Campaigning in the midst of a pandemic: A Q&A with Emma Amorose (COM ’21)

In the midst of the pandemic, Emma Amorose (COM ‘21) had 72 hours to pack her bags and venture out to Ohio after being notified of an opportunity to work on a congressional campaign for Desiree Tims in the OH-10 District. Amorose worked as a field organizer for the campaign from October to November 2020. There, she learned what it took to be an effective communicator, persist through the challenges, continue asynchronous classes as a master’s student at night, and be a visitor in a new city.

In January 2021, Amorose completed her master’s degree in public relations at BU. During her three semesters here, she worked as a teaching assistant for CM 180, the introductory “Understanding Media” course, and as a research assistant. Prior to attending BU, she received her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University where she studied public relations as well as international affairs.

Putting together everything she learned during her time at BU, FSU, and internships allowed her to make a positive impact during her time as a field organizer. 

Anna Pham: What did you do as a field organizer? What was your experience like?

Emma Amorose: There’s a lot that you do as a field organizer. The main responsibilities are community outreach. I was making hundreds of calls every day and sending thousands of texts to people to remind them about the resources we had about voting procedures and upcoming events.

I also helped with the nitty-gritty stuff like door-knocking, which was a wonderful way to get out and understand the community that I was campaigning with. When you’re also attending events on behalf of the candidate, you’re kind of a proxy. You have to know the platform. You have to know a lot about the community and what kind of things matter to people, like what they’re going to ask and want to hear.

Most people don’t have a background in communications. I was super glad I did because that instinct and the soft skills that you build up as a communications person were really helpful. It helped with connecting with people and understanding the messaging, and where and when to use what with which audiences.

How did you navigate this position in the middle of the pandemic? 

With political campaigning, it’s already pretty regulated and there are a lot of rules. We were in Ohio, which didn’t have a ton of restrictions with the pandemic. It wasn’t a major city and it wasn’t the type of place where it was difficult to meet in person because there were a lot of outdoor spaces.

The candidate that I was supporting was also involved in her local community church, which was still meeting in an outdoor format.

I went around and did some door-knocking at approved places, but most of it was just dropping things off and hoping people would read them. It was tough because you rely a lot on one-to-one connections with people, which we didn’t have during this time. Because of that, it took a lot of creativity, harnessing different resources, and relying on our volunteers to make one-to-one connections in the community with people they knew. It was definitely [hard] but I’m proud of what we were able to do, despite all of those regulations.

How did you get involved with this campaign?

A lot of the experience I had in my undergraduate career was with the state government and legislature in Florida. I knew this was something I was fascinated by and wanted to get involved with. 

Over the summer I had an internship with an organization called the Blue Lab, which is based in Boston. I’d recommend this to any student that is looking for exposure to the campaign world. I worked on different local, state, and municipal races and supported their teams. There, I did fundraising outreach of all kinds. 

I then put my application into the D Trip, which is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; I knew I wanted to do something a little bit bigger. And I got a call from Ohio late one night, and about a week later they called me and asked me to move there. I had 72 hours to move to Ohio. I didn’t have a place to stay and at first, I was on people’s couches. I didn’t even know the area.

I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my internship experiences which gave me the skills that I needed and the familiarity to jump into a congressional campaign. I was also still in school. For this campaign, I would start my day at 8:30 AM and would occasionally stay there until midnight. Then I would go home and do my online classes asynchronously.

What was challenging about this role?

Things change so quickly and you have to be ready to pivot. As someone who’s worked in the communications field, however, it’s a familiar kind of challenge. It was also a physically demanding job, being in the office and going all over town. You have to have a lot of stamina. 

It was also challenging to connect with people who have been struggling. These people have been hurt by environmental challenges or systematic issues and were tired of not having their voices be heard. 

That was very much the focus of our race: representing those people who have not had the chance to have their voice be heard in their community. A longtime incumbent had been there for decades and our focus was listening and trying our best to make sure they felt like we knew what was happening. 

What’s one takeaway or one thing you learned during your time working as a field organizer?

The importance of listening! In any role of any career, listening to your audience and to the people you’re trying to serve or connect with – really feeling what they’re feeling and trying to incorporate that into what you’re doing – is monumentally important and essential. 

Being an intern and someone previously in temporary roles, I didn’t get the chance to connect with my audience or with the people I was trying to help through the legislature. With this position, it was wonderful to be in a community and space where I could do that. 

I’m going to keep the importance of listening and consider it for the rest of my career. This idea changed my whole perspective.

Did you ever expect to be working on a campaign?

The strangeness of COVID opened up a space for me to do this. It’s not really a traditional career path because the campaign can end at any time. 

It was something I always wanted to try, but I wasn’t sure if the situation would ever allow for that. I think it was a silver lining of this horrible year and I’m glad I had the flexibility and space to do that. 

What are you working on now that the campaign has ended?

I’m now working at a strategic communications firm which is a little bit of a pivot. There, we focus on diversity and inclusion, equity, and being involved in the community. It’s been a great path and it has all worked together to get me to where I am now. 

Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time, is there anything you’d do differently during your time as a field organizer?

There’s not a lot that’s up to you as a field organizer—you’re kind of reacting to leadership’s decisions. In that way, there’s not a lot I could have done differently. 

In terms of mentally preparing for it, I wish I would’ve known a bit more about the struggles of that community. I would’ve liked to understand the overarching impact a little bit better before I got there of what my role would be and appreciate from the start what this was all about. 

Was there anything during your time at BU that helped you with working on this campaign?

The pace and the demanding atmosphere of a graduate program prepared me, because I was ready to work hard. I had already established the importance of going above and beyond because that’s something all my courses and experiences instilled in me. I was also really used to pushing myself and that was a great soft skill to have in that environment. BU did a great job of preparing me to use my voice and perspective to contribute to a team. This campaign experience was a good team atmosphere and that was how I felt at BU, too. 

What advice would you give to students who are looking to work on a campaign?

Get started by picking something that you’re interested in. Focus on something that means a lot to you and build from there. It’s a great way to figure out exactly where you fit in.

If you kind of focus on something that means a lot to you and build from there, it’s a great way to build those skills and figure out exactly where you fit in. Not every race is going to accomplish what you think you’re trying to accomplish, so understanding your passion and why you think that a political campaign will help you with your career [helps]. A lot of times you’re going to start on a volunteer basis and that’s a great way to learn – that’s what I did. 

From there, just be a sponge and listen as much as you can while trying to build the technical skills as you go. Start small. Don’t get intimidated because it can be [intimidating]. Just work from there and make sure you have all the foundational pieces and mentors that can point you in the right direction. 

It’s not a traditional path, so you have to work your own way and figure out what works best for you. 

Anna Pham, Staff Writer

Anna Pham is a senior (May ‘21) studying public relations with minors in philosophy and innovation & entrepreneurship. Growing up in Silicon Valley has pushed Anna to love innovation and technology. Upon graduating, she hopes to work with a large tech company or tech startup. In her free time, Anna can be found traveling the world, graphic designing, or working on a new passion project. Her goal is to one day start her own company and visit all the U.S. National Parks!

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