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!