2016 was the greatest political upset of our time, and a wakeup call for most.
While voter turnout was average, public sentiment was decidedly polarized. For me, at 27, politics was just a noisy backdrop to a season of general chaos and life on the road.
I had the notion the outcome would either be justified or include support to move our country in the right direction. So in the middle of a month on the road, I didn’t make the time to find a polling station on election day. The next day, protests filled the streets of San Francisco.
Trump’s election didn’t seem real, and while I was ambivalent before, I was determined to never give up my voice again.
During the 2020 primaries, I did my research and phone banked for my choice candidate. This work reminded me how challenging community organizing work can be: so many people hung up on me or were angrily triggered by general questions. There were few meaningful connections, and the entire experience felt futile and caustic.
Already in a corrosive work environment, I couldn’t handle the vitriol in these cold calls. Working with other volunteers closer to election day showed me that I was not alone. I knew I needed to find a more sustainable way to get involved.
Research led me to Tech for Campaigns, a non profit leveraging tech talent in support of progressive candidates in state level elections. With a year-round strategy focused on flipping historically conservative seats, they are the well oiled machine behind success stories such as Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma.
State races routinely report low coverage, but are critical in influencing real experiences for constituents. I applied to support an email fundraising campaign and received an email response within 2 days.
I joined a team to support Eric Holguin, a progressive candidate in the South Texas area of Corpus Christi. He would be the first openly gay, Latinx man to be elected in Texas, and a critical part in preventing Republican gerrymandering. He campaigned on developing local resiliency: focusing on the coastal infrastructure, economic diversity, and inclusive representation.
The incumbent, Todd Hunter, was surrounded by accusations of using his position to enrich himself, and touted an otherwise standard Republican platform.
Our TFC team consisted of an email marketer, a team lead, and a data analyst (my role!). We were tasked to fundraise for the advertising budget (managed by another TFC team), and my work focused on managing a performance dashboard and all other data-related requests. Data was used to identify the success of different topics and phrasing, along with specific subsets of engaged audience members.
We met once a week with a TFC Texas campaign liaison (who managed all TFC-supported races in Texas), and then separately with Eric and his team. Conversations with Eric focused mostly on events and issues at the forefront of his campaign - all emails had to be signed off by him. Meetings with the TFC staff member focused on strategy and sharing resources from other teams. These meetings along with my work managing the email progress dashboard took between 5-10 hours per week. To support the campaign, I even had the chance to draft some emails!
Over the three months that our team supported the campaign, we raised over $20k which supported digital ads reaching over 90k profiles on Facebook.
While Eric didn’t win his election, TFC’s work shows that foundational work is critical: building awareness around a candidate can flip a seat in two election cycles.
I learned a lot about email marketing and copywriting during this project, and had the privilege to work with other smart and talented women. TFC also did their part to bring together all teams with regular “happy hour” video calls and a vibrant Slack community. However, the greatest part of this experience was realizing there was a place for me to contribute meaningfully in the civic arena, despite being disconnected from community organizing for years. I had applied to data-focused roles in political organizations before finding Tech for Campaigns (searching for a way to support progress in the election), and all of them turned me away for lack of recent experiences with…political organizations.
Tech for Campaigns is hopefully only the first of many organizations to connect the skills and energy of those without political careers to community work in an accessible way. While political strategy and organizing are legitimate skills which take time and experience to cultivate, it only took 5-10 hours a week for our team to make a real impact on the success of this campaign-much more than I could have raised through phonebanking or door knocking. It was empowering to use skills I’d spent my career cultivating in a way which aligned with my values.
I believe everyone should take the opportunity to contribute to politics in their community. Despite my experience with phonebanking, it presented a healthy reminder: we truly are all in this together. I urge you to find a role in civic engagement that works for you - even consider taking a page from TFC founders, Jessica Alter, Ian Ferguson, and Peter Kazanjy’s playbook: start your own skills-based organization. Regardless of the path forward, I won’t give up my voice again, and I urge you not to, either.