Project Wonderful

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sh*t Non-Campaign People Say

The day after this past general election I got a gchat from one of my best friends from high school. This was our conversation:

Him: Last night was so much fun! My friend had an election watch party at her house and we had the cupcakes with donkeys on them. We stayed up all night partying and when he won it was insane people were crying and dancing and hugging each other, even if they didn't know each other.

Me: That's know my candidate didn't win.

Him: Oh, I didn't realize that.

Me: I'm glad you had fun. Why did you have a party? Did you wind up volunteering with the Obama campaign?

Him: No, I was too busy. We were going to have a fundraiser at the law school but I decided it was too much work.

Me: Okay, I gotta go meet my coworkers. I'm glad you had fun.
If you're like me and you work on campaigns, the above conversation made you cringe. It feels like a Highlights Magazine, "Can you spot the mistakes?" I've often teased (and fought with) this friend over his sometimes oblivious behavior, but I also know he is the last person in the world who would intentionally say something hurtful to me. I've been meaning to tackle this issue for a while and last night's loss in conjunction with some recent scandals in New York politics reminded me that it is long overdue. If you have friends or family who do my job or something like it check out these common campaign scenarios for what we do and definitely don't want to hear:

Don't Say...
Did you win? In today's age of google and google alerts, there is virtually no excuse for you not to know the answer to that question. If you are close enough with me to be getting in touch during such an emotional moment, then you are close enough to have learned my candidate's name and find out this information yourself. If the answer to your question is "no," the last thing I want to do is have that disappointing conversation with over and over again while I am still trying to comfort my candidate and my staff and tie up the inevitable loose ends. Even when the answer is yes, it's hurtful that at one of the most important moments of my professional life, you couldn't put in the minimal effort to check the local paper or set up a google alert.

Congratulations! It seems obvious not to congratulate someone until you know whether or not they've won an election, but it happens. I can't tell you how many congratulatory texts I got when we lost last November. I was extremely relieved and proud of our Senate and Presidential victories, and excited for and and proud of my friends who worked on them. I also did feel that I had a personal stake in these races, thanks to the organizers I'd mentored and campaigns for whom I'd volunteered and who read my blog. When I got congratulatory texts that acknowledged my work on these races as well a "better luck next time" in Texas, I was touched. When I got blanket congratulatory texts, I was annoyed mostly because I knew my compatriots who had been working much longer and harder than I had were getting them too. These texts, however well meaning, felt like they were saying, "well but in the grand scheme of things that little Congressional race isn't important." All elections are important especially the ones I work on or I wouldn't work on them. My efforts in Texas were valid, and more importantly my friends' were.

What you can say: (Since you will have looked up the election result...) I just saw that you won! Congratulations! (see below for what to say for a loss.)

On or off a campaign, I can't stand when someone says one of the following sentences:
Someone called/came to my house the other day and I was polite to them because of you. Really? You weren't polite to them because you are a good and decent person? You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) how cruel and smug people can be when you're just calling them to ask for their vote. Field organizing can be incredibly draining and degrading, but we do it because we believe passionately in these candidates and causes--candidates and causes that will improve your lives as well as ours. It's pretty disheartening to imply that the only people who are obligated to treat us with respect are people who happen to know someone in the campaign world.

I find those phone calls really annoying. Great. No one asked you. That's what I've chosen to do with my life and you might not like it, but it's a necessary evil of my job. I find flossing really annoying, also homework, legal bills, nutrition advice and any form of artistic angst, but that's not the first thing I say to people I care about when it comes to their jobs, because that would be rude.

Those calls can't possibly do anything. You're right. I've devoted my life to something completely stupid and useless because I love getting chewed out by ignorant strangers on a daily basis. Phone calls work. There are studies to prove it. They probably work on you and you just don't realize it. It is a fact, not a matter of opinion or your individual experience. I don't tell doctors what treatments are effective, or sommeliers what wines go with fish. I'm the expert here, not you and I'm telling you they work. End of discussion.

What you can say: I got a political phone call at the house and it made me think of you. You're amazing to put up with all those rude people.

I don't have time to volunteer because... If we ask you to volunteer, that's one thing, but if you're in Ohio and I'm Florida in and you're just trying to assuage your guilt, take it somewhere else. Fundamentally we get that not everyone is going to volunteer on a campaign, I promise we do. On a day-to-day basis, however, the average field organizer spends about four hours straight making phone calls asking people to volunteer and another two hours doing so in the office or at events. It is enervating, humiliating work where people lie to your face and smirk about it. In order to do what it takes to win, we have to temporarily convince ourselves that volunteering on a campaign is the most important thing in the world and that people who don't do it are either ignorant or selfish. We don't want to think of you as "one of those people." When it comes to the issue of friends and family receiving volunteer recruitment calls, it's best to operate on a don't ask don't tell basis.

But you have to have ONE night off to hang out... No, I don't! I wish I did! I don't even have time to shower! I know you miss us, believe me, we miss you too, but it's bad enough to think about what we're missing back home without being made to feel guilty about it. Some things like engagements, break-ups, medical emergencies, deserve our attention and it's on us to be there for you at least via phone call no matter what, but for the most part we are under an enormous amount of pressure and it hurts when the people who we most count on for support don't get that.

What you can say: I miss you, but I am so proud of how hard you're working. I can't wait to do (activity you enjoy together) when you're done!

Unfortunately, a topic with which I have first hand experience.
What's going on? If I'm in a position to know, I can't tell you.

Did you know? Yep! I packed up my entire life and moved to the middle of nowhere at great peril to my relationships and health to work at less than minimum wage for John Edwards knowing he was a lying bag of garbage and that if he were to get the nomination it would be an irreparable disaster for the Democratic party. No, of course, not! How could you know me and think I would knowingly work for someone who would cheat on his wife while she had cancer, not to mention risk another four years of Republican presidency? I think of all the DON'Ts on this list, this one hurts the most. Really? Really?

I never trusted him. Well aren't we Holly Hindsight? I was wrong. I get it. It's embarrassing enough on its own without other people pointing out how "obvious" it was.

Politicians are all scum. Okay, to some extent, yeah. But I still do this job and so I have to believe that there are good guys out there somewhere. Look, in a democracy we get the leaders we deserve. A lack of faith in politicians and the political system is exactly what I'm fighting against big picture, and exactly why sleazy people get ahead. So while I know this is meant to make me feel better, it doesn't.

What you can say: I have no idea how you must be feeling. I love you and I'm sorry you're going through this.

The system is broken. Please see above.

Well what do you expect? It's Texas, South Carolina, etc. I have been guilty of saying this myself. "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown." The thing is a) as a campaign nomad I've already heard enough regional stereotypes to last me a lifetime and b) if we only worked safe races nothing would ever change. Campaign people should be commended for giving it their all in enemy territory, not treated like they've just returned from a fool's errand.

What you can say: I just saw. That's such a bummer. I hope you are proud of all your hard work and celebrating that tonight even though the result blows.

I get it. Campaign people can be narcissistic, one-track-minded pains in the butt. I should know; I am one and I live among them. Please understand though, we live our lives as public commodities all day every day. We take a lot of abuse and we CAN'T fight back because we are representing our cause or candidate. That's why we can be extra-sensitive in the brief interactions where those things are not at stake. The upside is if you can put up with us, we tend to reward you by extending the same passion and dedication we have for campaigns into our personal relationships.

Campaign Love and Mine,


  1. Well said. My favorite line is:
    A lack of faith in politicians and the political system is exactly what I'm fighting against big picture, and exactly why sleazy people get ahead. So while I know this meant to make me feel better, it doesn't.

    I think this statement goes to the heart of what people don't understand about those of us who work in campaigns are all about.

    They don't realize that by complaining about politics and politicians they are helping fuel the disenfranchisement that is creating the problem.

    That by trying to get people engaged, and by being passionate about our candidates and causes we are trying to reverse this trend.

    Though it can be a very frustrating career as we have to deal with the inevitable losses, and imperfect candidates.

    We do it because our efforts, win or lose, engage more people in the process, which is vital to the health of our democracy.


  2. My sentiments exactly! Thanks, Corin!

  3. The phone calls being annoying is why I always describe the field director as the "harasser-in-chief."

  4. I'd also add people trying to give me their thoughts on our comms, which may be good thoughts or not but regardlessly I have literally no control over cause I'm, you know, field.