Why You Should Volunteer, 2012

Organizing for America, Campaigning for the Re-election of Obama in 2012
Organizing for America, Campaigning for the Re-election of Obama in 2012

In October of 2012, I was invited to join Organizing for America’s digital team at the Nevada DNC headquarters in Las Vegas.  It would be for a week, at my own expense.  I would be assisting in the creation of digital content to be used in newsletters, flyers, leaflets, emails and Facebook.  Was I in?

Why not?

It’s always these two completely innocuous words that lead you to the best, most rewarding experiences you’ll have in your lifetime.  Of course, I’d have to continue doing my day job.  This would be no vacation, and it meant long days.  Very long days.  Maybe 14 – 16 hours.  When I was certain I could do it, I contacted the OFA NV office and said I was in.

Sure, I was a bit nervous travelling 1,200+ miles by myself.  I rented a red Fiat 500 and made the trip in two days, stopping in Williams, CA the first night.  And yes, it was a bit odd to stay in a hotel room (next to McCarran airport) by myself for the 11 total days I was in Las Vegas.  But every day, I got up and asked myself the same question.  Why not?

At the campaign offices, I was lead around and introduced to everyone.  There was a vibe there, a kind of tired freneticism in the air.  The first presidential debate had only just passed.  There were angry murmurs everywhere.  We were less than a month out from the election.  Many people never left the office.  There were broken down sofas where people would perch and nap.  The internet almost never worked (that was fine for me, I brought my own).  Volunteers, like myself, made due in folding metal chairs.

The day I arrived, the team leads I was supposed to be working with were still in Reno.  Instead, I was “claimed” by Naomi Tacuyan, the Director of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) outreach program for the DNC.  Yeah.  She’s a big deal.  And absolutely amazing to work with.

AAPI for Obama: We Decide!
AAPI for Obama: We Decide!

What started out as a project that was meant to fill the few hours while I waited for the department leads to return from Reno, turned into my volunteer project for OFA NV.

I was (eventually) given the Obama campaign brand book, which was crisp and beautiful, and asked to create digital assets for an early voting rally.  The rally was for AAPI and was intended to help educate and motivate community members to register to vote, and vote early.  The assets required ran the gamut from print media to Facebook images for the group’s timeline.

Since I had not been through the initial training that would have been provided by the department leads, I had to hit the ground running.  I sent emails to anyone and everyone for whom I could find an address and just started asking questions.  If one person didn’t have an answer, they pushed me on toward someone who might.  Eventually, I had enough to go on to get started, but it was only through perseverance and a desire to use my skills in the pursuit of (what I deem to be) a worthy cause.

AAPI for Obama: We Decide!
AAPI for Obama: We Decide!

As anyone who has worked with print media will tell you, anytime you have a preponderance of textual information or content, design is going to be tricky.  There are many factors to take into consideration like flow, legibility, resolutions (will it skew your informational content?), color steadfastness and print gutters.  The same can sometimes be true for digital media.

Working with a large amount of text can sometimes feel prohibitive to a designer.  Especially when you need to work within the tight constraints laid out in a brand book.  The challenge is to stay true to the look and feel of the brand while managing to do something impactful and yet creative.  Here, I find it’s best to go wild.  Create as many possible versions of the same asset as you can.  Stop thinking about it and just do it.

For the Facebook images, I created nearly three dozen unique assets.  That’s right.  I created more than 36 different assets from which the final version was eventually derived.  Working closely with Naomi, we worked through what we thought would and would not work for her group’s needs.  Providing her with as many different options as possible, she was more comfortable saying this or that didn’t work.  As a designer, it allowed me to step outside of my normal design process and into a world where everything, from the fonts to hues of blue, are predetermined and set in stone.

The week came and went faster than I thought it would when I was driving along the foggy curves of I-5 headed toward California and Nevada.  In my life, the week will eventually be but a blip.  But it is certainly a blip for which I’ll be proud.

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