On the night of November 4, 2014, I stood in a beautiful hotel banquet room surrounded by some of the most passionate progressives I have ever known; young, old and in-between. They clapped, and many of them cried, as Martha Robertson conceded defeat in New York’s 23rd Congressional District. But Martha smiled, even as she recalled exactly how long and arduous the journey to election day had been for her – she had been on the campaign trail for more than a year, gaining the support of thousands of upstate voters, the endorsement of close to a hundred advocacy or union organizations, funding and training from the likes of the DCCC and EMILY’s List and raising more than 2 million dollars
Martha was the type of candidate that truly cared for her constituency, hoping to show them how policies had shaped their lives and how they could live better lives with better policymakers representing them. But this was an ugly race. When we arrived as SNAP Fellows in the first days of June, an attack ad funded by the NRCC was soon on the airwaves -- something unexpected and unprecedented for so early in an election year.
As fellows, Zack and I traveled throughout the 11 counties of the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier that made up the 23rd Congressional District (it admittedly took us weeks to memorize all the county names and geography, with a district the size of New Jersey), making persuasion calls and organizing supporters and volunteers in each of those counties.
We staffed Martha during a rock festival celebrating women’s rights in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of women’s suffrage. We celebrated Martha’s birthday in late June with Days of Action across the district, Zack and I acting in similar capacities to FO’s before the permanent posts were filled. We staffed her during a 4th of July parade along scenic Chautauqua Lake, holding her banner and dodging horse droppings as Martha touched as many people as she could, constantly having to right the lies being told about her in the press and promulgated by the opposition. WWe stopped at scenic upstate wineries after hours of canvasing in the few truly hot summer days. We listened as a passuonat Senator Kirsten Gillibrand encouraged her constituents to vote for Martha, a woman the she felt mirrored her ideals. We assisted at press conferences and rallies in front of Rep. Tom Reed’s district offices, calling for better Medicare and Social Security policies, and staffed surrogates as they arrived to endorse Martha. And when a communications director came on board mid-summer, he taught me the structure of campaign communications because I expressed an interest.
My co-fellow, Zack, and I both decided to travel back to New York during GOTV weekend, him from Cincinnati, and me from DC. We barely slept for five days straight (while the rest of the staff hadn’t slept for the two weeks or more previously), and we canvassed until 8PM on election night. As a native Floridian, it was a surprise to realize that polls were even open that late.
And watching as the numbers came in on election night, sitting next to the people I knew had put their hearts and souls in to this race, was one of the most humbling and invigorating experiences of my life.
At every turn our campaign manager, field directors and organizers, finance and communications staff alike, all made us feel as if we were true members of their team, Team Martha.
I have been involved in electoral politics since 2010, while I was still a senior in high school. I worked on my first local race, and then my first Congressional race, back-to-back that fall. I then spent three years of college helping out on as many local races as I could, getting involved with my College Democrats chapter as well as Organizing for America in 2012. My resume is largely inconsequential in the scheme of my summer with SNAP, but I can say wholeheartedly that I loved politics before becoming a part of SNAPPAC, and I always knew that I would be a part of the process afterward, as well. But I truly fell in love with campaigns again over my summer in New York.
Summing up my experience with SNAPPAC is very difficult for me to do. Through my fellowship I was able to create some of the most meaningful friendships and professional relationships that I can compare to none other, while also getting to know and respect a truly inspirational woman that I truly believe should one day walk the halls of the Capitol.