Imagine your job involved spending hours making phone calls to complete strangers and repeating the same message over and over. And imagine, in addition to doing that, walking several kilometers a day (regardless of the weather) to knock on doors and ask people about their voting preferences. Imagine that, for variety, you hand-wrote thousands of direct mail messages urging people to vote on Election Day.
Now imagine you don’t get paid.
Right now, thousands of Americans enthusiastically perform this job. They work as volunteers on a 2016 presidential campaign. Some are too young to vote themselves. Why do they do it?
Former Republican Party volunteer Nicolee Ambrose, who is chairman emeritus of the Young Republican National Federation, says she was motivated by a strong desire for change — still the most important factor driving today’s campaign volunteers.
“If you have the desire and there is a well-organized campaign that can put you to work, you can make amazing things happen,” Ambrose said. “Instead of being frustrated and sitting at home complaining, you can get out there and make a difference.”
Donating time and effort makes your opinions count more than they would if you simply voted — “[There are] hundreds, if not thousands, of people you can influence too,” she said.
Courage and camaraderie
Grace Choi, a former Democratic Party volunteer, spent weekends in 2008 traveling from her job in New York City to Pennsylvania, where she knocked on doors to ask residents how they planned to vote. She was just out of college, inspired by then-candidate Barack Obama, and excited to “play a role in making the community that we live in better.”
As a second-generation Korean American, Choi realized the importance of civic participation when she noticed that many in her community were not registered to vote. There was very little information on the candidates or the issues in the Korean language.
For a beginner, engaging strangers on their doorsteps can be intimidating. “I’d talk about why I support the president, and my own personal journey and why I am spending my personal time in front of their door,” she said. “When you talk about your own personal story, they can’t invalidate it as easily and they can’t brush you off.”
For Choi and Ambrose, the fun moments of volunteering still stand out. Long hours spent with fellow volunteers making phone calls or handing out campaign literature in the rain led to lifelong friendships and “funny stories to share with those people for the rest of your life,” Ambrose said.
Besides the camaraderie, there is the strong feeling that those hours made a difference.
“I knew that every vote counted. All those calls and knocking on doors that I did was a drop in a bucket compared to the big, massive machinery of volunteering, but I just knew every vote matters, every precinct matters and every state matters. … I was taking part in something bigger than myself,” Choi said.
“It is a wonderful, energizing thing to do,” Ambrose sums up.