Campaigning for Change: A Volunteer’s Perspective

Senior Liana Keesing’s expansive involvement in political campaigns


Keesing spent five days volunteering for Beto O’ Rourke’s campaign for senator. Photo courtesy of Liana Keesing.

Tanya Kurnootala, Staff Writer

It is a hot summer day-the kind of July day with a blistering sun. Senior Liana Keesing has been driving door-to-door for the past few hours, encouraging any prospective voter she comes across to vote on election day. She knocks at another door, and this time, is offered a popsicle, and more importantly, a potential vote for State Senator Jennifer Wexton, a politician she has dedicated countless hours to. Although November 6th is over four months away, it is at these times when Keesing believes her work is most fulfilling.

Keesing first started off volunteering by canvassing, which involves contacting people directly and encouraging them to vote for a specific candidate or policy, as well as making phone calls to prospective voters, but has recently been working on the finance and donor research side- areas of a campaign that come with greater experience and responsibility. The campaigning process is not new to Keesing as she has been volunteering for campaigns since she was in seventh grade.

“I started with Kathleen Murphy for delegate, my state delegate, in seventh grade. I’ve been working on her campaign since then and they got me hooked up with the Jennifer Wexton campaign, the Tim Kaine campaign, and a couple other Virginia races,” Keesing said. “[In] the campaigns I’m working on right now, I’m more just doing the basic ground work because that is what they need.”

Volunteering for campaigns is a major part of Keesing’s service work and seems to be a priority for her over the summer. However, she appreciates that campaigns are flexible in their time requirements and the amount of time she spends on any particular campaign varies throughout the year.

“Generally…the summer is when I do the majority of my campaign work. I’ll do 5 hours a day usually 3-4 days a week, but there are some weeks where I’ll do 8 hours a day, all day long,” Keesing said. “It really depends on my schedule.”

A main part of Keesing’s work is done within Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, the district she lives in. Within this district, Keesing has spent a lot of time volunteering in her neighborhood because it happens to be one with a high voter turnout, but has traveled as far as Loudon county to canvass. Keesing finds her work in Virginia 10 especially meaningful.

“Virginia ten is a really interesting district because it is currently represented by a Republican, but it has voted Democratic in the last two out of three presidential elections,” Keesing said. “So as opposed to some places where you’re working really for no purpose, here you can actually make a difference. The margins of victory are so small that you know that every door you’re knocking at could be the person who ends up tipping it over either which way.”

In Virginia, and especially in Keesing’s district, races have been historically close, with relatively small margins between the winning and losing candidates. Keesing discusses her experience with tight races in the past.

“I’ve [worked] on House races that have been won by 100, 200, or 300 votes and I know that I myself have talked to that many people. I’m not saying that I’ve made a difference that strong, but I am saying that you definitely get to feel like you’ve at least helped a couple people and helped the polls,” Keesing said. “At the end of the day, that is what politics is about: every bit counts.”

In addition to her work within Virginia, Keesing is involved in many other races across the country. For example, for five days, starting on October 27th, she will be volunteering for Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for Senator in Texas, where he is running against current Senator Ted Cruz.

“When I’m [in Texas] I’m going to be working for 10 hours a day doing whatever they need me to do. [I’ll be] working at rallies and hopefully [be a part]  of the transportation crew for Beto, so I’ll get to hang out with him a little bit,” Keesing said.

She is also involved in Georgia’s elections for governor remotely.

“I’ve offered to do some phone banking [in Georgia] and I have a friend who is working in that race so I think I’m going to try to do that a little bit,” Keesing said. “But really, I’m excited about Texas and I’m excited about the Virginia races, especially the Virginia 10.”

Canvassing is the type of service Keesing mainly does. She describes the difficulties that can arise from going door-to-door, especially when she canvasses during the summer, sometimes five months ahead of election day.

“Canvassing can be really nerve-wracking your first time. It takes a lot of practice before it is anything but that because you are walking up to some random stranger’s door who definitely does not want to talk to you and telling them [to vote],” Keesing said. “It is really a matter of knowing what you are going to get, going out there, and just being willing to do it.”

With eligible voters being more informed on the days leading up to election day, Keesing reflects on how volunteering during such times has made her realize how accessible and easy it is to make a difference.

“My favorite time to canvass is on election day because you know that the people actually want to talk to you,” Keesing said. “My favorite thing is when you knock on a door maybe two hours before polls are closing and they say ‘Oh wait, thank you for reminding me, I’m going to go vote now.’ I think that’s the absolute best thing in the world.”

In addition to canvassing , there are many different ways volunteers can help a campaign, such as through direct communication, working in a phone bank, managing a social media page, or helping to develop a candidate’s platform. Keesing compares in-person volunteering with her work over the phone.

People are actually a lot nicer going to [their] doors than [they are] over the phone. If you do phone banking and you call people, they’ll …hang up the phone a lot of times. One out of ten times they’ll maybe say ‘Yes, of course’ and be really nice,” Keesing said. “As where opposed you go door-to-door, people tend to be pretty nice because it is harder to be mean to someone who is standing right there.”

With Keesing herself dedicating a majority of her time to politics, she has also involved many other people in her efforts.

“I drive my friends from base school all the time and whenever I have a friend who needs NHS service hours, the first thing I suggest is ‘Hey, come with me, come help me canvass,’” Keesing said.

Keesing encourages those interested in volunteering to join a campaign. She also gives her advice to those who might be hesitant to start.

“Just jump in and do it. It is not as scary as it seems and once you get into it, it can be really fun. Take friends along with you because that makes it way more fun and a lot less stressful if you’re nervous about knocking on random people’s doors,” Keesing said. I definitely recommend it because you are working for a really good cause and you will have some awesome experiences out of it.”