Alex Okrent ’05 passed away Friday morning after collapsing at the Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago, where he worked. The 29-year-old alumnus of the College of Social Studies (CSS) was Paid Media and Polling Regional Director for the 2012 presidential campaign, and has worked for Obama ever since his 2004 senate campaign.
Fox Chicago reported that Okrent had been working out at the gym earlier that morning, as he did every day, before coming into work at the campaign headquarters in the Prudential Center. A report by the local ABC News affiliate adds that he told a friend he was talking to online that he wasn’t feeling well, collapsing when he went to take an aspirin. He was treated on-site by paramedics before being taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after. A massive heart attack may have been to blame, Okrent’s family believes.
President Obama, campaigning in Virginia at the time, sent his condolences to Okrent’s family soon after hearing and later comforted his Chicago staff through a conference call. Obama personally tweeted in remembrance that night, “A beloved member of our campaign family, Alex Okrent, passed away today. Our prayers are with his loved ones. We will miss you, Alex.” Even before Obama’s tweet, however, Mitt Romney sent his prayers via Twitter, saying the he and his wife were “deeply saddened.” David Axelrod, Former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, expressed his gratitude to the former governor almost immediately after in his own tweet. Media coverage observed this as a moment of civility in the midst of harsh attacks between the campaigns.
Sadly, not all can be trusted to maintain at least a semblance of civility, according to The New Yorker:
Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), certain other online elements were less respectful, leading the Chicago Sun-Times to turn off comments after trolls began mocking the death as a political stunt.
Media coverage of Okrent’s passing has taken note of his passion and activist spirit, which appear to be consistent with his own view of himself. The description on his Twitter account quotes from William Lloyd Garrison: “I am in earnest. I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard.”
Okrent received media attention even before he graduated, notes the Chicago Tribune:
In 2002, the Tribune quoted the then-19-year-old Wesleyan University student at an anti-war protest in Washington D.C.
“The government is committing atrocities all over the world, and they say they’re doing it in our interest,” Okrent told the Tribune then. “I’m trying to make my voice heard that I don’t want people killed in my name.”
Okrent “was like a fish in water” when talking politics, according to his friend Lodro Rinzler ’05, who met Okrent in a politics class at Wesleyan, in Connecticut. But the 2001 graduate of Evanston Township High School had much broader interests, Rinzler said
“You could bring up any topic with him — music, technology — and not only would he know what you were talking about, but he would have insights on it,” Rinzler said. “He devoured information, absolutely devoured it and processed it.”
Okrent took an anti-war stance shortly after the September 11th attacks occurred at the beginning of his freshman year, helping to organize a vigil just six days after the attacks. He was part of a Wesleyan-led, nationwide anti-war movement called Peaceful Justice, according to The GW Hatchet. The Hatchet quotes him as saying, “The best way to honor the victims of terrorism is to make sure that no more innocent people die.” It was in his junior year at Wesleyan, though, that Okrent decided to get into politics, according to Fox Chicago. It was then that he choose to work with Obama of seven candidates for senate. The journey shot off from there. The Middletown Patch observed that he was on the Class of 2005 reunion committee, which organized the five-year reunion in 2010.
While at Wesleyan, Okrent played rugby and, not unlike some of us today, was not afraid to walk around campus with a beer in hand.
We at Wesleying send our condolences.