Ellen Gurung: Reflections on Politics and a Campaigning Internship

During an election, candidates receive all the attention and glory, but the countless number of workers, volunteers, and interns are the strong force pushing the campaign forward from behind the scenes. U1 World Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies major Ellen Gurung, who lived in northern Virginia before coming to McGill University this fall, interned with the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) during the summer of 2015 and 2016.

Gurung said the best part of her experience was the people she was able to work with, and using a voter database. She also said that she was interested in interning for the FCDC because it would give her insight into how campaigning works.

“I really liked the people I worked with [...] because we were all super close, and we’d go out to lunch, have political debates, and make Che Guevara buttons,” Gurung said. “The voter database was also really fun to use. It listed everyone eligible to vote in Fairfax County, as well as their voting history, party they were affiliated with, ethnicity, religion, phone number, address – things like that. We would basically use that to stalk people. We had to keep that on the down low though because voters aren’t always aware that we have all this information on them."

However, Gurung explained that there were negative aspects of this internship as well, such as having to crowd in an office to help with phone banking, and the out of pocket costs.

“On crowded days, some of us interns would have to travel down to campaign offices to help the volunteers there with phone banking. It’s easy, but doing it for 5 hours is boring as hell, plus the volunteers would always give us nasty looks for crowding the office and taking all the chairs,” Gurung said. “I was one of the few people who could drive, so I always had to drive people and run errands for the Executive Director, and he never provided gas money.”

Like many people across the United States of America, Gurung strongly supported a candidate. She felt the Bern.

“I felt that Bernie [Sanders] was genuinely in touch with the issues that young people and minorities faced, and that he had been consistent in his positions, not just as a politician, but throughout his entire life,” Gurung said. “I agreed with his views on social issues and the importance of campaign finance reform, and he was one of the few candidates that had a reasonable position on climate change and the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

Gurung had the opportunity to attend a Bernie Sanders rally, which she said was an amazing experience.

“Everyone was really nice. I’d say about 70% of the people there were between 18 and 30, so it was a pretty young crowd, and it was incredibly diverse in terms of race and gender,” Gurung noted. "The actual rally was at a skate park, and my friends and I were interviewed by this independent skateboarding radio show, who asked us questions about the primaries, if we thought the skate park venue was significant, and things like that. The music that was playing in the hours leading up to the speakers consisted of a lot of 60s and 70s classics. There was a lot of dancing and singing while we all waited, and it was overall a very chill environment: people were smoking weed and sitting around on the grass and on the halfpipe structures.”

She had the opportunity to hold a sign during his speech. In the photo below, she is standing is the sea of people holding “Bernie Sanders” signs on the left.

“My friends and I were approached by a member of Bernie’s campaign who asked if we were interested in standing behind Bernie and holding Bernie signs, and being a part of his hype squad which was really exciting,” Gurung said. “We basically had to cheer every time Bernie said something we liked and then boo anytime he mentioned Wall Street, corruption, or anything else worthy of criticism.”

Like many liberal millennials, Gurung was not pleased with the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election. She pinpointed some issues that need to be addressed.

“The Democratic National Convention is very elitist and has detached itself from the working class and the people that they represent, and because of that, Trump won,” Gurung said. “I feel like a lot of people are blaming third party voters to an excessive degree, and while it’s frustrating that many chose not to vote at all, it’s really the job of the party to find a candidate that’s appealing enough and exciting enough for voters to get behind and actually inspire them to go to the polls - clearly Hillary wasn’t that candidate. Many voted for Trump because of economic reasons, and the Democrats did virtually nothing to address the concerns of blue collar workers or those living in more rural areas, and completely brushed off a vital demographic that cost them the election.”

Gurung is evidence that people can get involved in campaigns and politics at a young age, which is fundamental to making sure that the voice of young people is heard. Get involved!

 

Photos provided by the interviewee.