Guest Commentary: Lessons from the Campaign Trail


By Shannen Gora

During my sophomore year of college, I interned at EMILY’s List, a feminist organization which recruits, trains and helps fund the campaigns of female Democrats running for elected office. In late April 2016, I went on a campaign trip to Bucks County, Pennsylvania,  mostly a blue-collar county on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

I was very familiar with the area. My maternal grandfather’s sister, who had recently passed away, moved to Levittown from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in the 1950s. Her daughter, my godmother, still lives in the Levittown home that her parents bought with a GI Loan. I am very close to my godmother and was ecstatic that I would be able to see her on the campaign trip. Over the last few decades, the county has suffered from the closure of steel mills and other manufacturing jobs, similar to the communities of the Rust Belt. My godmother’s father was employed by the steel mills, which once made the area a thriving example of American middle class prosperity and rising immigrants.

The campaign trip consisted of canvassing for two candidates.  Katie McGinty and Shaughnessy Naughton were running in Democratic primaries the following week. Katie McGinty was running to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for the United States Senate. Shaughnessy Naughton was running in the primary to represent Pennsylvania’s Eighth Congressional District. The opportunity to intensively campaign would have been invaluable to me regardless of where I went. After graduation this spring, I hope to work on the 2018 midterm races, as well as the 2020 presidential race. However, the target area of the campaign trip meant that I would learn more than just what might be professionally valuable to me some day. It taught me how people from other backgrounds view you and where one might come from.

When the trip began on Friday afternoon, it did not take me long to see that the other girls on the trip had never encountered neighborhoods like the one I grew up in, or the people I personally interacted. As we passed by old row houses with aluminum siding, they made comments about how “poor” everyone seemed and how it was probably a “low income area.” My partner during canvassing was a girl from California who went to NYU. She was clearly uncomfortable when we approached a house where two men in soiled jeans and cut-off t-shirts were smoking and drinking cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on the front porch. After speaking fluent Spanish to resident in the turf packet, she explained to me that she had a nanny when she was growing up who only spoke Spanish. EMILY’s List has been criticized for being an organization composed of wealthy white women, but I had not encountered anything so elitist and ignorant from the organization before this campaign trip.

Contrary to my fellow canvassers, I was very comfortable with all the people I spoke to and everywhere I went. I had been to a few of the neighborhoods with my godmother and her husband, so I was appalled when the other girls said that they were “afraid” of walking through them. I was hurt by many of the comments that were being made about the neighborhoods, or the people whose doors we knocked on. I knew that the comments were not directed at me and that they most likely came from a place of ignorance. I had to step into their shoes and think about the backgrounds they must have come from, their houses and people they were used to being around. I had to think about how even though everything around me reflected my family’s life and what I was used to, it was not as familiar to them.

The experience of working with people from different socio-economic backgrounds from my own made me realize that not everyone comes from the same upbringing as I did. Sometimes people will look down on you and make comments from a place of ignorance and lack of education. I realized they thought that everyone was from environments like their own. I hope that the campaigning experience was as educational and broadening for them as it was for me.


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