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Faces of the campaign: Charles Watkins

Charles WatkinsName: Charles Watkins
Campaign role: Community organizer, Southwest Chicago turf
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Based in: Chicago, Illinois

How did you first come to the campaign?

In 2008, I remember watching the President’s Election Night speech on television and crying like a baby. I just had tears of joy that we had a president who shares our values, and I knew it was going to be great for the country.

But soon after I was wracked with guilt. I realized I had done nothing to support his candidacy other than talk to friends about it and vote. And as it became clear to me that the number one goal for a lot of Republicans in Congress was to make President Obama a one-term president, I realized I couldn’t sit this one out.

So this past fall I was working at a nonprofit, and a client came in who needed help putting together a flyer—and it was a flyer for a campaign open house. So I took that as an opportunity to jot down the info and go to the open house myself. And I’ve been on the ground ever since.

What does a day as a volunteer look like to you?

As a community organizer, I have a hybrid role—I’m a volunteer who helps coach and manage other volunteer team leaders and I also help recruit new volunteers. So in addition to my day-to-day responsibilities working with new volunteers, I’m also involved in other events in the area. For example, I’ll have a role in the Bud Billiken parade this weekend, and I’ll be speaking at a policy roundtable next week as well.

What’s your favorite part of your role?

The thing I find most rewarding is my contact with prospective volunteers. I really enjoy their enthusiasm and the privilege of channeling that enthusiasm in a way that makes the volunteer feel rewarded and also moves the campaign forward.

Back when I joined in September, it was important for me to truly own my OFA experience. And I try to take that same approach with new volunteers—I share with them where the campaign has been and where the campaign is going. Then I share my story to allow them to bring their own story to the surface, and put their commitment to re-electing the President right at the forefront. That idea of owning your experience, really empowering yourself to take charge of what you can bring to the campaign, is something I want to help instill in others.

What's the most unexpected part of your role?

I knew coming into the campaign that I was going to work hard, but I didn’t anticipate the wonderful staff and volunteers. Our shared experience and commitment are really powerful and galvanizing things, and I know that I’ll have some great friendships beyond this campaign. Also, I’ve only been in this role for a few months, but I feel like I’ve acquired such a depth and breadth of knowledge. There are some great training tools available to volunteers, and I’ve been given the opportunity to learn and share new skills and knowledge with others. And those opportunities are really a testament to the organization here in Illinois and the campaign as a whole.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I’m actually extremely shy by nature—I think a lot of people who I’ve interacted with would be surprised by that. I knew going into the campaign that I needed to be a leader, to make a conscious effort to engage with fellow volunteers and engage with my team, and at some point it stopped being a conscious effort and it just became my comfort zone. So my work in the campaign has actually been helpful in my personal development.

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