Elections are hard. Election losses are harder. Work at campaign offices can be invigorating but often it is a slog. Lots of volunteers come for the cause but stay for the people (and pizza, samosas and my namesake Timbits).
In the moments after the loss in the 2015 federal election, there were lots of cathartic tears at the Rathika Sitsabaiesan campaign party. Community members, friends and volunteers gave lots of advice and attempted comforting words. But it is hard to know what to say, and the candidate and the campaign staff ended-up comforting the well-meaning supporters.
The day after the loss is the tough one. The core team has to get up. Wipe away the frustration dust. And plan for a future with more sleep but less direction. Through my fried-dough-sugar hangover, I was really surprised upon my arrival at HQ. The core bunch was running on at least of 5 out of 6 cylinders and they were efficiently organizing and cleaning. They weren’t trying to comfort each other or say everything was okay. There was no advice. There was just being in the moment with each other. This brought a sincere caring energy that was not just positive thinking; it was realistic.
There was just being in the moment with each other. This brought a sincere caring energy
Working on a campaign opens up new spaces where we can learn, and learn how to support each other. Elections can connect us to the political process and also to a social project. But, campaigns in the media are full of orchestrated drama, critics, and whinging. We hear “all politicians are liars” or “that guy is a liar”. These stories alienate us from the political process and make us complacent, as we listen to “virtual echo chambers”. The personal interactions of a campaign make politics human and real.
In my experience of campaigns, I have seen core campaign workers and candidates put in ridiculous hours (14 hours/day 7 days a week) and I think that is only sustainable because of the organic peer support that develops. You have to be on the inside to understand how rude “Dave” is, or how frustrating volunteers are when they do not show up, or how hard it is to canvas in the rain.
Campaign teams would benefit from organized peer support training so that team and personal issues could be raised before they became overwhelming. We think about team dynamics when managing campaigns, but personal stress and triggers are really important when workers are pushed to their energy and sleep limits. For example, peer support during the campaign is not going to fix a substance abuse problem. At least for the duration of the campaign, peers might not place alcohol at the centre of social life and celebration. Peers could also help with issues around social anxiety and rejection, including voters who are indifferent or furious.
For future campaigns, peer support may attract more participants because they will be working in a place that acknowledges stress, mental health issues and anxiety. Inclusion is especially important in volunteer campaigns because the goal is to welcome people from all different backgrounds.
Shared losses, victories and snacks create peer relationships that can hopefully lead to terrific success and health. Encouragement from fellow campaigners can help maintain and fuel the engine of change.