If the 2018 elections were any indication of our political future, 2020 is looking to be a bloodbath. Regardless of your political leaning, modern-day American politics can feel like a a middle school lunchtime brawl over some Pokémon cards—but instead of Pokémon, it's our democratic rights they're fighting over. (If only the national budget could be as easy to handle as a Charizard). November 3, 2020 may feel like a lifetime away, but every week at least one new candidate announces they're running for president in 2020. With such a plethora of choices, now is the time to get involved.
Seriously: If you want to feel like you're changing the political landscape by doing more than just voting, volunteer for a political campaign. Working for any kind of campaign—mayoral, congressional, presidential—is a way for anybody to directly help create governmental change.
After all, volunteers have an integral roles in the outcome of the election by registering and mobilizing new voters. Remember when Barack Obama ran for president in 2008? His campaign set a new standard for volunteer engagement, because instead of trying to win over voters, he instead tried to recruit and integrate them into his campaign. He turned the campaign from being about him to being about us. And look how well that turned out for him!
Listen, I'm not going to tell you what to do, but I can tell you that a June 2012 Gallup survey found that just 12 percent of Americans had volunteered for a political campaign, donated to a campaign or attended a political rally. TWELVE. PERCENT. By contrast, nearly 60 percent of all Americans eligible to vote turned out in 2012. Imagine what that 60 percent number could be if we all vowed to get more politically involved? By working on a campaign, you're putting the work into changing the system.
To really stretch the metaphor as long as possible, volunteers are basically the Poké Balls of the political system. Here's how to get those boots on the ground and step up your volunteer game.
Where To Get Started
Well, first, you're going to want to know as much as you can about the party or candidate you're interested in supporting. Go to their website, look up their platform, learn about the issues that are important to them. If you're passionate about an issue, find someone who's just as passionate about that issue who may be running for office.
Next, consider how much time you're willing to commit to this process. There's a lot to be done, and a lot of it is free, unpaid labor. You're volunteering your time. It may not be financially reasonable for you to dedicate multiple hours every single week, but giving up a Saturday or two every few weeks could work. The more work you're able to do, the better the impact—but don't make sacrifices if you don't need to. Political campaigns will take all the help they can get.
Even word of mouth helps: Use your social media accounts to show your support, because getting the candidate or party's name out there in any way is important. Small campaigns can become enormous ones, just by interacting with the people around you and making them aware. Also, you might find a friend or two who's also interested in volunteering but may have never considered doing it without your influence. Anyone can be an capital-I Influencer in politics!
What Your Job Will Look Like
Volunteer opportunities can take any form on the campaign trail, and there's a job for pretty much everyone. Whatever interests you, there's something out there.
Donate to specific political organizations or campaigns
Changing the world can be really expensive, and a lack of funding often presents a major problem for organizers and politicians trying to make a difference. If you're not sure that you're ready to actually be out there in the streets like that just yet, you can still make a real difference by providing financial support for the causes and campaigns that are near and dear to your heart. Organizations like the League of Women Voters focus on important political issues that directly affect women (such as reproductive rights and immigration), so contributing to their cause financially definitely helps them make progress.
Help people get registered to vote
One obvious part of winning (or losing) an election is whether or not supporters actually make it out to the polls on the big day. According to the Voting and Registration Supplement of the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, 61.4% of the population reported voting on election day in 2016, and that number is just slightly lower than the 61.8% of Americans who rocked the vote back in 2012. While those statistics aren't abysmal, imagine how much of an impact increasings those numbers would have on the results of the election and the political landscape in general. We can help make that happen by increasing voter registration prior to election day.
Once you yourself are aware of your state's specific voter registration deadlines, you can help others register in a number of ways. Spreading the word via social media is an easy yet effective method, but you can take it a step further by volunteering to register people in your community or even hosting your own voter registration event.
Become a poll worker
Election day can be a bit frenzied as local polling places try to create the ideal environment for people to cast their votes. You can help by volunteering to become a poll worker, helping to set up polling places and monitor the polls throughout the day to make sure that things go smoothly. Just a heads up: This opportunity does have some requirements, and the stipulations do vary from state to state (age, political party affiliation, residency status, etc). Also, poll workers are required to go undergo some training, so make sure to find out as much as you can about this option before deciding on it!
From going out into the field and canvassing, to phone banking, to creating and executing meet and greets with the candidate, to data entry, to the unglamorous—cleaning the campaign office, creating yard signs. Sometimes, even the most mundane of tasks (like putting stamps on envelopes to be sent out) can have a massive impact on the morale of the campaign.
You can also work remotely! If you live far from a campaign you're interested in (like I did with Gretchen Whitmer in 2018), you can ask if they have any opportunities for remote volunteers.
But Like, Why?
In case I didn't convince you before, it's kind of simple: To show you care. To get you out of the house. To put your time into good work. The campaign trail is far from glamorous but the impact is next-level. No matter the outcome, you'll feel like you've accomplished something because of the knowledge you've gained and the skills you have now.
You'll find out what you believe in, find people who share your beliefs, stand up, and be heard. You'll have a deeper understanding of how the political system works, and what your personal beliefs are. You'll get an idea of what's important to the community that surrounds you, and even better, you may find you have a confidence boost from meeting new people and having conversations with them.
The only way to make your values a matter of importance is fight for them. A sense of accomplishment goes a long way. If you feel like you're too young or that people won't take you seriously, you'll realize right quick that no matter your age, you'll be able to have an impact on the world.
An added boost: You can put volunteer work on your résumé. JSYK.
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