From Restaurants to Campaigns

My internship is a political internship with the Sierra Club. For this internship they placed me with a political campaign in Pennsylvania, and I work with Danielle Friel Otten’s state house campaign in Chester County. I did not expect to have an internship in a political environment, so it has taken some adjustment. My job has been mainly to work with and train volunteers, send emails, do data entry, and phone bank for the campaign. Working for a political campaign, especially during these trying times, has been a little difficult. Some people are angry, some are afraid, and some just don’t care. It is important to make every voter feel heard, even if I do not agree with them. It is important in this industry to understand the political climate on the local level, state level, and federal level. 

 Although I am a Pennsylvania native, and live about 15 minutes out of the district I am working in, there are so many things I had no idea that were going on. The reason the Sierra Club placed me with Danielle Friel Otten’s campaign is because she is an environmental champion, and the main environmental issue in the district is the construction of the Mariner East II pipeline. This pipeline goes across Pennsylvania to transport volatile liquids overseas to make plastics, and it goes straight through my candidates backyard. Currently, it is leaking fracking liquids into a pond that leads to a watershed in Chester County. It is a major environmental problem not far from me, but I had no idea, and many people living in that district have no idea. Interning for the Sierra Club has given me a lot more knowledge about how the Pennsylvania legislative processes when it comes to the environment. Pennsylvania is pretty much a mess when it comes to environmental politics. There are so many bills and decisions made in Harrisburg that people don’t see or pay any attention to. Pennsylvania lawmakers are constantly trying to roll back environmental regulations that are trying to protect people. The regulations we have in place are not even enough and they are still trying to get rid of them. It is a frustrating field to work in, but it feels like talking to voters and keeping them informed is the only thing I can do.

What has prepared me with the skills for this internship was my work in the food service industry. Being able to smile through people who are mean to you, be quick in conversation, and not take any insults personally are skills needed for both fields.The most important strength is patience. I have worked in restaurants since I was 16, I’ve been everything from a busser to a waitress, and have been through it all. Oftentimes these sorts of jobs are overlooked, and treated as simple, but they helped me become not only a solid worker, but a better person.

 Unless you have worked in the service industry, it is hard to comprehend how mean and difficult people can be. When I was in high school, I was working at a restaurant at the Jersey Shore the summer before my senior year, it was a small restaurant and we did not take reservations. A woman comes up to me, asking for the wait for a party of 15. I told her it would be an hour and half and she said she would take it. During the wait, there is a man drinking heavily at the bar the entire time. The wait for the table was exactly an hour and half, down to the minute. I gather all 15 members of the party, and my fellow hostess takes them up the stairs to the dining room. The man who was drinking at the bar turned out to be a part of that group, and he is the last person in the line. Before going up the stairs he turns to me and says, “You’re nothing”. I was confused and said, “excuse me?” and he continued to tell me how worthless I was because their table took an hour and half, which was how long I told them it would take from the start. A 50 year-old-man had no problem screaming expletives at a teenage girl for what felt like forever, for just doing her job. The worst part to me was that none of his family members said a word. Later, in their embarrassment, one of the family members gave me $20 to apologize. That’s how much being me being screamed at was worth to them. You’re probably thinking “how can somebody treat another person like that?”, or at least I hope you would think that. But that is how people treat food workers, retail associates, and phone bankers all the time. It is the norm.

 The skills for phone banking are the same as working in the food industry, because in the end you are selling something. As a waitress, it may be that expensive special, but as a phone banker, you are selling your candidate. You need to be persuasive with voters, but polite. People hate solicitors, and they hate talking on the phone, so for those few minutes you are talking with them you are basically their worst nightmare. You need to grab their attention with niceness, “smile while you dial” is a common expression when making phone calls to voters. You need to sound genuine, but not annoying or pushy. While phone banking, people have told me to go to hell, they’ve said that all democrats can drop dead, and they have yelled at me like I am the personal cause for all of the problems in the world, but I do not care. I know that I am making a difference.

What makes the internship so worth it is working with all the amazing volunteers who give their time to the campaign and expect nothing in return is so incredible. This week, our campaign was the #1 campaign in the state for the number of calls made to voters. Our volunteers are so dedicated and hard working, because they believe in Danielle Friel Otten’s cause. I think everyone should try phone banking for a cause, it could teach you how to be a better person.

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