Students find campaign involvement in recent elections life changing


For the past month under OneCampaign for Michigan, dozens of high school students across the Ann Arbor Public Schools district took to phone banking for Democratic nominees Jon Ossoff and Raphael Wornock. Now, after a victory in favor of both candidates and a Senate under Democratic control, as well as Joe Biden now occupying the office of President, these students look back on their experiences with gratitude and to the future of America with optimism and refreshed hope.

Those who advocated under OneCampaign for Michigan first became involved in politics and phone banking through various outlets. For Pioneer senior Caitlyn Lynch, her first exposure to campaigning was at five years old when she helped knock on doors for her parents for President Obama’s campaign in 2008.

“I now phone bank with Pioneer Young Dems, and this summer I worked on a local campaign in the county prosecutor race. At the end of the summer, I, along with several other Pioneer students, became fellows for the Michigan Democratic Party, and since then, I’ve volunteered in the Georgia runoffs. I’ve loved the personal connections and conversations you can have over the phone with people, and I really enjoy the team aspect of being on a campaign and fighting for a shared cause,” said Lynch.

Senior Jenny Meng admits it was socializing that first got her involved in politics, but she has found a genuine passion.

At first, I got into phone banking because I had friends who were doing it, and they recommended it to me,” Meng said. “However, as I connected with the organizers and other volunteers on the campaign, I started to see phone banking as a way to engage in my community and to bring people together for a common cause in order to address issues they were personally passionate about.” 

Meng added how impactful her phone banking experience has been on her interest in current events and political issues. “Being part of this campaign really opened my eyes to different issues. Before working on it, I paid little attention to politics and the different things going on in our country. Now that I’ve been immersed in this political culture, I feel much more aware about current issues and how to address them,” she said. “I have also gotten better at speaking with strangers on the phone. Overall, the biggest thing I took out of working on this campaign was being able to connect with a community of people striving for the same thing I was, and being able to learn about where they come from and what their purpose is.”

Pioneer junior Lin Yang first became involved in campaigning in her sophomore year when the Pioneer Young Democrats phone banked for the Kentucky gubernatorial campaign of Andy Beshear, which introduced her to phone banking. That summer, she and fellow members applied for the Michigan OneCampaign, which was the grassroots sector of the Michigan Democrats for the 2020 elections.

“During that fellowship, we not only did a ton of phone banking, but also learned to be organizers and leaders in those kinds of campaigns. I personally was on the team that worked on the Biden and Peters campaigns,” Yang said.

Yang went on to detail her experience starting out with her fellowship.

“I was very, very intimidated in the beginning. There were so many people and all of them were as intense about this election and politics in general as I was. As I got closer to the small group I worked with though, things got easier, and I became a lot closer to everyone I worked with,” she said. “My organizer was amazing and she explained things so clearly and fluently. She also told us once that when you’re organizing, you may join for the candidate but you stay for the people.” 

Yang did not take part in political campaigning for the Georgia senate election but was a fellow for OneCampaign from the end of June to October of 2020, and worked for several hours each week.

“During the summer months, I worked on the campaign for about 8 hours a week, whether it be phone banking, organizing work, or a mix of the two,” she said. “When school started, I reduced to 4 hours a week and focused exclusively on organizing work, like contacting volunteers and making sure people didn’t have tech issues or trouble phone banking.”

The buildup to the general election was long and nerve-racking, but worth the wait once Biden was announced as the candidate. “It was so exciting to see the pressure increase and see more people join the campaign and make phone calls, but also very scary because so much was at stake. I definitely had a hard time focusing in class the week of the general election and the runoffs,” said Lynch.

Yang recollected memories of a long night spent on Zoom in anticipation for the future leaders of her country, tracking polls and maps until 3 or 4 a.m. 

“Even then I couldn’t sleep and kept waking up to check the New York Times,” she said. “I distinctly remember when they started counting votes in Michigan, and watching the numbers come in for not only Biden, but also Peters. This was a campaign that I put months of effort and hope into, and watching districts report in and get recounted and stuff was nerve wracking. It paid off though, seeing the headlines that Biden won Michigan and that Peters narrowly beat out James was one of the most cathartic and satisfying things of my year. Our work made real change.”

Yang recalled how the excitement continued throughout the week.

“The rest of that week felt super weird. It was the most invested I’ve seen anyone in poll numbers, ever,” Yang said. “[We] would be pulling up polls and news sites during class and club meetings. I don’t think I closed the NYT electoral maps once during that entire week. Finally closing those tabs has a feeling of finality of ‘This is done. We did it.’”

Meng shared a similar experience: she too, spent much of the night repeatedly refreshing the New York Times election updates page, hoping her efforts of the past few months would be able to pay off.

“The night before the election results were released, I felt nervous but I knew at that point things were pretty much decided and I had done my part. Sometimes I felt really worried that Michigan wouldn’t flip blue despite our attempts, but when it did, it felt like winning an important battle in an ongoing war. Seeing Michigan go blue was seeing the culmination of the work I and so many other volunteers had put in, and I was really grateful to see our hard work had paid off,” said Meng.

Like for many others, Yang felt all the tumult was worth it at the end.

“This may sound cliche, but it’s so inspiring to talk to people from all across the state who all have different stories for why they’re volunteering, but they’re all here nevertheless. I’ve talked to older people who have told me that they usually vote Republican or don’t vote at all, but were now training to phone bank for Biden and Peters. When those are the conversations you have daily, it’s impossible not to be hopeful,” said Yang.

While they do celebrate the recent Democratic victories, the students acknowledge that there is still work to be done.

“A few months ago, a Democratic Senate seemed nearly impossible to me, and it still feels a bit surreal. It was not a celebratory day, though, because the results were officially called on the same day that the Capitol was attacked,” Lynch said. “I am very cognizant of the fact that even though the cycle is over, our work is just getting started. There are so many systemic issues that the people of this country are facing that will take more than the next four years to fix, but I am confident that significant progress will be made by the upcoming administration.”

Yang agreed. “I’m cautiously hopeful. The fact that the Democrats hold two branches of the federal government is nothing to scoff at, and there’s the potential in there for real change to be made. However, the U.S. is more fractured than ever, and this includes the Democrat party. I think it’s now or never for liberals to come together and push for things in a unified way,” she said. “A democracy is ultimately run by the people, and so as the voice of the people, we need to seize the day and demand and fight for the policies we want and need.”

Meng added, “I feel like the next four years are going to be much better than the ones under Trump because we can bring a lot more change. Just having Joe Biden in office isn’t going to solve all of the issues our country has, but I think it will give the people a wider window to actually drive change towards addressing and solving those issues.”

Through all of this, the three students are full of gratitude for the invaluable experiences, personal connections, and insightful peers they have been met with through their campaigning experience. They encourage others to become active members of their political environments and participate in similar campaigning initiatives. 

It may seem super intimidating at first, but the people working and organizing campaigns are the nicest people ever. Even if you have no experience, you will learn quickly, and besides, you have to start somewhere,” said Yang .”Once you get into it, you’ll discover that working on a political campaign is one of the most fulfilling things. It’s so far above sharing a social media post or donating money; you get to see the work you do have real effects in real time,” said Yang. “Trust me, I’m like the stereotype of someone who you think would hate working on a campaign. I hate talking to strangers, and honestly I hate most social interaction generally. However, working on the OnCampaign has allowed me to grow as a person and become a more confident and mature version of myself, and I’ve learned so many things–both practical and moral–that I’m going to carry with me for a long time.”

Lynch concludes that the experience taught her that young people can have a voice in their communities.

“I would definitely add that you are never too young or inexperienced to get involved in politics,” she said. “I would also encourage people to call their representatives and make their voice heard. Politicians are paid to represent us, so we have every right to hold them accountable. There is so much work to be done, but I am inspired everyday by the people I’ve met on campaigns, and I truly believe that change is possible.”