SeedStories: Lasting memories of a presidential campaign

SeedStories: Lasting memories of a presidential campaign

By Trip Yang

A New Jersey native, Trip graduated from McGill in 2011 and double majored in Economics and Psychology. He most recently worked on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Since the election ended, his daily schedule consists of sleeping in, eating copious amounts of fast food, watching superhero movies, and privately gloating.

As a McGill student, Trip was most involved with the Computer Taskforce, the McGill Tribune, and the Science Undergraduate Society. As an alumnus, Trip keeps in frequent contact with his alma mater. He recently produced a student life music video called “McGill State of Mind” and currently serves on the Board of the McGill New York Young Alumni. (above photo: actor and Obama supporter, Justin Long, encouraging Iowa State University students to vote: photo courtesy of Obama for America Iowa)

Photo courtesy of Obama for America Iowa

Presidential event in Iowa (Photo courtesy of Obama for America Iowa)

When I first got an offer to join President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, I was both excited and anxious. Although I was a fanatical viewer of The West Wing and had made a number of class announcements in Leacock 132 during my student politician days, I didn’t know what to expect. My imaginative mind shifted through the possibilities. Would I be writing speeches? Would I be answering questions about the opponent’s latest gaffe in an MSNBC interview? Maybe I could help clean the Lincoln Bedroom. That famous picture of the President fist bumping a White House custodian was pretty cool.

In reality, much of my responsibilities revolved around organizing local communities to register, persuade, and turnout voters. In politico-speak, we call this field organizing, and the majority of staffers worked in the Field department. At its core, field organizing is about building relationships with community members so they feel motivated and empowered to volunteer for a candidate. We would identify and recruit volunteers and get to know them over coffee or lunch. Once they feel like they’re a part of the movement, they’d feel a sense of fulfillment when making calls, knocking on doors, and holding house meetings to encourage others to support President Obama’s re-election.

While most staffers didn’t appear on the Sunday morning talk shows, we all worked incredibly long hours. Seven days a week, I’d arrive at my office around 9 am and usually finish by 1 am. The longest days were when we planned for the President’s visit to our region – in August alone, there were three high profile visits. The unrelenting schedule can be draining, but I’d always feel inspired when a volunteer stayed up late with me to help plan the next day’s event. Of course, when you spend so much time with someone you don’t always talk about work. One of my volunteers made me smile when he reminded me not to overdose on energy drinks.

One of the most important lessons I learned was to adapt myself to a community. I first started organizing in a metropolitan part of New Jersey that was close to several universities. I found it effective to talk about the need for accessible higher education during meetings with prospective volunteers. In the last three months of the campaign, I worked in a small town community in central Iowa that had been hit hard economically. As a recent graduate, I’d be tempted at first to continue talking about why we needed a leader who’s committed to low interest rates for student loans, but those impassioned speeches sometime drew blank stares. Once I centered my pitches to talk about the President’s plan for building a middle-class centered economy where hard work is rewarded, I had a lot more success building our volunteer team.

In campaigns, we like to say that volunteers come for the candidate, but they stay for the organizer. We pride ourselves on getting to know our volunteers on a personal level, and staffers would often brag about who stuck up the most for their volunteers. When most of my colleagues left Iowa after we had won the election, I stayed around for an extra week to plan celebration dinners. The relationships developed thrive long after a campaign is over and have substance beyond a Facebook friend request. These relationships contribute immensely to winning elections. Our re-election campaign won Iowa by 5.6 percentage points, and I won my county by about a point more. Elections are won or lost on the margins, and a huge part of our success was because we worked with so many selfless volunteers who were just as inspired to re-electing President Obama.obama1 Photos courtesy of Obama for America Iowa

Are you working for a non-profit, volunteering your time, taking part in exciting sustainability initiatives, or involved in international development? If so, we’d love to hear about it!

We at Seeds of Change (part of the McGill Alma Mater Fund) have a blog series called SeedStories, which showcases the experiences of McGill students and recent graduates working on behalf of non-profits and in sustainable development. We invite you to submit a SeedStories entry to be featured here, on Alumni Live 365, McGill’s social media hub.

To become a guest blogger, please send a short description of the experience you wish to write about to seedsofchange@mcgill.ca.

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