Campaign Trip

1. Brief History

The annual campaign trip of the Democrats is coordinated by the Activist Council and is held over the Election Day weekend.

The first campaign trip took place in 2004 and was the work of Elizabeth Brown and Seth Flaxman. The trip to Lorain County, Ohio, was bankrolled partially by Sherrod Brown and was enormously successful, though the rest of the state was less fortunate. In 2005, the trip moved to Virginia and the successful gubernatorial bid of Tim Kaine. The 2006 trip returned to Ohio, this time for Brown's own successful senatorial race against incumbent Mike DeWine. The destination of the 2007 trip has not yet been decided.

In 2006 Julia Moline said "A plan is nothing, planning is everything". She may have heard it somewhere else, but that doesn't matter. It is really, really true for campaign trips.

2. History of Annual Campaign Trips organized by the Dems Activist Council

1st Annual Campaign Trip to Ohio
2nd Annual Campaign Trip to Virginia
3rd Annual Campaign Trip to Ohio

3. Why do we go on campaign trips?

  • Columbia has thousands of the most passionate liberal students in America all grouped together in a little 6 block rectangle in a city and in a state that is already very blue. We can use our energy to get Democrats elected in close races across the country. We can directly impact elections and the fate of our nation.
  • It is a bonding experience for our members, like a retreat that gets stuff done.
  • It trains our members how to (and how not to) organize campaign trips in the future.
  • It's a lot of fun and allows us to see the nation.
  • As one of the primary events of the year for the organization, the campaign trip is an invaluable opportunity for members to network with other politically involved people, including organizers and candidates like Barack Obama and Sherrod Brown.
  • This is the only institutional event that takes advantage of Columbia's Election Day Break in the spirit in which it was intended.

4. Why is our campaign trip annual even if there are no inspiring or close races in a particular year?

Activism is difficult, and so in order to make an event hugely successful, you have to plan years in advance. That is, the event has to be an annual tradition that students are looking forward to every year and have already committed themselves to attend. The best model of a group that has built an event around this theory is Columbia Community Outreach that gets over a thousand students every year to go out for a single day and volunteer around the city.

There will always be an interesting race somewhere in the country. If a particular year seems especially boring, the Lead Activists should begin planning for the trip very early in order to tackle the two problems that are amplified by a lack of close, exciting races: money and participation. Money should be sought aggressively from other sources, especially campaigns in the area, beginning in the Summer or Spring before the trip. For more about the need for outside funding, see the Treasurer page. Participants should be recruited aggressively as well, using the interesting aspects of the race as well as the storied history of the campaign trip itself.

5. Choosing where to go

There are five factors that usually get considered in choosing your destination:

  • First, how much of an impact will we have? How tight is the race?
  • Second, how far away is the race?
  • Third, is the race important?
  • Fourth, is the race exciting/interesting?
  • Fifth, do we know the campaign staff? Will they be good managers of our volunteers?

Whenever possibly, choose a tight race where our volunteers will really have an important impact in getting out the vote, because being able to say that Democrats won a race because we personally tipped the scale usually makes the race more exciting and it being so tight usually means that the race is important. The first 2004 presidential campaign trip to Ohio is an example of everything coming together, but note that we had to avoid the more popular Pennslyvania trip in favor of trying to make a difference in the closer battleground state.

That said, in some years you will be forced to choose a race that is most interesting, not the easiest or even necessarily the most important, in order to maximize participation and effectiveness. In these off-years the few important races may be far too obscure to get enough interest and the best way to have an impact is to make sure you are able to recruit volunteers. Be wary of letting this argument win out most years though as we are trying first and foremost to make an impact on the country, and thus should be going to places just to say we were part of securing a win for a shoe-in candidate.

6. Publicity and the recruitment of volunteers

Besides your traditional methods of postering and mass-emailing what can you do?

(1) During the first few weeks and months of planning for the campaign trip, instead of recruiting participants, recruit organizers who will help you recruit. That is, personally recruit people who will be responsible for finding three, five, or ten more people to join up.

- Personally email or call one-by-one the participants of last years' trips still on campus to see if they will help find three, five, or ten people to come on this years trip and thus be an organizer for this year's trip.
- The first few blurbs that go out in the mass email can ask for organizers of the campaign trip instead of participants. Finding four organizers is better than four participants, and likely the people who respond to your first call for volunteers would help organize (recruit) if just asked personally.
- Personally ask every participant who signs up to see if they want to help organize by recruiting a few people.

(2) Advertise perks to people who sign up in teams of four.
- You get to share a hotel room with your team.
- You get a pat on the back.

(3) Organize according to the model developed by Columbia Community Outreach.

(4) Make sure all your posters and emails include the following:
- They should send shivers down people's spines with the inspiration it fills them to join.
- Transportation free, housing free, food free.
- People are scared of telling other people how to vote. Let potential volunteers know that campaigning is really easy, they are just making sure people who already agree with us go out and vote, and you are not convincing anyone new.

(5) Keep your volunteers once you have them. Call to check up and guilt trip, double, triple check what time they need to show up. AND DONT FORGET TO INSPIRE!

Here is a copy of a reminder email sent to volunteers in 2005 before they were all repeatedly called (it could have been shorter):

Hey all-

We have 32 confirmed for the Virginia trip and of those, 11 have emailed Julia back and are now Super-Confirmed for the trip. We also went ahead and reserved rooms for 32 students for the nights of November 6th and 7th.

My guess is that everyone who hasn't super-confirmed themselves to the trip has been looking deep within themselves for the answers to the following questions.
(1) Why do I even care about campaigning in Virginia?
(2) Even if I did care, would I actually be making a difference there?
(3) Even if I would be making a difference and I did care about campaigning
in Virginia, aren't there things I'd rather be doing over my Election Day
break than helping the Democrats?

Please keep reading.

(1) Virginia is very important.

Destroying our ability to deal with Katrinas, incompetently conducting a war, ruining the name of the United States abroad, taking away a women's right to choose, bankrupting the country in order to pad rich pockets, corruption, hate. You signed up for this trip because these things have upset you and because you know that if Democrats were in charge, the government would and could deal with disasters, would make America respected in the world, would help women and minorities empower themselves as equal citizens, would have just and feasible economic policies, would not appoint people to important positions because they're close and loyal
friends of the president, or be ruled by a philosophy of hate.

Winning in Virginia will send a message to Republican conservatives that their message isn't working, even in the red states. It will prove that Democrats can win consistently in the south (the former governor of VA is a Democrat) and that there are no safe states for Republicans anymore. If we can win in Virginia, we can win anywhere, pursue a real 50-state strategy
for taking back the country. Republicans will be running scared from next year's Congressional elections.

Not to mention the fact that Tim Kaine is so much more qualified for the job. You can read the Washington Post endorsement here:

(2) You will, as a single individual, make a difference.

This race is razor thin close, and will ultimately be decided by 2000 Florida like numbers.
1023oct23,0,6867685.story?coll=ny-region-apnewjersey You will not even be in charge of convincing voters to vote for Democrat Tom Kaine (unless you really really want to) but will be helping remind and bring Kaine voters to the polls. Getting supporters to the polls on Election Day is one of the most vital jobs of an election, especially one as close as this one.

(3) This is the best thing you can do on Election Day.

It is called Election Day for a reason, because for one day every year, only one single day, we can do more than bitch about the direction of the country. We get to choose which direction we want to go. We have the privilege to determine who America's leaders will be on only one day out of the entire year. A day so important that you are given time off from school
so that you can get more involved in choosing those leaders. Please use Election Day for what it is for: taking responsibility for the direction and livelihood of your country, getting more involved, helping choose better leaders.

Not only that, but acting on this responsibility and privilege is free and a good time. The Dems will pay for housing, transportation and at least two of the dinners for the time you'll be in Virginia. You'll even get to have fun at local sketchy bars at night while bonding with your fellow patriots. Getting involved in politics should not cost you money or be boring.

But the decision about whether to get involved or not is up to you. Please tell us before this weekend that you are committed to going to Virginia this Election Day, that you are committed to fighting for the soul of your country. I promise the experience will be worth your time.

Thank you,

7. Transportation: How do you get everyone there?

The very sketchy CC rental in Hell's Kitchen used to get us insurance-free vans. Work with your adviser to find some insured vans, because the campaign trip in it's initial years was like crossing the Pacific Ocean in a flotilla of canoes.

8. Putting together packets for the volunteers

Julia Moline is a packet genius.

9. Have a good time or no one will want to volunteer ever again! Suggestions for making sure everyone has fun.

Bus fun. Make sure you split up the really fun people into different vans so that when it's not sleepy time everyone has a chance to sing and dance. Don't forget sing a long classics such as "Can you hear the people sing?"

If you can't find a bar that doesn't card, don't forget to buy enough beer for everyone! Also, don't get kicked out of your motel.

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