All in for Andy Kim: my experience


Maanasi Natarajan ecstatic as candidate Andy Kim won the election

  I was nervous.   

 A crowd gathered in Andy Kim’s Mount Laurel campaign office on November 7th. Just an hour prior to witness a “special announcement, the field organizer called me to the office. What was it?

 My hands shook as I tightly gripped one of the many mini American flags. I considered every possible election outcome (or lack thereof) that would bring the campaign’s very best interns and volunteers to the office at 8pm on a Wednesday.

  Had Andy won the election? Had the hard work of every staffer and intern and volunteer and canvasser paid off? Had we, the underdogs, gotten Andy elected in a reliably Republican district in Burlington County?

  In between the heads of the interns and fellows standing in front of me, I looked around the room at the group of people gathered at the office. Less than two hours before, I had been staring at FiveThirtyEight, furiously searching the name “Andy Kim” in the News tab of Google, and frantically texting my field organizer asking if he had heard any updates.

  Less than two days before, I had been standing amongst a group at the watch party astonishingly similar to the one I was in now, watching the election results for nationwide House and Senate races come in live. Less than 2 weeks before, I had been spending my weekends canvassing and making phone calls from the time the campaign office opened to when it closed. Less than 2 months before, we had a less than 50% chance of winning the election.

  Now we were closer than ever imagined.

  I thought about the journey I had taken to get this point, the journey the campaign had taken. I had begun my work with the Andy Kim campaign by attending an event that was held with former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. I had initially intended the event simply because I was interested in meeting Giffords; Andy was not running in my Congressional district, so I did not intend to intern or volunteer for his campaign. However, in the midst of meeting Gabby Giffords, I ran into Andy and began talking to him about what he hoped to achieve as Congressman and why he was running. I instantly was inspired to begin working.

  As soon as the school year ended, I applied for a fellowship on the campaign website, thinking I would volunteer for the campaign over the summer as a pastime (and a good resume builder). I started out my work making calls and going canvassing with my fellow interns out of the campaign’s Willingboro office. Although the office was a bit of a drive, I made the thirty minute journey. I woke up each morning dreading the highway, but soon became optimistic as I heard that new office in Mount Laurel would be opening soon.

  When the Mount Laurel office finally opened, I was able to go to the office more consistently and show up to parties and events more often. I began taking more of an initiative at the campaign and made an effort to come as much as I could, helping with anything and everything, from simple phone calls to mailer parties to cleaning up the office. I came on weekdays, weekends, days, nights — whenever I possibly could.

  Being at the office so many days a week taught me communication skills and the inner workings of a campaign, yes, but my biggest takeaway was the community at the office that had almost become my family. Seeing them so often, we had a unique camaraderie that I had never experienced prior to coming to the office. We did team bonding activities to take some of the stress out of knocking on doors and talking to volunteers, and joked around like friends. To me, the campaign was more fun than it was work. Maybe it was because I wasn’t getting paid or it wasn’t an inherent part of my daily routine, but the people I met became my family, people who I want the best for, because they want it for me.

  But even more than the camaraderie we shared was the determination for Andy to win. After meeting him multiple times before the election watch party, I could sense his passion and commitment to the people of the third district. All too often, veteran politicians visibly lose their passion and become comfortable in their positions, assuming that they are untouchable. Andy was vibrant and refreshing. He wanted to make a change.

  I looked out upon the people around me again, hugging my fellow interns and feeling overwhelmingly grateful that I had this experience, regardless of whether we won or lost. As people passed around American flags and news station cameras lined up in front of a makeshift music stand podium, Andy stood in front of what seemed like hundreds of volunteers.

  He announced that he was proud of the hard work everyone had accomplished, and that it had been a draining 72 hours. He announced that he had come a long way from meeting with constituents casually at Wegmans, and that he couldn’t believe how far he and everyone at the campaign had come.

  He announced that we had won the election.

  I hugged and cried and hugged and cried some more. Our hard work had paid off. Andy was a Congressman.

  And I helped him become one.