for the candidate.

For all the frustrations, Zwier said he doesn't stay discouraged for long. “Obama quotes Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' Obama adds, ‘The arc doesn't bend on its own. It bends because we put our hands on the arc and bend it in the direction of justice.' I'm convinced it's our responsibility to help create justice in the world, and we do that by getting involved. That excites me and keeps me motivated.”