September 14, 2019
Two weeks ago, I shared the story of how I became motivated to get involved in politics. This week, I’d like to share with you some of the experiences I had working on my first political campaign.
The first time I got politically active was the summer after my freshman year of undergrad in 2011. That summer, I worked as an unpaid Summer Organizer with President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
Political organizing was something that called out to me as soon as I heard about it. I had almost gotten involved the prior fall when we were knocking on doors around campus at UW-Milwaukee for the governor’s race. Working with new people, and especially talking to voters, was something that really appealed to me since I was already thinking about running for office somewhere down the road. It seemed like the perfect way to get to know the ins and outs of campaigns, and everything they entail.
We were the people who were getting in on the ground floor of that campaign. That May was when the President would be officially launching his re-election campaign. I was excited about what the job would involve, especially since the work we were doing that summer would be laying the groundwork for everything that would follow 12-18 months later.
I was assigned the task of organizing in my home county of Ozaukee County. I was living at home at the time in the Town of Cedarburg, the area where I grew up and have lived most of my life. I would be trying to build up a neighborhood organizing team in Port Washington, a city that was several miles away from where I lived, and was somewhere I had only visited a few times despite living quite close by.
Organizing up there was going to be a tough task. Despite all of the enthusiasm we had in 2008, Port Washington was the one area in the county where he had failed to develop a fully functional neighborhood organizing team that year. It was my responsibility to call people who were supporters of the President’s from 2008, meet with them, gauge what their interest would be in working as volunteers on the campaign, then getting them to take action.
That summer was a great experience. I got to meet several wonderful people who were as passionate and dedicated to fighting for many of the same causes that I was. Though I was unable to get enough consistent recruits to build a full-fledged team up there, several of the people I met and worked with that summer ended up becoming some of our best and most reliable volunteers we had in Ozaukee County from that summer on. Their work undoubtedly helped us win the state by the substantial margin that we did the following fall. Many of the people I met with that year continue to volunteer with the Ozaukee County Party today.
The responsibilities that came with that job also led me to develop or hone several skills that would be immensely important for me down the road.
Meeting with people on an nearly daily basis for one-on-ones helped me refine my socializing skills. I was meeting with people of different ages, backgrounds, and life experiences from my own. I got very comfortable meeting new people, and loved connecting with them. It strengthened my belief in people, and the great things we are capable of achieving when we join together for a greater purpose.
It also helped me develop my public speaking skills, both in small and large settings. Whether it was speaking to volunteers at events I organized, or talking to people at doors during Get Out The Vote during the 2011 recall race we helped at the end of that summer, it reaffirmed my belief that running for office is something I’d be seriously interested in doing later in my career. There was nothing I enjoyed more than talking to voters about what issues were important to them and having a polite and constructive discourse about the direction our country and our communities. It confirmed to me that there is more that ultimately binds us than divides us.
That summer also taught me a lot about campaign strategy. I saw what worked. I saw some things that didn’t. The lessons I learned from that summer are lessons I still apply to my campaign work today.
It also helped me develop better organizational skills. I had a lot of responsibilities that summer. It was basically my first real job that didn’t involve working for my dad’s landscape company. It taught me how adjust to working in an environment that was often intense, involved working uncertain hours, and saw unforeseeable problems crop up. I learned how to develop a calmness and coolness under pressure from that experience.
Organizing can be exhausting! It requires you to work long/uncertain hours, go to places you’re completely unfamiliar with, and sometimes do things you’ve never done before. However, it is also a very rewarding endeavor.
You see the impact that the work you are doing is accomplishing first-hand. You see the difference you are making in people’s lives. I cannot recommend the experience enough!
If you care about what’s going on. If you want to make a difference: volunteer for a cause that you’re passionate about! The work you do matters! Be a part of changing our country and our planet for the better!