NARRAGANSETT — When considering the recent state of politics, Narragansett native, author and multi-sport coach, Ellen White, took the advice she normally supplies to her athletes.
“I think America’s in a place where you kind of have to get off the sidelines and jump into the game,” she said.
Following that line of thought, White recently graduated from the National Democratic Training Committee’s (NDTC) Staff Training Academy, a rigorous, 10-week remote program that instructs individuals in a variety of subjects that make up political campaign work, including fundraising, digital communications, building resumes, preparing talking points, establishing content calendars and more. The Academy, which aims to train leaders who reflect the base of the Democratic Party, prioritizes leaders who are women, transgender and non-binary and people of color.
“There were voices that were missing, whether those are women, people of color, trans and non-binary individuals, that really was the starting premise of why the Staff Academy was started,” said Jemila Mitchell, NDTC Staff Training Academy Associate Director. “It’s so important to give people who are working multiple jobs or haven’t had insight into what this work looks like or are coming from nontraditional career paths to be very realistic about not just having the tools, but what the requirements are, and then how you can lead through that to be the best that you can be while still keeping course to your mission.”
White developed an interest in politics as a child, spurred on by helping out on the campaigns of her father, Frank White, who served as a member of the Narragansett School Committee until November 2020. Upon graduating from college, White pictured a career as a lawyer or a professor, though after some of her work was published, she pursued writing full-time, going on to become an author of both young adult and adult novels, including one about the daughter of the first female American president, with White noting it was “crazy” that still has not happened yet.
Wanting to play a more active role than a campaign volunteer, White applied to the no-cost program after a friend who had recently graduated recommended it. She was accepted and graduated as part of 2021 cohort in March.
“There’s a limited amount of what you can do as a campaign volunteer,” said White. “It’s incredibly useful and helpful, but you don’t drive the campaign. You’re a cog in the machine and I thought I wanted to be driving the machine a little bit.”
“If you give me a list of phone numbers to call, that’s pretty easy,” she continued, noting that the nature of campaign work had to rapidly change with the pandemic. “But if you have to do everything digitally — recruit volunteers online, train them, analyze the metrics, it becomes almost a science. And I’m an English major so I don’t do science.”
The Staff Training Academy consists of 10 weeks of webinars, question-and-answer periods with coaches, program associates, politicians and other professionals, homework assignments and feedback and professional development opportunities. Selected participants choose one of three tracks — fundraising, digital and communications – completing and presenting a campaign plan as a final project. The first cohort graduated in 2019, with 60 percent of the group either women or people of color. In 2020, 96 people graduated the program and in 2021, the graduating cohort consisted of 165 individuals, all while maintaining the percentages of the first group. Further, upon graduation, many of the resources from the Staff Training Academy remain available, and the program works with alumni to connect and expand their networks as they venture into political work, from city councils all the way to races for the U.S. Senate.
“It still gives me goosebumps right now seeing people care about voting, that there is power in their hands, on top of the fact that the previous [presidential] administration showed people can actively try to take that from you, people are resisting that,” said Mitchell.
White, in her time participating in the Academy, worked on digital communications.
“You can’t completely take the art out of the artist,” she said of her final campaign pitch. “I kind of looked at it as a symphony. All the pieces have to work together but they should be different, compliment each other and all have different strengths.”
White elaborated on this with different, though agreeable, plans for different social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok.
“You have to do that while keeping the ultimate message — that you want to win this election,” she said.
Determining specifics around factors such as frequency of campaign notification emails, click rates, texting, opt-out rates and more, White said the Academy focuses strongly on a learning-by-experience approach.
Now an alumni, White hopes to work at a political or nonprofit organization, ideally within the field of voting rights.
“Everyone, regardless of ideology, should be able to vote and it should not be hard,” she said.
To learn more about the NDTC’s Staff Training Academy, please visit traindemocrats.org or follow the organization on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.