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!

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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

Week 2: On the Doorstep

IMG_8072So the question is: why would anyone ever move across the state for an unpaid internship working on a state campaign? The answer to that is surprisingly simple. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the truth is that PA politics are a mess right now. We went almost a whole year without passing a state budget, heroin is becoming a huge problem, property taxes have been in need of a readjustment for years, and there is a general laziness in Harrisburg characterized by high salaries and pensions alongside low rates of action. The list goes on.

So add up all of this nonsense in addition to a representative who has been in office since 2010, a man who promised to only run two terms. Sure, he shows up to all the community events and gets his picture in the paper, but is he really helping the area or even Pennsylvania for that matter? That remains to be seen. Despite the relative inaction, the incumbent is certainly well known. It seems that those who support and oppose him have strong feelings about the issue, and are relatively involved in the district’s political scene.

I spoke to a man recently who was literally brought to tears while talking about the defunding of a local park project that occurred under the current representative. Although it is not realistic to expect a representative to be able to do everything, it definitely feels like Carbon County is in need of a fresh face.

This is where Neil Makhija comes in, along with the job that I moved across the state for. Neil’s family immigrated to the area from India before Neil was born and Neil’s father, Dr. Makhija, is one of the most well-known people in the area. Almost all women in the area know him or have heard of him because of the 8,000+ babies he has delivered over the years. Neil himself just graduated from Harvard Law School, where he attended on a scholarship set up by a coal family in the county, and became an attorney in a local town. Now he is full of energy and ready to fight for the people of this county to really make a difference with the issues that count.

So is Neil Makhija going to win? Although politics can be complicated and quite fickle, it definitely seems like Neil has a chance. With all of these different factors in play, not only is this the most competitive race in the PA, but Neil is the ranked as the top candidate across the state. With all of that being said, I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t have moved to Eastern PA to be a part of this.

Week 1: Out of the Frying-Pan

On Tuesday of last week, I started my summer internship working as a Campaign Fellow for Neil Makhija’s House of Representatives campaign in the 122nd district of Pennsylvania in Carbon County. I will be working on many different aspects of the campaign alongside several other interns, the Campaign Manager, and Neil Makhija himself.

Before arriving in Carbon County five days ago, I never would have said that life in such a small-town area would be fast paced. Five days into this new experience, I now know that that was quite naïve of me. Last Tuesday I drove from Tyrone, PA to Lehighton, PA not knowing where I would be sleeping that night. I arrived at the address the Campaign Manager gave me over the phone a few days before, proceeding with a list of anxieties of what might be in store for me.

Only after seeing the “Neil Makhija” signs in the store front of the address I was given did my anxiety begin to fade and I didn’t feel entirely at ease until several hours later when I arrived at the house I will be staying in for the next two months. After leaving behind all of my uncertainties, I now feel very confident about the outlook of this internship and the rest of the summer in my new home of Palmerton, PA.

My first full day of work was Wednesday. I arrived at the office a little before I needed to in order to be sure that I was prepared for the day- only to discover that it was not at all necessary. The Campaign Manager, Max, is very laid back and when he says that he expects you to arrive at 10am, he doesn’t secretly mean 9:45am; 10am is actually sufficient. Although the office setting is laid back, that is not to say that it isn’t busy. As soon as I arrived, I was given various log-in information and a brief training session and then I quickly dove into a project.

Before I knew it, it was 4pm and I had already done a fair amount of research, started to organize different community events in Neil’s calendar, and became acquainted with a local Polish restaurant called Red Castle Brewery. At 4pm, Neil and I packed up some fliers, voter registration forms, dog treats, and other important canvassing items and set out to begin knocking on doors. Over the course of his campaign, Neil will be personally knocking on 10,000 + doors with the help of interns and volunteers because that is genuinely what it takes to win this kind of campaign. Although many people are ready for a change and excited about Neil, a very competitive race is in the making.

By the time we were finished it was almost 9:30 pm and I was exhausted. Although every day would not be so long for me, I quickly realized that this is a typical day for Neil and Max. Campaigns are very demanding and time consuming, and this is something that has been an adjustment for me but will also be a good learning experience. By the time Saturday came along, I was already able to help with an event. We had a Day of Action to support Neil’s campaign which brought out different community members who are enthusiastic about Neil’s ideas and want to help spread the word by knocking on some doors.

As I write this blog, I find it hard to believe that I have so much to say after only 5 days on the job. I think this is a sign that this summer will be quite an unexpected journey, with one adventure after another.Thanks for reading!