If you feel like you’ve been getting ad after ad whenever you’re online, you’re not alone! Black Friday is here... but instead of talking about the data of consumerism, we wanted to take this opportunity to consider other ways we can spend our time and money. Specifically, we want to consider the question of, what would it look like to express gratitude in the form of service?
We are Derek and Kassandra, Program Co-Directors at Bluebonnet Data. We recruit, train, and match amazing volunteers with data science and coding backgrounds with progressive campaigns and causes. Today, we want to share our personal journeys of how service to others has made a difference in our lives. As an antidote to consumerism being shoved at us from different angles, we want to celebrate the joys of community, volunteering, and service.
As an antidote to consumerism being shoved at us from different angles, we want to celebrate the joys of community, volunteering, and service.
In the spirit of the season, I am grateful for the people who took the time to provide me an outlet to make change. I grew up with the belief that politics was a personal and introverted philosophy that was more of a moral alignment and less of a vehicle for change. While I wanted to pursue any avenue that would let me impact the world around me, I didn’t see political work as a vehicle for that. And then Donald Trump slow-rode an escalator to make an announcement that would shake up our world.
By the time the 2016 primaries were heating up, I wasn’t particularly successful in my career path. I took a few terrific internships and research projects, but my main hustle was waiting tables, and my passion projects weren’t opening the door to a career working on the causes I care about. But for the first time in my life, I saw the impact that politics was having on the daily human experience. It was exciting, and I was engaged. When Trump won the election, I felt three things: fear for our country, despair that I couldn’t do anything about it, and envy for the people who could.
After an appropriate amount of time spent wallowing, I started to volunteer with progressive campaigns and causes, and quickly found political data to be an avenue to get plugged into all aspects of organizing. I remember the impact I made by just creating a spreadsheet of historic election results of state-level districts, and how much that spreadsheet was being used by power players in the field.
I remember the impact I made by just creating a spreadsheet of historic election results of state-level districts, and how much that spreadsheet was being used by power players in the field.
I’ve been politically involved for 5 years now, and every opportunity I got was because someone took the time to show me the ropes and make a space for me. Now, I get to pay it forward by helping new people get involved in politics through the Bluebonnet Data Fellowship.
I first got involved in politics after learning that I could attend college thanks to a Texas bill that allowed undocumented students, like myself, to pursue a higher education at in-state tuition. One piece of legislation changed my life for the better and I wanted to do the same for others. In 2017 I got to pay it forward through my work in the Texas Senate, where I was able to work on a bill that made it mandatory for colleges and universities to disclose special course fees like online access codes and lab fees. When you live in an area where a third of the population is living below the federal poverty level, these things matter.
One piece of legislation changed my life for the better and I wanted to do the same for others.
While I felt satisfied with my work, I felt impactful volunteer opportunities were missing from my life. I was in a new city away from my community and I really missed teaching Islamic studies to children at my mosque—this is how I volunteered my time during undergrad outside of politics. Looking back, this is where my passion for working with youth and young professionals started. I find it very rewarding to invest in others and be a positive influence in their lives.
Just like Bluebonnet Data, I joined the campaign world through the Beto for Senate race and since then, I’ve spent the past three years of my life working in electoral politics. One of my favorite things about campaigns is learning what motivated volunteers to get involved and seeing them continue to volunteer in other campaigns or causes after our campaign ends. It’s not just about the impact you can make now, but the investment a community can make in affecting positive change.
Service is important and contributes to healthier individuals and society
The pandemic has been hard for many of us, whether it’s feeling isolated, facing economic hardship, or losing a loved one to covid. The pandemic has shown some of us how important being in community is and community can be achieved through different avenues, one of them being volunteering. An article by the Washington Post covered a recent study by the Journal of Happiness Studies that says “people who volunteered felt more satisfied with their lives and those who volunteered at least once a month reported better mental health compared to participants who volunteered infrequently or none at all.”
“People who volunteered felt more satisfied with their lives and those who volunteered at least once a month reported better mental health compared to participants who volunteered infrequently or none at all.”
The article also mentions that volunteering can be a way to develop professional skills, which resonates with us. As we like to say to our fellows, Bluebonnet is your oyster. Community is really important to us and proof that volunteering with Bluebonnet is fruitful for our fellows is in the fact that a significant portion of our new applicants come to us through word of mouth. We’ve scaled fast and we know it’s due in part to our fellows enjoying their volunteer experience so much that they keep spreading the word about Bluebonnet to their peers.
This Thanksgiving week, we want to give thanks and express our personal gratitude for the opportunity we have at Bluebonnet, and for the continued work that our fellow volunteers put in to make a difference in progressive politics. If you want a spicier take, check out our co-workers' piece on Thanksgiving & climate change.
And like any good organizers, we can’t conclude without an ask: will you volunteer your data science or coding skills to campaigns and issues important to you, or know someone who might?
We’ll teach you about political data and provide a robust community of like-minded Progressives for support and networking. By giving 5-7 hours per week with a campaign or cause over a 3 month period, our goal is to help you jumpstart a career in Progressive data, or to simply provide an avenue for you to make a difference. It has been impactful for us, and with so much to look forward to in the elections ahead, we think it could be for you too.
About the Authors
Kassandra Aleman is a Program Co-Director at Bluebonnet Data. She is currently completing the LBJ Women's Campaign School program at UT Austin. She is passionate about policy, civic engagement, and training.She calls South Texas home and is a big fan of hiking and cats.
Derek is a Program Co-Director at Bluebonnet Data. Previously, Derek was the Data Director for Tennessee’s civic engagement tables, helping grassroots organizations use data and technology to organize voters. He calls Tennessee his home, loves gaming, reading, outdoors, and cats.
OR, want to join in the action? Apply to be a Bluebonnet Fellow by January 3rd, 2022 at here.