The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Life as an organizer: door-knocking, community, and camaraderie


Several full-time campaign organizers are living and working in the town of Grinnell in preparation for the Iowa caucuses. However, many are restricted by their employers from talking to the press. Despite reaching out to employees of several campaigns in Grinnell, The S&B was mostly denied interviews about the life of campaign workers. Regardless, Elise Bargman ‘22, who is taking this semester off to pull 12-hour days door-knocking for Pete Buttigieg in Dubuque, spoke with The S&B about her experiences.

“Knocking on doors is probably the number one thing I spend the vast majority of my days doing, which is really fun,” Bargman said. “It depends on what neighborhood you’re in, because if you’re in one with a lot of Trump supporters you get a lot more door slams. But when folks are home and they have time to talk and they invite you inside, that’s fun.”

Bargman has met all kinds while door-knocking. She has talked to a man who answered the door wearing a Trump hat and threatened to call the cops, a woman who couldn’t caucus because of terminal cancer and a man with dental surgery on caucus day who had arranged for his friends to lead him to the corner of his chosen candidate. 

Campaign organizers don’t have much job security. Recently, organizers for Grinnell’s Kamala Harris and Julian Castro campaigns have lost their jobs, and at least one has taken a job with another campaign. Even if your candidate stays in the race, the focus shifts from Iowa to other early primary states until closer to the general election. 

“Organizing is very much a young person’s job,” Bargman said. “It is very hard work and pretty uncertain, and that works if you’re recently graduated and care about politics and want an adventure. It’s a lot easier when you’re not responsible for anyone but yourself.”

Bargman was an intern for the Buttigieg campaign in Grinnell over the summer, which was a different game than Dubuque in January. There, because of the small town and how early it was in the election season, she had no choice but to get to know the staff of other campaigns. 

“When it’s just you and one other person in the nearest hour radius on your campaign and there’s only one coffee shop in town, which there is in Grinnell, you’re much more likely to run into each other,” Bargman said. “I was actively friendly with a Kamala Harris volunteer and we hung out sometimes and worked next to each other and I still keep in touch with some of the Warren folks on Twitter.”

However, even in Dubuque, where every campaign has their own office space, organizers still know each other. On her first day, Bargman was having lunch with some other organizers and met some Biden people in a Chipotle. “They introduced me to the Biden staffers, and it was clear that he had a very friendly rapport with one of them. They joked back and forth, and it was fun and good to see that there was that company, that friendliness.”

The sense of community in Dubuque extends beyond campaign staff. LGBT students from the local high school, Hempstead, hang out in the Buttigieg campaign office. “It’s really meaningful to see them relax in that space and have it as somewhere, whether they’re volunteering or doing homework, to feel safe and included and part of something. One of the less tangible things that I like about the campaign is this sense of belonging that it’s cultivating.”

View Comments (1)
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (1)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • M

    Margaret HuyckFeb 4, 2020 at 9:22 pm

    An inspiring tale! We need young people (and older people) to get out an organize, and listen to all opinions. Thanks for the report!