Staff Academy: Changing Campaign Culture Across America
June 24, 2021
NDTC’s Staff Academy is an intensive, 10-week program designed to recruit, train, and connect campaign staff to paid career opportunities in Democratic politics. Since the program launched in 2019, it has graduated over 300 individuals trained in campaign communications, digital, and fundraising.
Yet this is only part of Staff Academy’s mission. When applicants are invited to join the program, NDTC prioritizes leaders of color, women, transgender and nonbinary people. NDTC believes campaign leadership and staffers should be representative of the communities they serve.
Staff Academy has produced a network of passionate Democrats across the country who are LGBTQIA+ folks, people of color, women, and their allies. This network includes myself, as I graduated with the program’s first cohort in 2019. Our graduates’ work inspires the NDTC team every single day. They call attention to the challenges marginalized communities encounter on the campaign trail. They work to break down barriers and institutionalize more equitable campaign norms across America. The impact Staff Academy graduates create can be felt up and down the ballot.
Too often, LGBTQIA+ community members, volunteers, and staff are subjected to harmful language on the campaign trail. Words have been used to denigrate these marginalized groups, which has a demoralizing impact on campaigns at every level. Staff Academy graduates work to create more inclusive campaign messaging, as well as more diverse campaign teams.
There are many ways to create a more inclusive work and campaign environment. Craft call-time pitches using inclusive language. Include pronouns in office introductions, and encourage candidates to share pronouns during speaking engagements. Be mindful of gendered words in onboarding materials. These are just a few examples of how inclusive language can empower people to embrace change in their communities.
Learn more about creating inclusive campaign messaging in NDTC’s blog, “Language Matters: Inclusion in Campaign Messaging.”
Staff Academy Graduates: Advocates For Justice
Staff Academy graduates create more inclusive campaigns across the country. One example is NDTC’s 2019 cohort graduate Eleanor McDonough.
Since graduation, McDonough instituted a series of inclusive language norms at her district office. She encouraged staff to use pronouns in email signatures as well as social media. The office also made an effort to encourage community members to share pronouns and preferred names. The language norms McDonough established had a clear and immediate impact on staff working in the office.
In addition, McDonough advocated, alongside Democratic legislators, against a bill aimed at discriminating against transgender youth in Florida. This past legislative session, Republicans in Florida introduced anti-LGBTQ+ legislation including a bill to ban transgender youth from sports. As the only trans person working in the Capitol, McDonough recognized she had insights others could not offer.
“I met with Democratic lawmakers to answer their questions, and provided them with a list of acceptable terminology they could use to advocate against the bill.” — Eleanor McDonough, Staff Academy Graduate, 2019 Cohort
She understood the gravity of this issue, and had the confidence and expertise to spring into action. While the bill did ultimately pass, Eleanor McDonough had an impact on the institutional Democratic pushback against blatant discrimination.
Safety, Inclusion & Equity Require Intentional Strategy
At their core, campaigns are temporary startup companies with limited time, money, and people. Therefore, they often lack the structure and safety needed to properly support campaign staff. This doesn’t reflect the progressive and inclusive values that define the Democratic Party.
Staff Academy Graduates: Advocates For Inclusive Campaigns
Staff Academy graduates promote workplace safety in Democratic political campaigns and organizations across the country. A prime example of this comes from my own experience at Staff Academy, as I was part of the program’s first cohort in 2019.
Prior to joining Staff Academy, I noticed the lack of mechanisms for promoting safety and inclusiveness in campaigns.
“I was a full-time campaign staffer for 5 months before resources for reporting discrimination, sexual harrassment, and other behavior that foster an unsafe workplace were distributed to everyone.”
Often, campaigns don’t establish norms or reporting procedures until it is too late. As a result, many staff do not feel as though they are valued members of a campaign team.
NDTC hopes to address this issue by training all Staff Academy participants in management and leadership. This allows graduates to create an inclusive culture by understanding identity, oppression, and privilege. In fact, this training ultimately prepared me to support a fellow staffer when an issue of privilege arose on a campaign.
“Eight months earlier, I would have had no clue where to start when dealing with an issue like this. But thanks to the management training in NDTC’s Staff Academy, I felt confident in my ability to provide the support they needed.”
Supporting a fellow staff member was my first, real professional development challenge working on a campaign. I am proud of myself for working through the situation, but I’m not sure I would’ve had the context, knowledge, or self-confidence to support them without Staff Academy.
Learn about creating an inclusive campaign with NDTC’s Medium post, “How to Create an Inclusive Campaign.”
These Changes Are Just The Beginning
NDTC’s mission is to empower Democrats to build party infrastructure and promote Democratic values in their communities. We’re proud knowing that Staff Academy graduates have the tools to carry out this mission across the country.
These are just two examples of Staff Academy curriculum improving representation in campaigns and communities across the country. There are many more examples of graduates making an impact across the US, and creating a more diverse Democratic Party. With the growth of the program in recent years, we will surely hear more amazing stories soon.
Are you an aspiring Digital, Fundraising, or Communications staffer? Do you want to learn to create an inclusive culture in your campaign? If you answered “yes” to those questions, NDTC’s Staff Academy is the program for you! You’ll get access to NDTC’s incredible trainer pool for a ten-week intensive program, as well as help in your search for a political campaign job. Join the waitlist today to get more information on how to apply!
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