Volunteering for campaigns: Staying involved in the election
December 6, 2020
As the monumental 2020 elections come to a close, two Accolade reporters share their unique experience of interning for candidates from the Democratic Party and their reflection on becoming involved with politics.
Volunteering in political campaigns has been an invaluable experience
On the morning of June 7, I checked an email that my father had forwarded to me. The subject read, “David Ryu Campaign – Internships.”
I remembered hearing that name somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where, how or when.
When my father came home from work, he explained that he had talked with David Ryu, a Korean American Los Angeles City Council member, at a Korean American Chamber of Commerce Los Angeles dinner. With the city election in November, he was looking for high school interns who would directly work with the campaign and adult volunteers who would phonebank for his re-election campaign.
Now, I had no experience with helping a politician, but being stuck at home completing SAT books, I was willing to help my father’s associate and try politics.
Since June 7, I have been interning for Ryu’s re-election campaign and will continue to work for him until election day on Nov. 3.
When applying to be an intern, I was surprised at what the application was focusing on. Rather than asking about what made me different than the other candidates, it emphasized on commitment. In order to be a valid intern, a weekly requirement of six volunteer hours must be fulfilled. Once accepted, interns must sign an agreement form stating that “they shall not engage with any organization in competition with the campaign.”
Because of the pandemic, all activities related to the campaign were and still are communicated over Zoom. During the internship orientation meeting, Ryu did not show up due to his busy schedule, but instead, we went over the proper procedure of phone banking and roleplayed different situations.
Through this ongoing internship, I’ve been able to gain experience in phone banking, learn how to work with the advertising side of campaigns and reach out to strangers for volunteering opportunities.
My experience with phone banking, the process of volunteers calling voters about their campaign, was definitely the most memorable. Before I made any calls, I practiced several hours memorizing a script and educating myself in Ryu’s plans on certain areas that voters would be interested in such as reimagining public safety, homelessness, and protecting and empowering neighborhoods. When I started making calls, I didn’t realize the harsh treatment that was to come with the task.
Within my first couple of calls, I quickly learned that most people weren’t the nicest, especially to interns who were calling at 10 a.m. to talk about the upcoming city election.
“Hi, may I please speak to John Smith? Hi John, my name is Daniel and I’m talking to folks about Councilmember David Ryu who is -”
“It’s 10 in the morning on a Sunday. Don’t you have better things to do than to call strangers? Don’t call this number again.”
The reactions I received were so negative to the point where I lost motivation at times and wanted to quit. Rather than being confident in my phone calls, I would have to take a mental break after every call for a couple minutes and prepare myself for an anticipated, scornful response.
Seeing me discouraged from numerous rejections, my mentor and field organizer, Shannon Prior, explained that failure was part of the job and told me to stay positive. She changed my perspective on how I should have viewed the situation. Rather than resenting my failures, she told me that it was important to stay focused on learning from my mistakes such as stuttering and not being able to answer specific questions.
After several phone banking sessions, I eventually learned to come into these volunteer sessions confidently with an open mind and to focus on my successful attempts.
“Hello, is this John Doe? Hey John, I hope you’re having a great day so far. I’m talking to important voters like you about Councilmember David Ryu, who is running for reelection for Los Angeles City Council on November 3rd.”
“Oh yea, Mr. Ryu is a great guy, but I was wondering how he has been tackling the homeless problem that Los Angeles has been facing for decades now?”
“In just Mr. Ryu’s first term, he was able to provide more than 600 units of housing to tackle homelessness. Not only that, but he also stresses the importance of mental health of the homeless.”
Because of Ryu’s political campaign, I was able to learn how to phone bank in a professional manner, such as listening and answering any questions.
Through the internship, another thing that I was able to learn was how to advertise efficiently and effectively.
With the election being a city-wide event, a few other interns and I brainstormed alongside some campaign advisers. We decided that with the pandemic, we would need a different strategy than regular billboards for advertising. Rather than in-person advertising, we decided to take an online approach this year via emails and online advertisement posters.
Not only did this save us thousands of dollars that would have been spent on advertising, but it was also more efficient with most people being quarantined in their homes.
The other interns and I spent several hours compiling an informative and convincing letter to send to all of Ryu’s friends and supporters to remind them to vote for him on Nov. 3.
Although it has been several months since I have joined, I’m still learning something new every single meeting.
This experience has been very eye opening for me, but I wonder how much the experience would have differed if I were to have interned for a non-asian politician instead, which is something I can see myself doing in the future.
My fellowship with the California Democratic Party teaches me a lot about the problems COVID-19 has caused for elderly volunteers
“OK, so what is this Google Chrome, and why do I need it to start making calls? Will it disconnect me from the Zoom if I switch tabs?” she frantically asked while squinting at the screen.
“Don’t worry about that right now. Just follow these directions, and you should be fine!” I replied with a nervous smile on my face, trying to calm her down.
This was not the first time I had dealt with an overwhelmed volunteer phone banker, and it would not be the last.
Over the span of the last four months of my fellowship for the California Democratic Party, I attended dozens of online phone banking events, during which volunteers made calls to registered voters in Southern California through an automated system.
My main responsibility during the event was to provide technical support for the volunteers, although the elderly ones were mostly the only ones who needed it.
When I interviewed for the program, I was told that I would have to allocate 10 hours per week for phone banking events, voter registration assistance and any other campaign activities.
I jumped on the opportunity because I not only believed in what the Democratic Party fought for, but I also wanted experience working for a political campaign.
When I was assigned this job during my first event on July 19, I thought to myself, “It looks like I’m not going to have much to do today. This process is so simple that basically no one is going to need my help.”
I soon realized how incredibly wrong I was.
Not only did I spend the entire time during the three-hour event helping the volunteers, but I also spent 45 minutes on the phone helping a 75-year-old woman make a volunteer account for the phone banking system.
After my first few events, I began to realize how truly difficult it was for the elderly to operate technology.
In fact, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, three-fourths of adults over the age of 65 years need someone else to set up their electronic devices for them. One-third of them also said that they were only a little or not at all confident in their ability to use electronics.
The problem of technological illiteracy — or the inability to use, manage and understand technology — has become even more prevalent now and has consumed almost every aspect of our lives. These days, people need to know how to navigate technology in order to do everyday tasks like booking doctors appointments, purchasing groceries and, yes, being involved in our democracy.
Historically, the older generation has always been more involved in activities like voting, campaigning and volunteering.
Over the last five years, 21% of adults over the age of 65 have volunteered or campaigned for a political party, making them the largest group to do so, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, since all campaigns have moved many of their events to online platforms, many elderly Americans are now struggling.
During my fellowship, I heard numerous horror stories from elderly volunteers about how they get so overwhelmed with technology that they feel the need to cry, pray or even shut their laptops and walk away.
As extreme as these reactions may seem, I completely understand where they are coming from. Even I struggle with technology, despite being generally comfortable with it.
At one of the online events in August, I was on a call, helping a sweet older woman with her technological issues, when she told me that she really wanted to be involved in the Biden campaign’s events but can only do it when her son is home to help her with all the technical aspects of it.
She said that, as a descendant of Holocaust survivors, she felt a responsibility to warn others about the dangers of reelecting a fascist leader like Trump. She also said that she had phone banked many times, back when they used landlines and phonebooks. But now she finds herself battling a steep learning curve.
Sadly, she is not alone. Older people all across the country are now finding themselves in this difficult situation of wanting to help a campaign but not having the skill set to do it.
However, the good news is that young people like me and the other 15 fellows in my district are working hard to help these older people in any way we can.
My fellowship opened my eyes to the dedication the volunteers have. They are willing to overcome technical difficulties in order to do their part to help, especially if they are given support from other volunteers and fellows.
These volunteers truly deserve a big thank you from the rest of us, for all of the work they have done for the good of our democracy.
Please visit https://www.cadem.org/ for more information on how you can get involved and make a difference in your community.
When Thaker isn't writing stories and interviewing others, she is buried in homework, volunteering, interning for the New England Academy or focusing on club activities. In her free time, Thaker enjoys playing with her puppy, Arya, and reading dystopian fiction books.