One Volunteer’s Inventory of the Sask NDP Leadership Race

I drafted this post about a week before the Leadership convention so you have to read it as if the election still hadn’t happened. I could re-write but really like that opening about “pre-emptive nostalgia” so wanted to keep it. Given what I’m writing about and how I ended it, I thought it fitting to post today on April 11 – which is a birthday shared by Ryan and my dad. Happy birthday to both of you!

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So, as the Sask NDP Leadership Race draws to a close, I’ve been having a bad case of what a colleague calls “pre-emptive nostalgia”.

It’s that same feeling you get when a trip is coming to an end and you start thinking “This is the last time I’ll walk on this beach”, “This is my last chance to use up my pesos”, “This is my last time leaving this hotel room” except in this race, my thoughts are more along the lines of “This is the last time I’ll tweet about one of Ryan’s policies”, “This is the last time we’ll have a Skype conference call to plan our convention showcase”, “This is the last time I’ll reverse the Like of somebody who’s accidentally self-Liked a Facebook post using the official campaign account” 😉

As part of that, I’ve been thinking about exactly what I’ve put into this campaign.

In 2009, I was quite new to politics (still am of course but a wee bit more seasoned) and my involvement was very much on the periphery of Ryan’s campaign – I did some stuff for his web site, I helped editing a few documents, I drafted most of at least one policy (his Arts & Culture policy), I did some phone calling, I did some social media stuff including a lot of writing about the campaign on my own blog and probably a few other odds & ends I can’t remember. I’m sure I donated a bit of money but probably not a very significant amount (although one of my ideas for fundraising ended up generating somewhere around 15-20% of everything Ryan brought in during that race so that makes up for it!) 😉

I can’t claim anything so groundbreaking as the Money Bomb this time (I tried to take credit for his Reddit AMA in December – the first ever by a Saskatchewan politician – but a fellow team member reminded me that he’d suggested it *really* early in the campaign) but I’ve also done and given *way* more than in 2009 so that’s probably more important on balance.

My involvement started as soon as I heard Ryan was running again – as in 2009, the campaign was using Basecamp project management and my memory is that my first contributions of this race were participating in a discussion about potential campaign slogans. As we circled around variation of Ryan’s 2009 slogan, “Our Future Together”, I chimed in that I was a big fan of the word “Together” by itself – both for its shortness (I wasn’t yet the Social Media Director but definitely thinking like one) as well as the fact that as the campaign went on, we could adapt it for different needs: “Workers TOGETHER”, “Healthcare Professionals TOGETHER”, “Farmers TOGETHER” (which was a formulation I’d seen used to great effect by the ALA’s “@thelibrary” campaign which allows libraries to do something similar – “Databases@thelibrary”, “ScienceFiction@thelibrary”, “GardeningPrograms@thelibrary”, etc.)

Of course, the slogan eventually chosen was “Better Together” and this, of course, was better. 😉

After that, the next six months led to all kinds of stuff. Here’s a partial inventory of what I’ve done (and I want to be clear I’m not posting this as a measurement of myself against anyone else – on Ryan’s team or otherwise. Every volunteer gives what they can in the face of competing interests at work, at home, in other volunteer commitments and so on. In fact, at our first “all-hands” meeting in Craik before Ryan officially entered the race, I remember one of the top campaign people saying they were hoping that people would challenge themselves and take on more than they might have in other campaigns or situations in the past. I remember thinking – “My wife is pregnant, I’ve got a five year old son who’s just started kindergarten among lord knows so good luck with that!” Little did I know…)

We finished the day by drawing a picture of a giant circle, filling the inside with what we were willing to do and the outside with what we’re weren’t. As you can see above, I said I was willing to do almost anything – and being a “rover” who does many different things is what I most enjoy in these types of situations – but that I also wanted to give myself permission to say ‘no’ to things I didn’t want to do or didn’t have time to do or whatever.

It wasn’t at that first meeting but at some point fairly early on in Ryan’s campaign, I made a conscious decision to go “all in” on this campaign – partly because I believe so strongly in Ryan’s potential as a political leader, partly because I knew it would be both fun and a great learning experience, and partly with Shea being pregnant, I knew this would likely be my last big volunteer engagement for at least the next year or three.)  Oh, and partly because I’m hoping Ryan appoints me as Library Czar someday when he’s Premier! 😉

So what have I done for the campaign?

  • Once you count money given at “pass the hat” events, tickets bought to events, and silent auction items purchased, I’ve given Ryan’s campaign over $1000 putting me within the top tier of campaign donors. (It sounds like a lot but when you space it out over six months – as I did at the start of the race – it’s only a couple hundred bucks a month. As someone without car payments at the present moment, pretty easy to justify.  And I’m sure my soon-to-be-born child will understand when we can’t afford college!) 😉
  • Attended two full-day face-to-face team meetings in Craik – one just before Ryan officially launched his campaign and one we had as a halfway point check-in. (Skype and Google Hangouts are good to a point but sometimes you *really* need that personal contact.) Side note: that second Craik meeting brought home just how youthful this team was. Partly just because of who was able to make it that day but I had the sad realization at lunch that of the 12 or so people at the table, I was the oldest one – and I wasn’t even 40!
  • Unasked but over-excited, I submitted a draft of a speech that Ryan could use for his launch announcement. Once the professionals got a hold of it, most of it went by the wayside. But they kept a couple of my best lines which made me happy – eg. “Even when we’re competing, we’re better together”.
  • Attended a couple early meetings of the Leadership Convention Committee with representatives from all campaigns since the meetings were in Regina and most of our team’s top people were in Saskatoon (and our main Regina team leader was in Mexico at the time.)
  • Participated in weekly noon-hour Skype conference calls of the Steering Committee
  • Participating in various other conference calls – for everything from the web site development team at the start of the race to the convention planning committee near the end.
  • Beyond conference calls, had various other one-on-one Skype calls or phone calls or e-mail/FB or in-person conversations with different team members throughout the campaign to discuss all manner of topics
  • Signed up over 30 members (which was only good enough to put me in 14th spot in our internal Membership Sales Leaderboard. Think about that – that means everyone ahead of me sold more than 30 and some more than that by a considerable margin – pretty impressive!)
  • On that note, I also created the Membership Leaderboard page using a built-in Nation Builder function, I also worked on various other aspects of Ryan’s web site – from initial development to writing different content to integrating things like Google Analytics and some of other tools (Storify). I also did occasional CSS & layout tweaks, wrote guest posts and posting other important content
  • Did all kinds of Tweeting and Facebooking – both via my own accounts and occasionally posting as Ryan and/or from one of the campaign accounts. (All of that was only good enough to get me 8th spot on our all-time “political capital” leaderboard – a function of NationBuilder that gives you points for various actions team members complete – calling, tweeting, donating, etc.)
  • Was one of the Leads for the writing/editing/compiling the “12 Days/12 Ways To Help” series we did around Christmas.
  • There was another project inspired by the “12 Days” series that never came to fruition but that I did some preliminary work on. On that note, there are lots of half-baked, half-finished, half-assed ideas and projects that I came up with or helped to work on – either with or without official campaign sanction (I mentioned how I wrote most of Ryan’s 2009 Arts & Culture Policy and I had a really innovative idea for how we could do his 2013 version but we never got to it.) I threw out so many ideas that before Christmas someone asked if I felt like my ideas were being rejected. I admitted that yeah, it’s not fun to have an idea shot down but at the same time, I recognize that one of my strengths is being an “ideas guy” and that means that if was throwing out a lot of ideas a lot of ideas would have to be thrown out (er, I wasn’t that clever in my wording at the time.) Put another way, for every money bomb or “12 Days/12 Ways” idea I brought forward that were quite successful, there were probably 5-10 that didn’t catch.
  • Attended three debates in person (Regina x2, Weyburn), watched one livestreamed (Saskatoon #2) and watched parts of all of the eleven other debates online.
  • Wrote our “Meme Team”‘s social media guidelines (then set a team record for breaking those guidelines the most times!) 😉
  • Although I wasn’t as consistent as I should’ve been, wrote weekly updates for the members of the social media team mainly during the mid-part of the race.
  • Provided input and took the lead in registering our iPhone app on Apple’s app store – a pretty interesting experience I never would’ve had otherwise.
  • Although I can’t claim credit for the Reddit AMA (damn!) I did take the lead in booking it, coordinating with the admins over at /r/canadapolitics (loved how the first moderator to write back said that they were from Saskatchewan and had voted for Ryan in 2009!) and finding a team member who was a Saskatoon-based Redditor that could be Ryan’s sherpa into that weird and nerdy world
  • Attended pretty much every Regina social event that happened from candidate “Meet & Greets” to fundraisers to Regina team meetings and training sessions. Donated a prize for a silent auction, bought a prize at the silent auction.
  • Did some phone calling. Was a great joy to call into my home constituency of Indian Head-Milestone one weekend and talk to parents of people I went to school with, friends of my parents or others who I had so much in common with (“Oh, yes, our farm is on the #56 – you drive past it going to Katepwa Lake.”)
  • This post is very much about me but I’ve got to give credit to my family too – Shea promoted Ryan to many of her friends and co-workers (which is somewhat awkward as she works with Trent’s sister!) and of course just been very supportive of my efforts, my being away from home so often, my constantly talking about the campaign and so on. My mom has become a Ryan convert too, talking him up around Indian Head and giving former MLA Lorne Scott shit for supporting Trent instead of Ryan! 😉

Overall, no matter what happens next Saturday, I wouldn’t give up this experience for anything. I’ve learned so much, met so many cool people and been able to do so many things that I’d never do otherwise. And overarching all of that is a spirit of fun that’s made this feel – not like most people perceive politics – serious, dour, boring – but engaging, exciting and inspiring – all of the things the NDP needs if it’s going to be successful again in the future.

I may have told the story of how, when I first started getting more and more involved with the NDP, my dad, who, as far as I know, has always voted for a different political party (he’s in rural Saskatchewan so three guesses which ones that might be?!?), pulled me aside and said “You know, your grandpa always voted for the CCF.”

As I’ve worked on this campaign, I wonder if my grandpa felt that same sense of engagement, excitement and inspiration from Tommy Douglas?  And how, perhaps my dad’s feeling it a bit too? After all, he’s joined the NDP to support Ryan for Leader too!

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