Forget the media — changing politics begins with the voters

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Timothy Baxter
Young Americans for Liberty activist Timothy Baxter on the campaign trail.

My grandfather embodied the American Dream. Fearing the rise of anti-Semitism in early twentieth-century Europe, he and his family emigrated from Poland to the United States. As a second-generation immigrant in New York City, however, he faced difficulty getting a job because of his Jewish heritage. Desperately seeking employment wherever he could find it, he secured an entry-level position in a mailroom. With a lot of hard work and perseverance, he found success in that mailroom, eventually becoming the owner of the business.

Stories like my grandfather are why I strive to make a difference in politics today. This past year, I joined Young Americans for Liberty with a new project known as Operation Win at the Door (OWD). Little did I know that OWD would become one of the most formative experiences of my life — personally and professionally. It was here that I learned that the real differences in politics are made on the individual level, not with flashy headlines or obnoxious overtures, but with one meaningful conversation at a time.

I was assigned to my home state of New Hampshire, where I knocked doors for Congressional candidate Andy Sanborn along with several others running for state representative. I campaigned for one month during the primary season before returning for five days during the general election.

Knocking doors, making phone calls, and listening to voters’ concerns taught me more about winning elections than I could have possibly expected. Grassroots campaigning — the process of sending canvassers door-to-door to inform and persuade voters — is fundamentally different than other forms of activism. Each day poses a new series of unexpected challenges… and rewards.

As it turned out, my car shared many of those challenges. Overall, I put over 20,000 miles on my car throughout my time in New Hampshire. Even worse, I broke down twice on the campaign trail (once on my birthday which, coincidentally, happened to be the last day of the campaign).

Additionally, because many voters thought I was ding dong ditching them, I quickly gained the record for highest number of interactions with the police. Luckily, I was able to calmly explain what I was doing and get some great pictures with several officers, who were just as nice and professional as they could be.

I couldn’t have asked for a greater opportunity to live and work with so many intelligent, enthusiastic people. Our field directors, Brandon Borke and Diego Rivera, pushed us beyond what we thought our limits were. Brandon even woke us up every morning by blasting “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers throughout the house. While not everyone responded with excitement, the music helped create a unified culture among the team.

By the time it was over, we had helped lead 23 candidates across the state to victory, in addition to 14 more in other parts of the country. In the face of a well-funded and entrenched establishment, a handful of college kids and recent graduates had actually generated real, tangible change. As the election results poured in, everything we had gone through — from car breakdowns to being stopped by police to pressure from the opposition — all became worth it.

My advice to any young person hoping to find their start in politics: get out and simply listen to the voters. If you think that you can learn how to navigate the world of politics by posting on social media, getting on TV, and taking pictures with politicians, you are sadly mistaken.

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