Why I Volunteered on a Campaign—and Why You Should, Too (or, How Not to Wake Up in November 2020 Feeling Like You Did in 2016)

My interest in politics is relatively new. Like many other Americans, I first considered getting involved in the campaign process on Election Night 2016. I remember as well as anyone else the horror of Trump’s election to the presidency and how I felt called to do more to prevent further damage to our democracy.

So I started paying more attention. I kept close tabs on Trump’s cabinet appointments and even wrote an opinion article for my school newspaper about what I saw to be a serious blow to our public education system: the Senate confirmation of Betsy DeVos, a GOP mega-donor and charter school advocate, to Secretary of Education. Her confirmation killed part of my long-standing belief in bipartisanship; only two Republican Senators voted against her confirmation, despite the fact that she was clearly unqualified for the job ahead of her.

But I still felt like there was more I could do—that there was more for me than watching and writing. I decided that I must also do my own small part in ending ineptitude and dysfunction in our politics close to home—by volunteering on a local grassroots campaign of a qualified and focused progressive candidate: Jim Caffrey, who ran for State Representative. In the two months I volunteered on his campaign, I spent a lot of time in the campaign office and learned the ins and outs of the election process and how campaigns operate. I made hundreds of phone calls to voters, counted literature, canvassed several precincts, helped at a fundraiser, and attended a candidate forum. I also learned what it was like to be up against someone whose campaign had a lot more money and the backing of the local party establishment in a district that was often uncontested. I learned about the fire and commitment and passion that must go in to make up for those deficits.

To me, the part of the process that left the greatest impression on me and that I enjoyed the most was canvassing. I met plenty of interesting people; sure, I’ve had several doors slammed in my face, but also many positive interactions—like an elderly former union worker who talked with me for 10 minutes about his strong belief in the values of the Democratic Party, who then enthusiastically put up a yard sign. It also was amazing to be on the ground to witness up close the transformation as formerly solidly Republican areas gave way to become very competitive ones. Precinct list after precinct list showed voter after voter who had switched to voting in Democratic primaries only a few years previously.

What really mattered to me was introducing new information to swing voters and genuinely convincing them to vote for Caffrey, and all of my on-the-job training had taught me the best way to do this. By election day, I had a well-rehearsed script with several points emphasizing the advantages of electing someone who was truly independent and willing to listen to different perspectives.

Caffrey didn’t win, which was upsetting, but it did not diminish what I got out of my volunteering. I learned that campaigns can be incredibly exciting and that campaigns run as a team, with everyone sharing the same goal and passion. I also got to meet like-minded people, some being experienced precinct committeepeople and others new to the political process like myself. The experience also encouraged me to continue to be involved; I canvassed for another local campaign, went to city council meetings, wrote postcards, attended the County Democratic Gala, marched in a parade, and just started an internship with a countywide campaign. I’m even helping to organize a Climate Strike! What a long way I’ve come from that helpless feeling from Election Night 2016.

Overall, volunteering on a political campaign was an incredible experience for me—and it could be for you, too. The best way to make political change in our society is by making sure we have the best representation we can get, not just by voting but by convincing many others that change is necessary. You might feel like that’s a great idea … for someone else. But YOU are needed.

So next time you see a campaign event for a candidate you believe in or an opportunity to volunteer—or even a chance to write postcards for candidates in other states, try it out. We all must participate in our democracy to make the change we want to see, and helping a campaign is a great way to put your views into action.

Here’s to November 2020!

Nick Mastro