Student spends semester as a field organizer for the Obama campaign
Alice McAlexander, ’10, never really thought she would go into politics. After being accepted into the Jepson School and then taking the semester off to help make history by working on the Obama campaign as a field organizer in Virginia, she is starting to think it might be time to reconsider.
What was it like to be a part of the campaign?
It was the most exciting, challenging, thrilling, transformational and difficult experience of my life. It was hard and exhausting work but taking the semester off to work on the campaign was the best decision I have ever made. I met hundreds of amazing new people who taught me so much. I am not the same person I was six months ago.
How did you land the job?
I was working with the Obama campaign as an organizing fellow in Richmond this summer and was offered a full-time job with the campaign as a field organizer. I got offered the job in July. I accepted a week later and started at the beginning of August.
What did your job encompass?
As a fellow I did things like register voters, make phone calls and go door-to-door. As a field organizer my job was to organize people to do that. We had specific goals every week for how many doors needed to be knocked on and how many calls needed to be made.
Describe a typical day on the job.
I managed volunteers, created call lists, made calls, made packets for people to take with them when they were going to be going door-to-door, registered voters, decided where volunteers would go and tried to come up with more creative ways to communicate with people. When I started out a typical day was 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. We had Sundays off or we started at noon. When I became a field organizer, the day was 9 a.m. until midnight except for Fridays when it was 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. When the convention was getting closer in August, 9 a.m. to midnight was a good day. By the end of October, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. was a good day. The last week if you got to sleep at all it was a good day.
What made you want to put in those long hours?
There were specific goals for the state. We absolutely had to hit our goals if we were going to win Virginia. When I was a fellow I saw how much work needs to be done. The people I met this summer needed a change and different policies. I knew they needed my help. I knew that I was at a point in my life where I could work this hard and I also knew that I was relatively good at reaching these goals. I owed it to the people I met, to my family and friends, and to my country to give everything I could.
Were you nervous about taking a semester off?
At first I was nervous because some of the fellows were saying things like “Barack wouldn’t want you to take off school, there are tons of other people who can do this job.” I was like “I know. But I want to do it. I want to be a part of this.” I kept reminding myself that if I don’t do it, it’s something I’m going to regret the rest of my life. It was a big decision but I knew it was the right decision from the beginning.
What did you learn about leadership on the job?
I learned a lot about following specific goals and how to motivate people, and both are a big part of leadership. My job was to organize people who had never been asked to participate in politics. To be able to do my job, I had to learn to lead large groups of people in tasks that were sometimes unpleasant to accomplish a goal.
Was there a leadership studies class you took that was particularly helpful?
My Justice and Civil Society class. I learned a lot about struggles Americans are going through so I was more able to relate to people. Group Dynamics helped me recognize certain things that can go wrong in organizations and how to fix them. Foundations was also helpful. In our class we looked at different theories on leadership. That class helped me realize different parts of leadership in myself.
Do you have a memorable story from your experience?
One Saturday I knocked on a door and met people who reminded me that what I was doing was more than a job. The man was older and having trouble getting the health care he and his wife needed. He talked to me a little about how he saw that we needed change and about the health care issues he and his family faced. I remember thinking what was riding on us doing our job.
How did this experience prepare you for the future?
It kind of prepared me to do anything and handle anything. No job or paper is going to be too much work. It was a crash course on life.