(This article originally appeared in Focus on the Family Citizen magazine, April 2003 Issue)
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a year-long series on what your family can do to help a good candidate.
Political campaigns rely on the help of volunteers willing to do even the most mundane talks.
She cared about the loss life in abortion clinics and the activist judges who’ve allowed it to happen but Debbie Smyth of Colorado Springs, Colo., had never worked on a political campaign. The soft-spoken mother of three preferred to stay home, out of the fray.
That changed in 2000 with the showdown between Al Gore, who said he would defend the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, and George Bush, who said he would help create a “culture of life” – including protection for preborn children.
We really appreciated Bush and wanted him in office,” Smyth said. “We had a lot going on as a family, and we really didn’t know what we were doing but there was a need, so we stepped in to help. The Bush campaign had us stuff 500 envelopes the first day.”
Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado encourages more families to volunteer.
“I love it when entire families volunteer,” Musgrave told Citizen. “I know there are other things people can do with their time, so I truly appreciate that they care enough about the political process to help.”
Simple activities like stuffing envelopes can help a candidate more than volunteers will ever know, Musgrave said.
“You can lose an election by yourself,” she said, “but you can’t win one by yourself.”
I asked the Smyth’s and a panel of veteran grassroots activists around the nation — families you’ll see featured throughout this series — about simple things you can do for a good candidate at the campaign headquarters. Here’s a summary of their recommendations:
Labeling and Stamping Envelopes
Your family may have no money to donate, but you can help label and stamp campaign envelopes.
“When you add up the amount of hours saved by having dedicated volunteers doing mailings, the savings are in the tens of thousands,” Musgrave said.
Helping with a mailing is easier than you might think. Even a young child can participate. The best way to involve the entire family is to set up an assembly line. One person puts on a label, the next person a stamp, and the third person stacks the envelopes in a postal tray.
Corie and Mark Moore of Harrisburg, Pa., worked with their two older daughters and wiggly baby at home to produce a mailing for Rick Santorum in his unsuccessful campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate.
“Of course, the baby wanted to grab everything!” Corie Moore said. “But we took turns caring for her. We would also pray for Santorum as we did this work.”
Assembling Yard Signs
Campaign yard signs are usually preprinted vinyl sleeves that fit snugly over a simple wire frame. Pairing up with someone else makes the job go faster. Helping assemble them is a messy job, though, so be prepared and dress appropriately. (This) is not a job for young children because the ends of the wire frames can poke and scrape.
Cleaning The Office
Campaign offices can be messy, so offer to empty the garbage cans or clean the bathrooms once a week. This frees up the campaign staff to do other work.
Other ways you can help: vacuum, wash dishes, wipe tables and kitchen counter-tops, and flatten empty boxes. Also bring a few basic supplies that are often in short supply, like toilet paper, paper towels and Kleenex.
Doing Data Entry
You don’t need to be a computer whiz or an expert typist to render some invaluable help. Candidates must spend most of their funds on TV ads, so be prepared to work in tight quarters with minimal furnishings in donated or low-rent office space.
John Wolcott of Banks, Ore., remembered the cramped office he worked in with his wife and two teen daughters on behalf of a candidate.
“People were sitting on the floor with laptops, and there were signs and literature everywhere,” Wolcott said. “There was a lot of energy and focus; it just wasn’t focused on making the office look nice!”
Feeding Staff And Volunteers
If you spend any time at a campaign office, you quickly learn that staff and volunteers survive on box after box of pizza, flats of canned soda and super-size bags of chips. Your homemade muffins and cookies can be a blessed relief from the junk food. Consider bringing sliced fruit or a tray of veggies, too. “When we worked in Virginia, a bunch of elderly people brought smoked sausages, fruit, cheese and baked goods to the campaign workers,” said Denise Mills of Texas.
Mills said the key to helping at a campaign office is to overcome the feeling that you don’t belong.
“You feel like everyone else knows much more than you do,” she said. Two of her daughters were shy and “dreaded” the idea of helping, but “once they did it, they realized it wasn’t as scary as they thought it was going to be. Later, I overheard them telling their friends that it was the neatest experience and that they ought to try it!”