The 2018 midterm elections were a historic moment for women and Emerge America played an important role recruiting, training and providing support networks for Democratic women running for all levels of office.
SMPA junior Samantha Cookinham asked junior political communication major Casey Danoff about her experience interning at the organization that helped track and support hundreds of women candidates running in races at every level and in every U.S. state and territory during the midterms.
Q: What was a day at Emerge America like?
A: Something very cool about working at Emerge America in D.C. is that it is a small, all-female team. I don’t think there is anything better than an all-female team working to get more Democratic women elected to office. It defines the idea of “girl power.”
The office itself is a very humble atmosphere — the strength of the organization clearly comes from the hard work that the women running put into their efforts, rather than piles of money.
My table is situated in the corner of the room between life-size cardboard cutouts of Hillary Clinton and the Obamas.
Our office works closely with the San Francisco office, so I also enjoyed being able to hop in on phone calls with the San Francisco staff. It is cool to think that there is another small room of women across the country who are working vigorously towards the same goal that we are.
The collaboration is really awesome, and every day at Emerge I am reminded of the amazing things women can accomplish when we come together.
Q: What responsibilities and opportunities did you have?
A: I worked on a lot of different tasks at Emerge.
I spent a lot of time preparing the election night graphics and animated GIFs for Emerge social media channels.
I also edited videos to promote candidates and put together short biographies for media outreach, built an editorial calendar, designed social media posts to celebrate diverse women and much more.
The tasks thrown my way really depended on the day, and I enjoyed the variety in my experience. The staff was also extremely willing to help me learn new things, and I feel that I developed new skills in my time at Emerge.
My responsibilities also provided a great opportunity to synthesize what I have learned in SMPA courses. The graphic elements allowed me to use my digital media skills, and my classes in both media and politics were helpful in understanding the significance and strategy behind what I was working on.
Emerge gave me the opportunity to apply my digital communication skills to help advance the political careers of women. Developing a strong background in political science at SMPA allowed me to make meaningful contributions to the work environment and into the projects that I worked on.
At the same time, I enjoyed being able to bring my experience to the classroom. My time at Emerge influenced the women’s issues that I focused on in all of my “Digital Media II” projects this semester. It illuminated more angles of the problem that I had never noticed and motivated me to take more action.
I also loved going to my “Women and Politics” class and hearing classmates discuss the campaigns of the women I have been working to help elect. Seeing the power of grassroots and hard work in achieving tangible results reassured me that I am going down a career path that I love.
Q: How did your SMPA courses prepare you for this internship?
A: My time with Dr. Imani M. Cheers in “Digital Media II” was extremely helpful for my Emerge internship. I directly applied my knowledge of Adobe Cloud programs and Canva in the workplace.
My supervisors were very impressed with my Adobe Premiere video editing skills and gave me even more video projects after they saw my work.
Before my class with Dr. Cheers, I considered myself somewhat clueless regarding graphic design and video editing. However, my skills in this area have absolutely skyrocketed, and because of my ability to apply them daily at Emerge, I realized the edge these skills provide in the workplace, regardless of your field.
Q: Describe a special moment or memorable part of your internship?
A: The most memorable and exciting part of my internship was definitely watching the returns come in on election night.
For Emerge, election night is when all of the action happens. You get to see if your efforts paid off. After working on all of the election night graphics and familiarizing myself with many of the candidates, I was invested in far more races than I ever had been. I knew individual characteristics of many female candidates and knew the odds they were up against in the election.
As I sat in my dorm room with CNN on TV and the Emerge Candidate Tracker on my laptop, I anxiously watched as the number of new women elected to all levels of government ticked upward.
As the visual of an Emerge female candidate would flash on the screen to indicate a victory, I would yelp in excitement because I felt as though I had been following, and even helping with, their now successful campaign.
It was an incredible experience to see so many women who I had almost grown attached to end the race with a victory. Because Emerge is so small and personal, you get the feeling that every little action you take is benefitting a larger cause.
To top it all off, I hopped on Twitter to see more election news, and I found all of the election graphics that I had made were being posted on the Emerge account.
My entire feed was full of victory posts for an array of diverse, democratic women who had been elected, each post accompanied with one of my graphics. To see my work being used to celebrate these women’s achievements was an amazing feeling. Emerge had over 300 of their candidates win at all levels of government. It was beyond incredible to be a part of that action.
Q: How did previous internships prepare you for working at Emerge America?
A: My time with Senator Cory Booker was very different from my time at Emerge. I don’t think that comes as too much of a surprise, as one would not expect a prominent senator’s office in the Dirksen office building to be comparable to the third-floor walk-up of a small non-profit.
However, despite the superficial differences, I learned a lot of skills in my Booker internship that have helped me, both at my Emerge Internship and in my overall experience as an up-and-coming, young professional.
My internship with Senator Booker was my first real internship, and I quickly learned the importance of flexibility. I was the press intern for the senator, so my responsibilities included managing press lists, writing briefings and memos, monitoring media requests and so on.
Every day brought a new challenge. Senator Booker is frequently in the news and is often involved with the quickly changing political atmosphere. As the press intern, I had to closely follow his media presence and make sure that I was up-to-date with dynamic politics.
Some days, I would need to log over 200 stories where he was mentioned and get it out to the office by lunch. I became very media proficient and able to keep up with small changes in stories on a day to day basis under pressure. The ability to work quickly and carefully under pressure also applies to the time-sensitive campaigns that I navigated at Emerge.
I also assembled his record on women’s issues that the staff uses to track any bills, statements, press mentions or appearances he has made pertaining to women’s issues. I think that working on that document and seeing how much government affects the lives of myself and other women fueled my decision to keep working in the realm of women in politics.
He was a single politician who had done so much to help women. Imagine what our government would look like if we had more legislators, specifically female legislators, with the same goals and ideas as him. It was extremely rewarding to work closely with a politician who fights for what I believe in.
I think that working for a high-profile senator also taught me a lot about professionalism, and allowed me to sharpen my media presence skills. Despite the different offices I walked into, the skills I used at Senator Booker’s office and at Emerge were closely linked.
If anything, I applied exactly what I learned with Senator Booker and brought it to my Emerge Internship, along with an additional year’s worth of learning and growth at SMPA.