By Stephen Kaplan
I don’t know if I fit the bill for the typical political campaign manager. I’m not a really political person. I’m a middle-aged farmer and audio/video technician. I care about the environment, human rights, hunger, and education. The thought that any of those ideas are “political” is, honestly, repugnant to me.
I grew up on the fray between a small industrial town and the pastoral beauty of rural Virginia. The first time I was harassed for being a Jew I was in 6th grade and had no clue what that even meant or why they said it like they were spitting out a bitter taste from their mouth. Thirty years later I was shocked to learn a young woman had started a Black Lives Matter group in an area more famous for Confederate flags and moonshine than the iconic hero, Booker T. Washington, who was born there.
When my friend, Bridgette Craighead, stepped up to run for the Virginia House of Delegates–in Klan country, no less–I volunteered to help in any way I could. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and I wasn’t going to make her go it alone. It was all new for both of us. Fortunately, the Virginia Board of Elections has all the information you could possibly need to start a campaign. Unfortunately, there was very little information on its website about how to actually run a campaign.
We’re both regular working-class people just wanting to help our community. We had no clue what we had gotten into, only that we knew someone needed to get in to it. She received some national press and support began to come in from across the country. In short order we built a basic website, social media accounts, and a fundraising page. We spent the first 6 weeks asking for signatures to get her on the ballot and connecting with other groups and first-time candidates.
By April momentum was building and her gravity was pulling in the people I needed as I needed them. Each time I felt I would collapse from the pressure of one aspect of the campaign, someone would come to us volunteering the very skillset I needed. We were learning something new every day. As things heated up, a blizzard of emails began pitching every possible dimension of campaigning and we didn’t know what to trash or treasure.
After the June primaries we were in shape to go the distance; sharp logo, better website, core team, and nationwide encouragement. As working folks, we had to keep one eye on our jobs and one eye on the campaign. Tasks such as call time (asking for money) were torturously consuming and everything we disliked about politics. The incessant need for money often overwhelmed us. We’re poor. We don’t care about money, we care about people. Poor people. Struggling people. Families that are one bad day away from losing it all. People like us.
We met so many inspiring people who shared our pain and passion, . . . the kind of folks who renew your faith in humanity are out there, if only you are lucky enough to find them. There was also, of course, a coefficient of bullies, trolls, and naysayers. One trusted friend actually said to me “You know she’s Black, right?” (I tried to laugh it off and told them “I hadn’t noticed.”)
It was hard, but we had a great team. We met so many inspiring people who shared our pain and passion. Other candidates and staffers, local leaders and heroes, the kind of folks who renew your faith in humanity are out there, if only you are lucky enough to find them. There was also, of course, a coefficient of bullies, trolls, and naysayers. One trusted friend actually said to me “You know she’s Black, right?” (I tried to laugh it off and told them “I hadn’t noticed.”) Others are going to tell you not to run. Believe me, there will be haters of all stripes, and they are the saddest, most painful part of all this for people who still have ownership of their own soul.
The mechanics of running a campaign are fairly straightforward. We started out on step 5 and then backed into steps 1-4 but with good reason. You should create a Statement of Organization so you can get the account number and papers to get your EIN (employer identification number). Then you can get a bank account. Now you can keep track of every expense from the beginning without worrying about reimbursements. I found the greatest proficiency, for me, was the bulk data entry aspect of Campaign Finance Reports and operation of the COMET (committee electronic tracking) system, where all the data go.
The calls and emails and meetings and events can be dizzying. It’s a lot of work. You really need a team. Ideally, you want a campaign manager, a treasurer, a finance director (call time manager), a field director (you need a lot of volunteers), and someone for social media–at minimum. I can’t impress on you how much work it really is, just know that the barriers to entry are many but none so much as the immensity of the workload. You need to believe in your people and communicate, a lot.
This campaign was the honor of a lifetime. Bridgette is the kind of person who stands up when absolutely no one else will. Against amazing odds, she is a champion, riding headlong into battle. Her energy compels you to take a stand and I am so proud to stand with her and others who believe that our best days are ahead of us.
Editors’ Note: Stephen Kaplan was the campaign manager for Bridgette Craighead, who ran for House of Delegates in District 9, on the Virginia-North Carolina border. While Bridgette did not win, she received over 7,000 votes, with one precinct’s count still not final.