Week 9: The Return Journey

The ninth week of this internship just so happens to be my final week. As I can see the finish line now, things are much more bittersweet. With only two more days left on the job, I am counting up all of the lasts: last phone call, last bit of research, last time I enter a new event into the calendar. Although I don’t really think I will miss being hung up on time after time or hearing people talk about just how Donald Trump will make America great again- this was definitely a very important experience for me.

Although I am not so sure that I will work on a campaign in the future, if I had the opportunity to repeat this experience I definitely would. I have gained a lot of new skills, learned about the inside workings of campaigns, and have made friends with people that are passionate about the same things I am. In addition to the value of the experience, one thing I find myself thinking is that I would not want to find myself in this position a few years from now. Although internships are about getting experience and finding out what you like, there is one thing that people don’t always tell you: internships are also about finding out what you don’t like.

I never would have known how disheartening I find phone calls to people who just don’t really want to talk or that I am not the type of person that can sit in an office for a full day, day after day. It was quite an adventure trying all of these things and a lot of it I really did enjoy but at the end of the day, not every job is compatible with every person’s personality. Several of my coworkers absolutely loved the atmosphere, work, and the prospect of talking about politics all day but for me, I think it is time for me to move on to something a little different.

Being in this position has allowed me to talk to so many different kinds of people in so many different life circumstances and it has showed me there are so many different paths I can take with the major I have and even beyond it. One woman that I spoke with told me that she studied Social Work as an undergrad. After getting her first job, she quickly realized that this wasn’t actually what she wanted to do. Instead of getting stuck, she made the best of the situation, stayed open to all the options that she could find, and eventually got into Information Technology. She told me that people often comment that she isn’t using her degree and that she simply replies by saying that she actually uses it every day. She is helping people and working one on one with others to make a difference, just maybe not the way she originally thought she would be. This story along with many other things this internship has showed me has let me see that the world is so interconnected and things are always changing. Just because I don’t necessarily see myself working on any more campaigns doesn’t mean that what I have learned isn’t relevant to my future or that it was any less important for me to do.

Regardless of any of that, I do really feel like I have helped to make a difference in my position this summer. Just the other day I was talking to a voter on the phone and they told me that just because of the call, they were pretty sure they would vote for Neil. These small victories are really what it takes to make a difference. A campaign is won one vote at a time and policy can be influenced just by having one of the right people in office.

Week 8: The Last Stage

As I finish up with my eighth week at my internship, I am overwhelmingly tired but I also feel that I have gained a lot of valuable experience.

In the last week we have significantly shifted our focus on to voter contact as the time for polling draws near. Voter contact is primarily phone banking and canvassing. While these are not some of my favorite tasks, they are certainly necessary for any successful campaign. Both of these tasks can be very trying but also very interesting. The point is to reach as many voters in the district as possible to spread the word about Neil. Because this includes such a wide range of people- often times people are not happy to be getting a call/knock on their door. Whether it is because they have different political views or perhaps they are cooking dinner or maybe they just don’t like to be bothered- the fact of the matter is that sometimes it can be a little rough. On the other side of the spectrum, you get to talk some very enthusiastic people who give you hope and some people who are just downright entertaining. That being said, voter contact has been eating up most of my time this week.

In addition to this, there were two unique events this week. The first was a local fundraiser/reception that we had for Neil. This ended up being an awesome night to meet with some supporters, enjoy local food and music, and become acquainted with an old building that is the cultural center of Jim Thorpe: the Mauch Chunk Opera House.

The second event was less easy going and much more tense. One of the big issues in one of the nearby towns is the threat of a new wind turbine problem. Although alternative energy is awesome, the proposed project is quite close to residential areas, there are zoning ordinances coming into play, and people are quite worried about what this actually means for the area. In the last few months there have been a series of public hearings held at a local fire house in order for both the wind turbine executives and the locals to get their sides heard. Neil has been interested in this development since the beginning and has made a point of either attending himself or having an intern attend because of the level of importance this issue has with the people from this area. I was quite shocked myself to pull into the parking lot to find the place packed with a line headed out the door when I arrived 15 minutes earlier. To my own estimate, over 200 people showed up to stay in the loop about what is happening with the turbine project. It was a very interesting thing for me to see so many people fired up enough to spend an entire evening sitting in silence to listen to expert testimonies of the effects of wind turbines. After seeing what exactly was going on firsthand, I can understand why it is so important for Neil to maintain his presence in order to stay updated and sensitive to the general vibe from the area.

Despite the fact that my time here is winding down- it is by no means an indication of how busy we are. A campaign is constantly running. There really is no time to stop and smell the roses when you have the pressure of an election getting ever-closer. With that being said, this has been an excellent exercise in coping with long hours and hard work and I think it will help me in the long-run.

Week 7: An Unexpected Party

This week has been absolutely packed with fundraising, research, voter contact, and volunteer outreach. The whole office has been working long, hard hours to keep things moving forward. Along with all of this work, we had a very important fundraiser in Philadelphia and another event that was non-political, yet just as exciting.

The first event was an Education Picnic that Neil helped organized. The event was not at all related to his candidacy, but rather his passion for education. A whole bunch of different organizations that deal with kids were able to attend, making it one of the few events in the county this summer that is 100% focused on kids. Preschools, art and music programs, free clothing and books, and other kid-oriented things were available. There was even a dry ice demonstration and a crocodile(alligator?). The kids had an absolute blast and these different groups were able to get together in what might become a regular event.

The second event of the week was a fundraiser in Philadelphia at Marjorie Margolies house. Marjorie was a former member of the US House of Representatives, and interestingly enough is Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law. As if Ms. Margolies was not enough of an attraction, Valerie Biden co-hosted. Valerie Biden is not only Joe Biden’s sister and previous campaign manager, she is a very strong and inspiring woman. With the help of these two women, Neil was able to gather some people both old and new to talk with him as a candidate with his future in mind. As Ms. Biden introduced Neil, she even mentioned that he reminded her of another 29 year old- her brother, Vice President Biden.

It was very exciting for me to be able to meet such successful women and be a part of such a cool event. Although sometimes I feel exhausted by the money that politics requires, it was very rewarding to see such successful women stand behind Neil in support. After so much excitement it seemed odd to return to our little office, but at the end of the day, it really is the hours of work that makes the difference and makes events like that possible.IMG_9554.

Week 6: The Gathering of the Clouds

One might think that the 4th of July would be the prime time for a candidate to talk to people before firework shows, at festivals, and at picnics. Surprisingly, Carbon County was relatively quiet. This quiet weekend was a blessing in disguise for me. Over the long weekend I was able to go home for the first time- to a new home! I went back across the state to help my parents move into our new house and visit with family. An important part of work is being able to balance work with your personal life and that is sometimes hard in a new position; especially one as demanding as a campaign.

In the same week, the office made plans to attend the Hillary Clinton rally as Joe Biden hit the campaign trail with her in Scranton. Although HRC not being my favorite presidential hopeful ever- she is certainly better than Trump and certainly making history. To our shock and dismay, the rally was postponed due to the deaths of several police officers the night before.

Despite the excitement of going home, the let down of the rally, and the tragedy in Dallas, office business continued on very regularly. We are really digging into fundraising at this point in the campaign. I won’t go into specifics, but the basic idea is for Neil to spend time making calls and getting money. Unfortunately this is one aspect of politics that is inescapable, even incumbents must fundraise. All in all, it was an interesting yet somehow quite average week on the campaign.

Week 5: Over Hill and Under Hill

Guess who is turning 150 this year? Lehighton! Lehighton is the location of Neil’s campaign office and the largest town in the district. This year is the town’s 150th anniversary and they are celebrating. A huge part of the town has been coming out for the Sesquicentennial festivities and it is on our radar in the office as well.

Last Saturday, the weeklong festivities began. On Sunday, I spent a large chunk of the day talking with people at a tent that we have as part of the celebration. Another large chunk of the day I spent with Neil as he shook hands at a kid’s coaster race. Although this might sound like a trivial event, hundreds of people lined one steep street as the kids raced their hand-made coasters and the ambulance stood by.

While everyone was watching, Neil was able to shake literally hundred of hands. One of the first people we ran into was a former candidate for state representative in Carbon County. When he spoke with Neil, he excitedly offered to introduce him to some people he knew at the race. Following his offer, he introduced us to several hundred people. So how is it possible that someone who knows several hundred random people at a community event lost the race for state representative?

I asked Neil just how many votes we were fighting for and he said that it would come down to a few thousand votes. To all of those people who think that their vote doesn’t count: it really does. It might seem obsolete in national elections, but state and local elections are so much more relevant to our every day lives and it really does come down to a few votes.

For this reason, events like the Sesquicentennial celebration are crucial. One job that I do daily is look for events in the county. I read the paper, check the local calendars online, join groups on Facebook, and more. With all of these events I then figure out what is important for Neil to go to in order to meet more voters. Although it is hard to track the people we talk to the way that we can with other types of outreach, it is important for Neil to get out there and get recognized.

This part of my job can be a little stressful because I do not want to miss important events or tell Neil he should go to things that might end up being a waste of time. In this county, it feels like every location is about 20 minutes from the next. Although each destination is divided by beautiful scenery and lots of hills, 20 minutes here and there in the car is not an efficient use of time.

Along with a familiarization of the area’s local firehouses and parks, I have become very familiar with the boundaries of the district. It is important that events are not only in the county, but also in our voting district. One area within the county was put into a different district a few years back in order to help the incumbent by eliminating some democratic voters from the district. This example of gerrymandering is just another big reason why it is time for a change and therefore these local events are important!

Week 4: A Short Rest

While in between fundraisers and events, the office is a little bit slow. Although we constantly have a list of things to do, we are not scrambling to get anything done at the moment. In the meantime, we are scheduling for upcoming events, making calls, doing different types of research, and helping Neil canvass and attend minor meetings.

Although I definitely get tired of making calls, the little outings keep me excited about things. Yesterday, I was able to drive Neil to Allentown for a meeting with the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) about his endorsement. I was able to sit in on the meeting and hear about the big issues for them right now as well as what they are concerned about for Neil’s candidacy. It is so interesting to get a look into what the candidates really have to do and the conversations that go on about the the big issues in the state.

Speaking of the big issues, today Neil had a meeting at a local skilled nursing facility that I was able to attend. We were able to get a tour from someone that works there and hear about the issues that those with mental disabilities and the elderly are facing. Just like many other things in this state, they are underfunded. The idea of the facility is more for temporary care of those that are hurt and need to have care and physical therapy before returning home. More and more, they are finding much more long-term care residents. Because there is nothing else available, this facility becomes a lot of people’s only option.

At the end of the day, this is why I care about politics. Hearing from educators and people in skilled nursing is really an eye opener to why politics are important. Public policy is what can change their lives for the better. The funding they are lacking and the changes that they need come often comes from the state level. The reason I am working long hours for free is because I really believe that it is important to get the right people elected. If Neil is elected, just maybe Carbon County and the state of Pennsylvania can see positive changes to policy and funding in the areas that count the most. 9

Week 3: Inside Information

After about 3 weeks working for the campaign, I feel like I’m fully in the swing of things. Although I am adjusted, I would not say that I am not surprised by the things that come up throughout the campaign. This week in particular was very excited. The first piece of excitement came in the form of a fundraiser and the second a vigil.

The fundraiser was a huge success, but required a good bit of preparation. The fundraiser was on a Thursday, so for the first half of the week we were busy making phone calls to potential donors. The week prior to that we sent out about 500 letters inviting people to attend. When it was all said and done, there were not 500 people there but we were very pleased with the turn out.

If Neil is elected he will be the first Indian American elected to office in PA history. This includes Governor, Senator, and State Legislature. Because of this, Neil has a lot of support among other Indian Americans as well as people that are excited about this change. The fundraiser was quite a fun experience. Basically, we were able to mingle with people and enjoy the catered Indian food that was provided. Events like this are excellent opportunities to practice networking and they are a relatively safe environment to do so.

The second event of the week occurred on Friday. Following the tragedy in Orlando, Neil thought it would be important for the community to hold a vigil to recognize the people that died so him and some others got together to host the event. On Friday morning, we open up the daily paper at the office to see a write-up declaring that the permission to hold the vigil had been rescinded by the commissioners because of a tradition for not allowing political events to take place in a public park.

After quite a bit of drama, including a trip to the court house and a call from Buzzfeed, we decided to go on with the event without permissions. There were jokes of arrests, but at the end of the day we had the vigil and it went smoothly. Some local artists preformed, Neil read off the names of the victims, and we were all able to appreciate out right to freedom of speech and do something for the community following the previous week’s violence.

All in all, this week was nothing but excitement. With everything going on I find myself extremely worn out. Campaigns can be unpredictable and very demanding but at least I am able to sleep well at night. 1