Things I Learned as Campaign Volunteer

The election in Calgary is over and I can’t say I’m sorry. The amount of vitriol spewed, on social media especially, was disheartening for this campaign newbie to see.

I volunteered (for the first time) with two campaigns – the campaign to re-elect Mayor Naheed Nenshi, and with my friend Misty Hamel’s campaign when she decided to run for public school board trustee. During this process I’ve learned a lot of  things that are relevant to both politics and life. (Maybe mostly the latter… Let me know what you think after reading this.) Here are five of those things:

1. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and do it. 

The conversation about Misty running started months ago, but for a variety of personal reasons she only committed right before the nomination deadline. Despite running against an incumbent and someone who had been campaigning for years (who had connections and a significantly bigger bank account than we did), Misty dove head first into her campaign. She got the required signatures in two days, submitted her nomination papers, and bravely stood before the media to declare her candidacy. And then she started studying. She read stuff she needed to in order to be completely up to date on the issues, she learned more about the wards she would be representing, and she unabashedly joined the conversation. I’ve told her more than once that I couldn’t have done it, and I’m not just blowing smoke. I greatly admire how passionately and thoroughly she approached this on the campaign trail

2. Everyone can contribute something.

Our group of friends includes those who are politically involved and savvy and those for whom the idea of door knocking incites tremendous fear, and yet no one hesitated to help out. We had people creating websites and Facebook pages, distributing flyers, and writing campaign material. Others repeatedly put the message out to their networks and went door knocking with Misty. People helped her prep for the candidates’ forum and went with her to provide moral support. The lesson: You don’t have to be politically savvy (or even interested) to be part of doing something good for your community.

3. Talk to people on social media like you would talk to them in real life. 

I am astonished, truly ASTONISHED, at the way some people talk to others on social media. Because Misty was an unknown with many great qualifications that happen not to include a background in education, certain people felt she was fair game. And those who supported her were called everything from stupid, liars, and cowards (for stating things that are true and publicly available in meeting minutes, no less) to “mean mommy bloggers.” They’re hiding behind screens and I dare them to say that to our faces. I doubt they would, but nevertheless if my children, years from now, saw my comments on social media I would want them to be proud of how I represented myself.

delivering campaign flyers4. Politics is about people, not politicians. 

I learned this on my first night of being involved in Nenshi’s campaign. He has a reputation as being a person more than a politician, and nothing I saw in supporting him suggested that wasn’t true (or that it was just for show). There are many ways we can inspire people, and being involved in a political campaign is no different. Remember the people. Treat them like people. It’s not that complicated.

The other thing about being involved with Misty’s campaign is that I got to work as a team with some women I love and admire and, politics aside, that was a really positive experience.

5. Whether you win or lose, you can still change the conversation. 

Nenshi won, Misty didn’t, but they both changed the conversation. Nenshi has been doing it for years, but Misty did it in under a month. She raised some valid points about the system she wants to be a part of and she challenged her opponents on things that matter. They both did it with humanity and heart.

And, after all, isn’t that what life is actually about?



  1. This perfectly sums up my experience as well, Robin. I was amazed at the things people said on social media, but I really loved working with all of you ladies. It came together so organically and with such good intentions – I don’t regret a moment of it.

  2. My first experiences with people being “mean” through social media was long ago … but still, it surprises me still when people that I assume to be good people or who I’m sure probably are smiley and friendly … or even people I’ve met a couple times … Suddenly unleash such nastiness and mean-spirited words because they are protected behind their computer screen and keyboard.

    Bravo to Misty for her strength and courage in stepping up because I don’t think I could do it, and I see myself as being a strong person … I’d be in tears the first time someone attacked me personally!

    I can see you’ve taken lots of positives out of the experience – that’s awesome :)

  3. So proud of you for doing this and I think these lessons go way beyond campaigning… the seem to apply to life in general as well.

  4. I love the way these lessons tie into life outside of politics, too. I think you’re right – if we put our hearts in it, be truthful and treat people with respect that we are on our way to great things – whether in a campaign or not.

  5. I still haven’t sat down to collect my thoughts about this whole experience but you have captured it quite well. Thank you for all of your support! XOXO

  6. Great life lessons. So proud of you for being part of it!

  7. What a great summary of your experience. I love how you connect what you’ve learned to everyday life.

  8. Well said my friend.

  9. Wow! Good job and great post. What a good look at volunteering!!

  10. This is a really interesting post. I like how you depicted running for an office so straightforwardly. It’s a lot of hard work – after all, the steps are not difficult to take, but the time and effort you place on them mean everything. What an experience for you!!