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April 16, 2012 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Can I- a college student- work for the Obama campaign (in dc, in chicago, in a swing state) this summer and not starve? Or are there other wacky, do-it-while-you're-young-live-out-of-your-car summer experiences Askmefi would suggest?

So, I am university student studying Political Science. A study abroad trip I was working toward didn't work out for the summer. I want to be useful to someone this summer. I was wondering if anyone here has worked for a national political campaign over a summer break. I wouldn't mind sleeping in the car/eating ramen, but I would need some way of making cash to buy aforementioned ramen. From my initial research it doesn't seem like the obama campaign has any student positions that offer compensation. Yet you always hear of students hoofing it to "where the action is" and somehow making enough for a burger.

And if this is a pipedream/unrealistic, which I admit it might be, please suggest something similar you have experienced. When have you dropped everything and lived simply in pursuit of a meaningful experience?
posted by 221bbs to Work & Money (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I work for the Obama campaign. You're going to have a very hard time getting a paid position with the campaign if you can't commit to staying until election day. I am actually looking at hiring some folks right now, but I wouldn't waste my budget on someone who will be gone before November. That said, if you can take a semester off and commit to staying on until the election it's not all that difficult to get a paid position, especially if you have previous political experience. You won't get rich, but you won't starve either.
posted by fancypants at 9:51 AM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

A close friend volunteered fulltime in the summer for the campaign and he lived primarily off savings, campaign office food and kind offers to sleep on sofas/shower at local workers' houses. In my experience, people volunteering and working for the campaign honestly do what they can to help others find a place to sleep and get something to eat from time to time, but you are best off if you have a little cash in hand.

I volunteered for the Obama campaign while working fulltime--a lot of the campaign work is odd hours (and when I needed to do something during the work day, I took time off from my job), so if can find some sort of part-time job, you can do both, pretty easily while you're young and able to burn the candle at both ends.

I've got family that works for the campaign and like fancypants says, you have to be in for the duration to get one of the paid positions--it's not a good use of funds otherwise and you won't be hired.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:59 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was a field organizer in 2008 for a state party, there were students among my coworkers - but all of them had agreed to take the fall semester off of school. If you can only commit to the summer, I don't think it's likely that you'll get more than an unpaid internship. However, campaigns often do have "supporter housing" - someone local who will house (and sometimes even feed!) campaign staff and volunteers.

Even if you do get a paid position, I have to say, it's a kind of a sucky job. I worked 80-100+ hour weeks for $1900/month. It was exhausting and drove me quite close to a nervous breakdown. I don't look on it fondly, despite all of the things we accomplished. I know other people who do it year after year and seem to thrive, but I don't really understand them. I previously had a Senate campaign internship that was just for a couple months and with closer to normal hours, and that was a lot less pressure and more fun - but in that case I made zero money.
posted by naoko at 10:00 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have absolutely no advice to offer on the working-on-the-campaign front, but I'd just like to say that it's possible for you to live very cheaply in Chicago* if you're smart about it. I'd bet you could do 3 months for under $2000.

You can start by looking for cheap summer sublets on Craigslist or here (UChicago's marketplace, lots of students leave for the summer). You shouldn't pay more than $450 a month. I live in a 2 bedroom in Albany Park (up on the northwest side of the city) and pay $350/month for my half. Cheap places exist.

A transit pass is $86/month (which makes economic sense if you're using it every day), but if you have a car with you, make sure you find an apartment somewhere with free street parking (which isn't difficult to find).

There are also a ton of free festivals and events that go on here during the summer.

Campaign work or no, you could do a lot worse than Chicago for a place to spend the summer.

*I say this because people (who don't live in Chicago or anywhere near a major city) tell me all the time how expensive Chicago is. If I didn't live here myself, I might be tempted to believe them.

Feel free to memail me with any Chicago-specific questions!

posted by phunniemee at 10:06 AM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

You know what, to be fair though, I knew the Obama organizers in my area, and they were not as miserable as I was - their bosses were less slavedriver-y and they seemed to get taken much better care of. It doesn't make sense to blame the Obama campaign for my experience - don't let me crap on your dreams.
posted by naoko at 10:07 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is possible to live in Chicago cheaply, but your chances of getting a paid position with the campaign there or in DC are almost zero. If you want to get paid, you'll need to go to a swing state.

Paid or unpaid, you'll almost certainly be able to get supporter housing while you're there so you'll be able to save on rent if you can handle living in someone else's house. I don't work in in field, but I've worked with enough field organizers to know that the hours are horrible and the pressure is intense.

Working on a campaign while you're young is terrific. You eat horrible food and drink cheap beer and make the kind of wonderful, intense friends that you can only make when you're spending 20 hours a day together working towards the same thing.
posted by fancypants at 10:13 AM on April 16, 2012

Paid or unpaid, you'll almost certainly be able to get supporter housing while you're there so you'll be able to save on rent if you can handle living in someone else's house.

Seconding this. My mom provided free housing to a field organizer in 2008 and fed him.
posted by sugarbomb at 10:29 AM on April 16, 2012

You will almost certainly not be paid to work for Obama this summer. Way too many people willing to work for free. Paid campaign summers are granted to experienced people sometimes who are slightly connected but haven't graduated yet.

If you really need to be paid and would like to work on a campaign, look into organizer/canvasser positions with state or local campaigns. They might be harder up for staff than Obama.

Keep tabs on JobsThatAreLeft, and good luck.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:40 AM on April 16, 2012

God, I wish I could do that again.

Its hard to get a full-time paid job, as fancypants says, but its a great experience. But if you're a great superstar volunteer, they may find a place for you. I was on a national campaign once where one of our volunteers started with zero political experience, ended the primary as a surrogate coordinator; when we lost, she parlayed that into a full-time job on a governor's race, and when her candidate won, less than a year after she walked into the campaign office, landed a pretty nice political appointment.

Also, the less the campaign has to do for you - ie find you the housing - the more attractive you'll be to them. Try canvassing friends, neighbors, family, strangers, craigslist, anyone who is willing to put you up for a few months as an in-kind contribution to the campaign. Supporter housing is always a crapshoot anyway.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:45 AM on April 16, 2012

I've known a couple folks who've used Grassroots Campaigns as their entrance to campaign work. They usually hire w/o prior experience, and it seems relatively easy to go from beating shoe leather to a slightly more organizational role. All paid, too.
posted by Vhanudux at 10:46 AM on April 16, 2012

I should add - while DNC sanctioned (last time I checked,) it is something like chugging (charity mugging) and so many find it somewhat distasteful.
posted by Vhanudux at 10:48 AM on April 16, 2012

Working on a campaign while you're young is terrific. You eat horrible food and drink cheap beer and make the kind of wonderful, intense friends that you can only make when you're spending 20 hours a day together working towards the same thing.

QFT! Do it!
posted by jgirl at 5:44 PM on April 16, 2012

I have an alternative suggestion. Instead of working for Obama, what would you think about interning for a senator or congressman/woman? You mention you are a poly sci major. If you are planning on working in politics after you graduate, you should get some experience working for someone in Washington. It will give a sense of what its like to work on the inside, and it will give you connections after you graduate.
posted by emilynoa at 5:16 AM on April 17, 2012

I just got this in an email - it's the campaign application for summer organizing fellows.

Email text:
I'm writing because Barack needs you out there this summer.

Through the Organizing Fellowship program, you can work in a full-time volunteer position, learn the principles of field organizing, and then carry out important grassroots activities on the ground.

This summer, thousands of these organizing fellows are going to help lead our grassroots organization -- recruiting volunteers and running events to help more people make their voices heard.

It's an amazing experience -- one that could change your life while shaping this country for decades to come.

Apply now to be a summer organizing fellow, or pass this note along to someone you know who might be interested.

If you take a position as a fellow, you'll help more people to step up at the local level, where there are so many opportunities to make so much change. You'll register voters, recruit and train volunteers, run phone banks, have conversations with people on their front porches, and build the relationships that will bring your community together to fight for progress.

There will be difficult days, and long ones, too. But being an organizer is one of the best experiences you can have working in politics.

The people who take on this challenge will not only help move this country forward -- they'll also become the next generation of leaders.

The strength of this organization comes from the people involved. We never could have come this far without folks like you who have a passion for organizing and a commitment to finishing what we started together.

If you're ready to play a critical role in our grassroots campaign, apply now -- or forward this note to someone you know who may be interested:

Thank you,

posted by mercredi at 11:18 AM on April 18, 2012

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