A little over a year ago, friends and I went home from what was supposed to be a night of celebration: for a candidate, a set of ideals, and our own volunteer work. I had traveled to Florida, taken bus rides to Philadelphia, and helped with a last-minute get-out-the-vote push in Scranton, Pennsylvania. But that night we were left sad, angry, and confused.
This isn’t a requiem for that night. It’s about what happened in the year that followed and how I, a designer and tech entrepreneur who has never been particularly outwardly political, tried to channel the negative energy into design work that affects change. In doing so, I was able to (again) see the goodness that government and politics can bring.
It started with a few small efforts and projects. Then this fall, nearly a year later, I found myself in the BBQ joint down the street from my new home in Red Hook, Brooklyn, surrounded by my neighbors, celebrating my small role in a somewhat unlikely political victory–one that gave me a bit more hope for our political institutions and a reminder that there are some very good people out there fighting for them.
Lend Your Skills in Small Ways
My involvement first started in the middle of last year, out of an urgent need from a friend and her organization, the New York Immigration Coalition. Not only did their mission to support and protect immigrants suddenly seem more important than ever as the Trump administration moved aggressively against immigrant rights, they also needed some posters–and fast. I offered to help out on a quick and dirty effort ahead of a big rally. One thing led to another (I have trouble saying no) and that project became a bigger series of more than 20 posters and banners for a range of events, rallies, and marches.
Through a combination of chance and the excellent organizing of the NYIC, the posters have become some of the most recognizable imagery of the powerful movement to stand up for immigrants–responding to everything from the Muslim and refugee ban to the end of DACA. While it wasn’t a remarkable set of work by my typical design standards, it was pragmatic, clear, and useful–and achieved the most important goal: It was delivered in time for a major event.
You might not feel like you have a unique skill to add to a movement. But I’ve found that any experience in graphic design, branding, social media, and the web are huge value adds to local organizations that have never seen someone with your skills. You’d be amazed how much you can add with what seems like small contributions.
This work connected me to a more involved volunteer project, one that had been somewhat selfishly a design “bucket list” item for me: creating a brand, visual language, and digital strategy for a political campaign.
Local Elections Matter
While there were few national elections in 2017, this fall (like every year) was a pivotal one for state and local elections. Last year, I got introduced to Carlos Menchaca, a young and energetic city council member representing my area, Red Hook, and several other south Brooklyn neighborhoods. Elected in 2013, Carlos is the city’s first Mexican-American council member and Brooklyn’s first LGBTQ member. He has proven to be a tireless advocate for immigrant and worker rights, early and adult education, and a more progressive New York. He has an infectious passion for his work and is naturally charismatic. In short, he’s the type of politician we want.
This year, he was up for reelection in what was billed as a very tough reelection race and was one of only a handful of candidates endorsed by the Times and the Daily News. In the Democratic primary he was challenged by a veteran sitting state assembly member, the district’s former council member (his opponent in 2013), and two other Democrats. Carlos has been a big part of New York’s resistance to the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, chairing the City Council Immigration Committee and cosponsoring programs like the city’s successive municipal ID program (IDNYC). Additionally, on a local level Carlos has been critical of the revitalization of Brooklyn’s waterfront while maintaining a balanced approach to gentrification and rising cost of living.
I started work early on his reelection campaign, months before the primary, and quickly got to know him, his platform, and the community he represents.
Local governments play a big role in the health and quality of life in our communities–you’d be amazed by the responsibilities of your local officials and direct impact they can have on zoning, education, and new development. And oftentimes they’re without the support of design teams or communications firms you see in bigger races…