Name: Kunoor Ojha
Job title: National Campus and Student Organizing Director, Hillary for America
College name/major: Illinois Institute of Technology for a B.S. in Political Science, 2009-2013
Twitter handle: @kunoorojha
What does your current job entail? Is there a such thing as a typical day?
It’s such a cliche to say it, but no, there’s no such a thing as a typical day. The bulk of my responsibilities include providing resources and guidance to our state teams. We have strong teams on the ground, mobilizing volunteers and students every day. It’s a lot of work and sometimes exhausting. Oftentimes an extra opinion or an extra set of eyes on a local problem can be really helpful. That’s where I come in. I work with our campus teams all over the country, offering my experience and perspective to make their lives easier. I also spend a lot of time meeting with other departments here in HQ to see how they can support our ground game remotely, whether that’s our digital team, our surrogates tea, or a number of others. So, a typical day involves a lot of phone calls to our teams in the states and a lot of meetings with folks in HQ about how we can support our amazing student volunteers.
What’s the best part of your job?
It’s so common for political campaigns to treat young people like children. There used to be this feeling that engaging young voters wasn’t necessary, it was just bonus and was limited to vague conversations about the importance of voting. The best part of this campaign is knowing that we aren’t making those mistakes again. We take young voters seriously as a voting bloc (in fact, they’re going to be the biggest voting voting bloc), and so, our outreach to millennials goes farther than celebrity events. Without sacrificing any of the fun or creativity, we also bring the millennial lens to policy, paid media, correspondence, and more. We make sure that they get to hear directly from our candidates and the most influential people on the campaign. It’s gratifying to see that.
The other best part of my job is getting to hear from so many students that are really talented organizers. So many of them are self-taught and just motivated by our mission. They don’t need to hear another elected official or staffer telling them voting is important. It is, and they know that, so now they’re out there doing the work! They’ve built a lot of collective power on some of these campuses and are accomplishing so much. It’s really cool.
How did you get from your first entry level job out of college to where you are now?
My first experience in electoral organizing was in college. I applied to be an organizer on the president’s reelection campaign over the summer of my junior year. I had recently changed my major from chemistry to political science after some seriously long conversations with my parents, and wanted to get some experience under my belt.
When I started, Chicago HQ didn’t exist yet, and we were working to build up the volunteer infrastructure in the very, very early stages. It wasn’t glamorous. It was hard work, but it set the stage for the rest of my career.
After graduating, I was facing the same tough economy that so many of my peers entered the workforce in. Entry-level jobs were scare, and even more so if you were a political science major who wanted to work towards a larger mission. I eventually found my way to state-level campaign working to end gerrymandering. I found another campaign after that one, and then, over a year ago, I moved to New Hampshire to work for the Bernie Sanders campaign. He was still single-digits in the polls and I knew nothing about the state I was moving to, and the rest is history.
The point is, it wasn’t the easiest choice. It was a tough choice to change my major in the first place (any other first-generation Americans can probably sympathize with me here), but the risks ended up paying off!
What has it been like working in politics during this election cycle? If you worked on previous campaigns, how is this one different?
It’s been a unique experience for me, having working for both Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton. Some things are the same in every campaign – the friends you meet, the long hours, etc. A lot of people will probably think I’m ridiculous for saying this, but I think it’s been a much more romantic cycle than usual.
Obama for America’s “Hope” and “Change” messages were obviously romantic and beautiful, but this year all of that has been so clearly tied to policy and human impact. We’re hearing from individuals who are struggling with student loans and medical debt. We’re hearing from children who are afraid their parents are going to be deported. And we’ve got candidates directly tying their platforms and track records to regular people. We had a factsheet come out about how our candidate will help you if you’re between 18 and 35 years old. Our ads are talking about what our opponent getting into office would mean for you if you were a woman. With both Bernie and Hillary, there was all this resurfacing of archival footage, showing us how they’ve been fighting these fights over a lifetime.
And with all that behind them, we’re moving forward to some pretty revolutionary ideas. Tuition-free college for working families and campaign finance reform aren’t things I thought we’d see this fast – at least if you would’ve asked me 2 or 3 years ago. But we can really get there. It’s a beautiful thing.
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in working in politics?
1. The first step is to just get involved in literally any form. I was always pretty political on campus and was involved in a couple of different groups. but none of them were electoral. I learned a lot from them and then learned even more from my internships outside the classroom.
2. Do what you love. You don’t have to be a poli sci major to work in politics. We have engineers, lawyers, graphic designers, organizers, and data scientists all working towards the same cause!
3. Speak up! People listen to the loudest person in the room and assume that they’re also smartest. Young women, myself included, are especially bad at speaking up in meetings, so make sure you take every opportunity to practice!
4. Volunteer. Whether you’re going to work towards electoral change, churn out policy papers, or work for a local community organization, you’ll get a feeling for the culture and the pace by volunteering.
5. Read! You can never know too much, so make sure you have a book or podcast ready on every flight and subway ride. Read about history, politics, and current events, and let your reading inform your worldview. Don’t let cynical cable news stories be the only source of information in your life.
6. Stay romantic and optimistic. There will always be haters telling you that you aren’t practical or reasonable enough. Don’t them place limits on what YOU think you can accomplish.
7. Try new things. For some reason, folks are quick to encourage each other to try new hobbies and foods, but equally quick to discourage new things in the workplace. If think you think you can add value to a conversation or if you think you can contribute to the work of another department, do it! Some people think that employees should all stay strictly in their lanes, but the best teams are those that can recognize your expertise in your area, while simultaneously encouraging you to collaborate with others and take on additional responsibilities.
What has been the most surreal moment of your work on this campaign?
Probably the day that Senator Sanders endorsed Secretary Clinton. Having never been to a debate, this was the only time I’ve ever seen the two of them together. Seeing them behind the scenes before they went out to speak is something I’ll never forget.
What’s your favorite piece of political pop culture, and why? (TV show, movie, book, etc – for ex. House of Cards)
I’m completely obsessed with Veep. I’ve seen every episode at least three times and still can’t get enough!