By: Tess Finke ’24 (she/her), Staff Writer
How many texts and calls did you receive from eager political campaigns before election day? Five? Ten? Twenty? You may have ignored the messages or perhaps figured they were spam. However, in an election as close as this one, those texts and calls may have secured the votes that decided elections. And who were behind those messages, you might ask? Look no further than your fellow Davidson peers, many of whom dedicated hours of their time to volunteer and work for campaigns nationwide.
Participating in a campaign is one way to take the election into one’s own hands by donating time to particular causes and candidates. Some found that actively participating in a campaign helped to alleviate election-related stress.
Amanda Lee ‘21, who worked on Sarah Giddeon’s campaign in Maine’s Senate race, observed some of this relief. “Going into election day, I felt better knowing that I had done something to help contribute to democratic politics,” she said.
However, this year’s involvement in political campaigns looked a lot different than those in past years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nick Boyd ‘21, who worked on Sen. Cory Booker’s presidential campaign in 2019 and participated in phone banks for Doug Jones’s Senate race, commented on this difference. Boyd found that canvassing neighbors with a partner was a “more enjoyable, less alienating political experience,” primarily because of the face-to-face interaction and the ability to read the body language of the recipient.
However, in an election as close as this year’s, it was important to secure as many votes as possible. This meant campaigns had to turn to safe, virtual methods of reaching voters that did not violate any COVID-19 restrictions. Phone banking was the primary tactic employed by many campaigns, a strategy that may have been used in the past, but not to the magnitude that was seen this year.
Hunter Callaway ‘22 worked full-time as a field organizer for the Alabama Democratic Party as well as in a coordinating campaign for Doug Jones. Callaway stated, “Pretty much everything that you would be doing normally to get people volunteering and mobilized, we were doing online.”
Phone banking for a political campaign can be frustrating, taxing work. Countless unanswered calls, ignored texts, rude replies, and other negative reactions to campaign correspondences can be disheartening for those merely attempting to secure more information and encourage stragglers to vote. Anna McGuire ‘21, who worked on Sarah Giddeon’s campaign, remarked, “You have to come into it with a realistic mindset that a lot of people aren’t going to pick up the phone or be on your side.” But, she added, “the work is valuable in the long run.”
Similarly, Callaway said, “You have to both separate yourself from the individual call you are making and the overall results of the election because every call you make is building infrastructure for the party, it’s increasing the ability to find where the democrats are and how we mobilize them.”
Nonetheless, those few positive replies that volunteers received, whether it be confirming one more vote or encouraging one more person to go vote after hours of dial tones, made it all worthwhile. “When you have a really good call with someone who is very excited about [the candidate] and who agrees to volunteer, it makes some of the bad calls worth it,” Lee said.
McGuire also explained that at times the work may seem disappointing or frustrating, but “when someone votes once, they are more likely to vote again.” Reflecting on her larger impact, she continued, “Even if each day feels like a small drop in the bucket, cumulatively you are making a big difference.”
Nick Boyd explained how simple it was to volunteer time for a political campaign this year, noting that it was as easy as signing up on the website and following the subsequent directions. Once volunteers signed up, volunteers for the Doug Jones campaign, and many other campaigns like it, were given a script and a list of numbers to call and/or text, with the time commitment to the campaign entirely in the hands of the volunteer.
McGuire added, “The benefit of it being virtual is that you really got to make time and space when you needed it.” For those who chose to apply and work for the campaigns, however, the requirements were much more demanding.
Callaway, who held a full-time position in a party, as opposed to volunteering, said, “It’s a sprint, that’s just how the job is, and anyone going into it should definitely prepare for a lot of work in a short amount of time.” Lee also had more demands in terms of participation in Giddeon’s campaign. “[My hours] varied depending on what needed to be done, [but] I worked around 20 hours a week,” she said.
Regardless of the time commitment, campaign participants all noted that the experience was enriching and fulfilling. “It gave me some more perspective on a lot of different policy issues that I may not have had familiarity with,” McGuire said. “It gave me much more of a sense of the gravity of some of these policy issues.” This perspective may be especially helpful for those going into politics, but Lee noted that applicants to various positions on the campaign were not just Political Science majors. They came from all different backgrounds and majors but with one commonality: a passion for politics and a desire to see change.
Callaway also spoke about the fulfilling feeling he found regardless of the voter response. “You gain a very deep connection with your community because you are talking with people who are in it. It puts into stark contrast exactly what is important about the work and why you are doing it, so for people who are on the fence about organizing or campaigns, [just know that] if you are on a campaign that is doing good work it will be very rewarding,” he said.
For many, campaign experience has also helped expand horizons and learn new skills. “It was a good experience for getting more comfortable with talking to people and getting outside of my comfort zone,” Lee observed “It was fulfilling, but it also helped improve my communication skills.”
Lee also explained that working on a political campaign is a great way to get started in the political world, especially in this entry-level field, because one is mainly interacting with young people and seeing changes implemented by and on their generation.
Whether Davidson volunteers and campaign employees found their connections through alumni, social media posts, a friend, or searches based on their desire to get involved, each emphasized the meaningful nature of their experiences.
Callaway encouraged Davidson students to get involved with future campaigns, urging, “If there is a candidate in your home community that you have a connection to or you just really want to make sure they win, you absolutely should go home and get involved with that because everyone should be organizing their own communities.”