15 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Choosing a Career in Electoral Politics.
Whether you’re a high school student thinking about majoring in political science or a college student about to enter the workforce.
1.) Having a reliable car (with insurance & valid DL), cell phone and laptop is a requirement to securing a job on an electoral campaign.
Yes, this is very classist and makes working in electoral politics a challenge to branch into. I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t get better. Sometimes larger congressional & national campaigns will offer you a “company” iPad or laptop, while this can seem cumbersome and unnecessary to those who may have that equipment already, use their equipment. This means that you can spare your equipment the wear and tear. If your car is high maintenance or Three Wheels in the Grave as they say, you’ll want to consider buying a different car before heading to your work location. Often times you will put many miles on your car before Election Day.
2.) You will likely have to relocate, eventually.
Again, very classist and exclusionary to poor, young kids just out of school. Unless you have help from your parents, savings or another form of income it can be very tough to relocate on your own dime. Many campaigns do not offer relocation stipends; however, some campaigns do offer what we call “supporter housing” where they will arrange for a supporter that lives in your assigned turf to house you.
Red Flag Alert: Supporter housing is usually a big bonus, and some campaigns will try to low-ball your salary. Be wary of this and try to avoid those campaigns, they can and will take advantage of your naivety.
3.) Pay Attention to key words in your interview.
I have often found myself so wrapped up in my anxiety & excitement during an interview that I forget to listen and ask critical questions. Watch your breathing and stay calm during an interview.
Red Flag: Be aware that campaigns typically offer you a salary and they can change the amount of hours you work but they won’t raise your salary. Be sure to listen for language that is similar to, “We will start with 5 days a week but after (usually a pre-determined date) we will move to 7 days a week.” Which means by the end of your election cycle you may be working a whopping 70–80 hours a week for multiple weeks in row. Does that sound crazy? If so, it’s because it is. I was working a tribal campaign in 2019 and we began with 5 days a week, then about 60 days from Election Day (E-Day) we moved into 6 days a week and 30-days out me moved to a full 7-days a week usually working from 8 AM to 9 or 10 PM.
4.) By the end of the election cycle you will have zero energy. Be prepared for the longest sleep ever. It’s like finals week in college, don’t try to plan any major life events right after your election cycle (i.e starting grad/law school, getting married). Try to plan for at minimum a 2-week break between campaign jobs. You may need to move; you may need have other affairs to settle. Take a days and breath. Of course, many of us have bills to pay and we are economically pressured to keep up a steady income. If possible, ALWAYS try to negotiate a $500 raise on your initial salary offer if appropriate. This can be your grocery money or go toward your rent or into a savings account to give you a lifeline between jobs. Don’t be surprised if you are feeling burnt out from the sheer amount of hours you put in. In 2019, I was in the office by 5:30 AM on Election Day, my candidate was projected to win and when we were released from duty that evening at 9:00 PM I just went to bed. I remember that I was too exhausted to even care whether we won or not, I just crashed and hard.
5.) Self-care, Self-care, Self-care……….and Self-Care.
Campaigns are NOT setup to prioritize your mental health. Campaign are heavily into “Hustle Culture”. What I mean is that you are hustling all the time on a campaign. Often times you and your co-workers will not have time to do personal tasks like workout, grocery shopping, laundry, housekeeping, cooking meals for yourself and sometimes even showering. If you have a campaign that treats you decent, you may still hear stories of organizers that haven’t showered and are consuming a dangerous amount of sugar and caffeine just to function. Do NOT sacrifice your mental well-being for a candidate or a campaign, it’s not worth it. As my granny used to say, “you’re burning the candle at both ends and in the middle.” Bask in any days off that you have while you have them, and stay home. For the love of whatever god you worship or the lack thereof, do not and I mean DO NOT be pressured into volunteering for a campaign on your day off. Your days off are precious and so few, you must discipline yourself into taking care of yourself before you start on a job. It’s almost 2021 and the campaign industrial complex still somehow thinks that not working their employees into the ground is a radical notion.
6.) A Campaigns’ organizing structure is NOT Democratic, even if you work for a Democrat.
I’m a democrat myself and all of my experience has been on Democratic campaigns. But someone recently told me, “The left wing and the right wing are both attached to the same bird.” This applies in many ways in politics. Likewise, it also applies toward campaign experiences. So I’m telling you right now, your campaign is NOT union friendly. I have worked for many candidates that talk very big to their voters about how they come from a strong union family. I’ve been given talking points about how my candidate is pro-union and how they would stand up for the working class. And then I’ve landed flat on my ass when our campaigns’ field staff decided to air our grievances and form a bargaining unit. You may love this work, you might be built for this hustle, but remember that YOU are the little person here. You are the working class that your candidate pledged to fight for so many times. You may be required to hold your candidates’ feet over the fire on that. Stay strong and #unionizeyourcampaign.
7.) Your fancy political science degree only taught you the “theory” of campaigns & elections, and that’s okay.
I graduated college 1-month after Donald J. Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 Presidential Election. I was pissed off, fired-up and ready to put my whole self into the fight that lay ahead. So the first thing I did was go out and find this local Democrat running for office and I agreed to manage his campaign. That was a mistake, I had absolutely no what the hell I was doing. And as a result of all the stress of that important role I suffered a major mental health breakdown in August. If you’re a student reading this because you’re interested in working in electoral politics. You’re on the path to success, please try your best to accumulate a campaign internship before you graduate from your undergrad program. But don’t stress hard, you can usually get started in politics out of high school. Most entry level campaign organizing jobs don’t require any educational metrics, and little to no prior experience. You may feel overwhelmed on your first professional campaign role. I certainly did and I thought, “I have a Political Science degree, this is what I studied for,” and further feeling of inadequacy. It’s okay to not feel prepared, in fact it’s part of the job. Don’t panic, it’ll be okay.
8.) Be prepared to fight for your religious holidays.
Make no mistake, if you have religious views that are not already recognized as US National Holidays, you will have to fight for your time off to observe religious holidays. I hear many complaints from Jewish friends on Twitter that they have had to fight tooth and nail for days off for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. My hindu friends report having to fight for Diwali off.
9.) Stressful calls, dangerous doors and vicious voters.
I could talk all day on the amount of times I have been harassed and even assaulted at events, on phone calls or while canvassing doors. If you are a young person that is preparing to enter the campaign field. Please be sure that you are taking measures to protect yourself. Canvassing can be dangerous. I had a grown-ass man lay hands on me while I talked to him at the door in Iowa Falls, Iowa. He then got violent and shouted, “I’M A WARREN SUPPORTER AND YOU ARE WASTING MY TIME!”
I’ve been bitten by dogs, I’ve had guns pointed in my face, I’ve had husbands get angry and violent when I knock on their doors asking to speak with their wives. I had a friend that was chased off someone’s doorstep in Iowa with a bat in-hand screaming, “SOCIALIST!” I’ve been screamed at on the phone by voters for something I have no control over. I once had the tribal police and the city police called on me by the same person while canvassing. If you don’t feel safe knocking on doors by yourself after dark, you have every right to talk about that with your boss. DON’T let them pressure you into activities that put your safety at risk. Because believe me, they will try. If you don’t feel safe having a 1:1 meeting with Mr. SoNso at his house, don’t go.
10.) I wish I would’ve have focused on getting in shape before leaving.
This isn’t about the way anyone looks, not at all. Instead I decided to include this because when you work full time on a campaign. Having time for a daily workout routine is a luxury. Sometimes organizers are able to swing it, and I’m glad for them. You may want to think of focusing on a workout routine that will help you build endurance and stamina before hitting the campaign field. As an organizer you will spend a LOT of time knocking doors, and much of that time in unfavorable conditions. I can guarantee you that it will almost always be too hot or too cold. I hate to say this, but campaigns don’t care if you are uncomfortable in the dark, or if it’s 100 degrees out.
11.) Homophobia, racism, sexism, ableism, classism, transphobia, and xenophobia.
Campaign teams are dominated by white male supremacy. The field of politics is, in short, just like everywhere else is dominated by unhealthy prejudices such as the ones listed. As a woman working in politics, I constantly fall short of my male counterpart’s weekly metrics. I would call voters trying to round up support for my candidate and the older, male voters would blow me off and refuse to meet me in person for coffee, or challenge me openly on something I said. Often times I would meet with husband and wives together. But my male co-workers? Not a problem, they were taking names and kicking ass for the candidate while I was constantly being lectured for not meeting my goals that week. On every campaign I’ve worked I have been the lone female staffer in an office with 5 or 6 men, most of the white and middle class.
12.) You don’t have to go straight to Washington DC for a career in politics.
There are so many opportunities at home or in your state, leaving everything behind to move to DC in hopes of making it in politics is risky. Not only that, it rarely happens. There are some DC internships that look great on a resume, but they are usually unpaid and very competitive. Check out online election commission resources for upcoming races in your state. Volunteer with your local party organization to register voters in your hometown. Try, try, try to find a way to get experience with VAN or (whatever voter file software Republicans use) to beef up your resume. If you have past work experience in any customer service role, you are perfectly suited for a career in politics. Talking to voters is just like talking to any other customer, and most of the time voters are just as stupid and ridiculous as customers. Working with voters will challenge you in a new way, and will lead to lifelong friendships, amazing memories and a disgusting amount of knowledge about whichever geographical area you worked in.
13.) You probably won’t get to work for your favorite candidates first.
It’s not as big of a deal as you think. Many first-time organizers aren’t going to be able to go work a Presidential election for their favorite candidate. Sometimes it’s best to start smaller and ease yourself into this work. If you are 18 years old fresh out of high school and you manage to get hired on a major national campaign, congratulations that’s an amazing accomplishment. But I would not recommend doing that as your first real workplace experience. If there is a crowded primary, as we saw of the Democrats in the 2020 Iowa Caucus. If your favorite candidate is a frontrunner but you don’t feel ready for that level yet. You can always apply for work on your second favorite candidate and then in the next cycle shoot for the stars.
14.) There are more “tracts” in campaign work than just working on a campaign.
If you find yourself wanting to explore a career in politics, there are many tracts to choose from. Choosing the right tract for you may be challenging at first, especially when you’re going to this not having any personal experience to compare it to. There are thousands of PACs that form and die every year, so watch your step! The ideal PAC to work for is a well-known, usually acting as the “political-arm” of a non-profit organization (501c3). Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, America Votes, For Our Future, the Progressive Turnout Project are great examples of well-known and well-funded organizations.
15.) Many campaign jobs are short-term.
One of the hardest part of working campaigns professionally is that the available open positions are tracked with waxing and waning of election cycles. Many organizers drop and work in the private or non-profit sector in between campaign cycles because there are usually not enough decently paying jobs to meet the demand of job hunters. This is true more than ever with the 2019–2020 election cycle. We had ~20 candidates ran in the Democratic primary this year and it was easy to get hired in Iowa or a different swing state and swelled the demand. But now that the election is over there just aren’t enough jobs. But don’t fret, onward to the 2022 midterms!
All in all I have enjoyed my time working in this career field and I hope that you will too, I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. I have traveled and worked in poor communities in Oklahoma to the wealthy neighborhoods of Georgetown in Washington DC. There is always going to be a need to more young people to enter the field of electoral politics. If you are ready to enter the field full time and fight for whatever you believe in, go for it. You will build lasting friendships and lifelong experiences that you will cherish forever. Find me on Twitter at @ADot_Dep for all of the spiciest tweets from the campaign trail.