Volunteer for U.S.
Campaign volunteers devote endless time and energy to the candidates and causes they care about most.
Volunteering to work on a political campaign should come with a warning: Attention! Not for the fainthearted.
“Day to day was grueling, and the nine months I worked on the [Bernie] Sanders campaign are kind of a blur,” says Victor Garcia, a political science student at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).
He served as the external co-chair for UCSB for Bernie, was a founding member of Santa Barbara County for Sanders and held several other positions with local Democratic party organizations, leading up to the California presidential primary in June.
“My schedule was from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. I would check my email compulsively in class,” says Garcia. “Energy drinks became a huge part of my life.”
Garcia spent his volunteer hours responding via email to constituents’ questions about the election, registering voters, managing campaign budgets and canvassing door to door. In addition, every day, he did what he calls “an hour of power”—going through an automatic phone dialer and calling about 20 people within an hour to encourage them to vote and try to secure their support for Sanders.
Brendan Quinones, chairman of the New Jersey Young Republican Federation, has done similar work as a campaign volunteer for several Republican state senate and county office candidates. For the 2016 presidential primary season, he first supported Florida Senator Marco Rubio. But when the senator dropped out of the race, Quinones backed John Kasich, governor of Ohio.
“Generally, I offer candidates support in managing social media accounts and organizing voter outreach through voter analysis and other means. I also do the typical campaign-related tasks of making phone calls and knocking on doors. For me, there’s simply no substitute for face-to-face campaigning,” says Quinones.
While the days spent volunteering are long and tiring for both Quinones and Garcia, they’re also personally fulfilling.
“I love the camaraderie that develops within a campaign team. I am proud to count many candidates and volunteers that I have worked with as great friends. Additionally, it’s always wonderful to help elect candidates who implement positive policies that have a real impact in improving the lives of everyday people,” says Quinones.
“It was fun and I wouldn’t trade it for any experience ever,” says Garcia. “A lot of opportunities arose for me and my fellow volunteers because of being involved with the progressive movement.” Garcia counts one of these opportunities as participating in the Million Student March in November 2015, during which students at 115 college campuses across the United States advocated for free public education, a $15 (Rs. 1,000 approximately) minimum wage for all university campus workers, and more.
At the end of the day, it’s the love for politics, concern about the issues the candidates address and belief in the importance of the election process that keep campaign volunteers coming back and doing the hard day-to-day work.
“Sometimes, the idea of talking to random strangers can be scary. But once you get used to it, it’s not that bad,” says Mark Ayoub, a market researcher in Boston, who has been volunteering for various Democratic campaigns since 2000 and worked for Bernie Sanders in 2016. “While rare, there are elections that are decided by one vote, or 537 votes in the case of Florida in 2000, and you don’t want to feel like you could have done more to help your candidate win.”
For Quinones, politics is a family affair—his twin brother, Ryan Quinones, serves as the national committeeman of the Louisiana Young Republicans—and one he plans to stick with.
“I can’t imagine completely removing myself from politics, so I’ll probably remain active as a political volunteer for the foreseeable future. Politics is my passion,” he says.
For Garcia, life without political campaign work is just not complete. Upon returning home to the Los Angeles area this past summer, he immediately began looking for a local assembly campaign to work for to hold him over until returning to Santa Barbara in the fall. He sees it as a career stepping-stone, too.
“Don’t feel bad about people who have had enough caffeine to shorten their lives for campaigns because they’re going to get jobs out of it,” he says. “In the past, it was your need to know the right people and have the right credentials, but now you just have to show your capacity to do the work and your passion. I’ve seen people’s lives change because of it.”
Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.