Election Feature: A Day in the Life of a Campaign
“HOMEMADE PIE $2,” the sign announced, tempting passersby to our booth. It was a genius plan: entice people with the prospect of freshly baked pie, then initiate a conversation about the upcoming presidential election.
It was a blazing hot afternoon at the Wyoming County Community Fair (located a few miles from my hometown of Tunkhannock), and I was volunteering with the local Democratic organization for the day. We were selling pie as a group fundraiser, but we were also promoting Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by handing out informational pamphlets and discussing her platform with fairgoers.
When I first arrived at the fair, I fretted about the opposition I would inevitably face. My audience consisted primarily of residents from conservative rural communities. How will I respond to a passionate Trump supporter? And how will I defend my own stance? I wondered as I arranged brochures for the afternoon. These were the issues that campaign volunteers had to learn to overcome, and before I even started, I realized what a difficult job campaigning can be.
Although I encountered some opposition by Trump supporters, I thankfully did not confront anyone combative. In fact, I had the opportunity to hear a variety of opinions and respectfully discuss my own. I learned that good campaigning was more than merely pushing a candidate—it was entering into a conversation with other voters and exploring the dynamic of political perspectives. It was refreshing to engage in meaningful conversations, especially when mudslinging seems to dominate discussions in the media.
My experience became a sort of social analysis. From likeminded Clinton supporters to Trump backers to the unenthused middle ground, interacting with voters taught me about new perspectives as well as helped me to refine my own.
Clinton supporters, excited to see their candidate represented in the heart of Trump country, enthusiastically approached the booth. Nearly all of them were women, and as a feminist, it was heartening to see so many women pushing for the first female president.
Perhaps the most memorable people I met were two women in their late twenties. “We’re so glad to see you here!” one of them exclaimed excitedly. “We haven’t seen a whole lot of Clinton support around here, so when we saw your signs, we had to come over!”
She explained that she lived in Philadelphia, a predominantly liberal area, but returned to her hometown in NEPA for the weekend.
“As we drove farther north, we started to see more and more Trump signs,” she remarked.
Her friend was a Brazilian who had recently moved to Philadelphia. When we asked her what she thought of our presidential election, she simply shook her head and commented, “I can’t believe it.” The accusations, the arguments, the reality show-esque drama… to someone from another country, it seemed like sheer madness.
Other Clinton supporters approached us for campaign giveaways such as bumper stickers and yard signs. Unfortunately, the region’s campaign headquarters didn’t distribute materials in time for the fair, so we only had a few dozen yard signs and an envelope of stickers to hand out. Some people, however, were unsure about displaying their political views.
“I’d love a sign, but I know it would get stolen,” one woman sighed.
Many others shared her fear. Yard signs for both candidates are constantly stolen or vandalized.
Of course, there was a fair share of Trump supporters at the fair too. Innumerable red ball caps bobbed past us without a second glance. “Ugh, Hillary Clinton!” some groaned as they walked by. “No thanks!” Others stood a safe distance away as friends or family members bought pie from us, afraid of being seen near anything Clinton-related.
Late in the afternoon, a stout, middle-aged man approached our booth for pie. As soon as he placed his order, his eyes darted to our banners and signs. “Oh, you’re Hillary people…” he grumbled.
I was working with Sharon, the organization’s president, who knew exactly how to handle these situations. I listened carefully, interested how she would respond. “Will you be supporting our candidate this November?” she asked politely, although the answer was pretty clear.
He waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal. “No, I will not,” he declared.
“May I ask why?”
“Because if she won, nothing would change. It would all stay the same,” he answered. He, like many Americans from both parties, expressed dissatisfaction with the Obama administration. For some Americans, Trump is the answer to governmental change while Clinton would doom the country to four more years in Democratic stasis. They tend to dwell on the government’s downfalls, which get publicized much more often than the little-acknowledged positive impacts.
Sharon cited stats about job growth and the growth of clean energy. “So you would prefer things the way they were eight years ago?” she asked.
“Did you know that as secretary of state, Hillary travelled all over the world to represent our country?”
To that, he muttered a few more Clinton criticisms and retreated with his pie.
The last group of voters that I encountered floated somewhere in the middle of a sea of political views. Some were utterly torn between the two candidates, weighing the email scandal perpetrator against the politically incorrect reality star in that classic question of which was the lesser of two evils.
Others were reluctantly voting for Clinton as their only alternative over Trump. Speaking with these Clinton tolerators made me consider my own perceptions. I met a former Bernie Sanders supporter who was still struggling to side with Clinton. He launched into a lament about Sanders’s loss in the primaries and insisted that the election was rigged. Sanders supporters made the news a few months ago with similar complaints, and some still refuse to back Clinton, although Sanders himself is endorsing her.
I admit that I, like most other young Democrats, found that Bernie Sanders expressed my concerns in his plans for a political revolution. Yet, when he lost the primaries, I quickly converted to the Clinton campaign. I wanted her to win back in 2008, and I still considered her extremely capable of the job. While talking with the Sanders supporter, I realized that I was proud to side with Clinton. I wasn’t going to dwell on the primaries because I believed she was an incredible candidate too.
Overall, my day as a campaign volunteer proved to be an insightful and fascinating experience. My conversations taught me to appreciate the opinions of others while also considering my own views, and I hope to volunteer a few more weekends before the election.
For anyone who is passionate about their candidate, I encourage you to volunteer, even if it’s only for a day. It will give you that chance to have a voice in a nationwide conversation.