Students share experiences working on political campaigns

Every four years, political opinions become solidified and the country splits once again as political candidates fill the news stations and people’s minds. It is election season. 

While elections are a major part of democracy and citizens’ lives, many high schoolers have a difficult time getting involved, simply because they cannot vote. However, one way students have been getting involved in the elections is by working on political campaigns. 

Working on political campaigns has given several students “real world” experience in the political realm that they may not be able to get in their daily life, according to senior Zoe Silver, who has been working on Josh Becker’s campaign for California state senator.

I first got into the campaign because I met Josh through a mutual friend, and he gave me his business card and I just started volunteering,” Silver said.

Through working on Becker’s campaign, Silver has participated in many activities to help local residents learn more about him and his goals.

“One thing I’ve gotten to do is go to local farmers markets, and I have a little table there with a bunch of other candidates, like presidential candidates who also have tables there,” Silver said. “I just talk to people who are walking by and tell them about the race and about Josh, and we try to give them a little tote bag or canvas bag. I have also gotten to go door to door a couple times.”

Silver said working for a local campaign had many benefits she was not expecting. 

“One thing I especially like is volunteering for a local race,” Silver said. “There are tons of people who volunteer for presidential campaigns and I think that it is really great, but local campaigning is so much different because most of the voters don’t know anything about the candidates, so it’s basically like a clean slate. And I have also really gotten to know Josh which is something that I would not have been able to do if it was a more widely known, national candidate.” 

  However, local campaigns are not the only option students have to get involved in political campaigns. 2019 Paly graduate David Foster worked on Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill’s campaign for a Democratic seat in Congress in New Jersey’s 11th congressional district that had been under Republican-control for decades.

“I wanted to get involved in politics,” Foster said. “I felt terrible for not doing more in 2016. The race was seen as a possible red to blue flip, and it’s right next to where my grandparents live in New Jersey so I had somewhere to live. So I emailed someone on the team, interviewed and was offered an internship on the press and policy team.”

On the team, Foster performed a variety of jobs.

“For example, I maintained the candidate’s social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; I designed graphics and animations; I worked closely with senior campaign staff to craft official policy statements; and I staffed events and served as a photographer,” Foster said.

Foster said that even though he was not working on a local campaign, he still got to work relatively closely to Sherrill.

“I spent a large amount of time with her when I was staffing events or serving as a photographer,” Foster said. “But when I was doing digital and social media work, we would mostly say ‘hi’ in the office and she would approve content. I was surprised going into it how much I got to see her, and I was definitely awestruck at first. I still never fully got over it.”

After a successful campaign, Foster had the opportunity to continue his political work in the congressional office in D.C. after the summer after his senior year. According to Foster, it was helpful to understand the issues in the district and have experience through Sherrill’s campaign before heading into his position in D.C..

“I drafted speeches and press releases for the congresswoman, composed tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, created graphics in Photoshop, Canva, Illustrator and Keynote, designed Town Hall materials, managed a digital calendar, produced daily press clips for D.C. and District offices and created a winning graphic in the 2019 Democratic Member Online All- Star Competition in the House of Representatives,” Foster said. 

Lia Salvatierra, another 2019 Paly graduate, took the opportunity to work on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for president as part of her gap year.

Salvatierra earned the position of field organizer, despite her lack of experience in political science.   

In high school, I had not delved at all into political science, in classes or extracurriculars, not because I wasn’t interested, but because I fell into a routine with other priorities,” Salvatierra said. “I decided that diving somewhat blindly into election work would really quickly open my eyes to that realm.”

After interviewing for and receiving her position, Salvatierra packed her bags and moved to the East Coast to start working on Warren’s campaign. As field organizer, Salvatierra helped out with a plethora jobs.

“I would be in the office for most of their hours, and my tasks consisted of essentially helping speed up the jobs of many of the organizers by making volunteer recruitment calls (and) confirmation calls,” Salvatierra said. “On weekends, I was the ‘Phonebank Captain’ for the headquarters staging location for the four volunteer launches we had each Saturday and Sunday through GOTV and Super Tuesday.”

While Warren’s campaign fell short, Salvatierra saw Warren’s campaign as an overall success. 

“Many can argue that Elizabeth’s polling numbers and ultimate concession could deem her campaign a ‘failure,’ but seeing the real grassroots support she built through the fathers bringing their children in on Saturday mornings, to the canvassers pouring in from all over the country, the heart of her campaign was incredibly alive and incredibly powerful, and in every way a success,” Salvatierra said. 

Salvatierra also noted that she had many smaller successes on her campaign journey. 

“She acquired hundreds of thousands of small donations from people who wanted to make a small investment in her mission,” Salvatierra said. “She had over 5,000 volunteers in Virginia alone. And she, with her poise, practically shut Michael Bloomberg out of the race, whose campaign poured $275 million solely on anti-Trump ads. She focused on a narrative of unity and inclusivity that invited everyone to be a part of her fight, and I think that the manner in which she campaigned has shifted what it means to run for president.”

Looking back on her experience, Salvatierra expresses how much this experience shaped her and been a meaningful experience in her life. 

“I have learned so much from this experience, my political vocabulary exploding for one, but mostly about the grit and heart, it takes to throw all of your belief and time into a goal that is such a black and white loss or win,” Salvatierra said. “Campaign work requires the utmost optimism and emotional support. I am so humbled by my incredible coworkers and carry immense respect for everyone who has contributed to local and nationwide campaigns. I find myself responding to stay engaged with this work in one way or another moving into college and the rest of my life. I am so lucky to have had this invaluable experience, and I wouldn’t have traded it for any candidate.”

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