Back-To-Back Zooms, Yoga & A Mouse: Getting Out The Vote While #StayingHome
A week in the life of a voter-engagement strategist who’s figuring out how to connect with voters in the age of social distancing.
In Trailblazers: Diaries From The Front Lines Of The 2020 Election, we take an in-depth look at the lives of women working behind the scenes to make our country better every day, whether it’s on a presidential campaign or political advocacy organization.
Name: Ashley Spillane
Gender Identity: Woman
Location: Washington, D.C.
As the former President of Rock the Vote and voter-engagement consultant, I help nonprofits, philanthropists, and brands create and implement strategies to increase voter turnout in U.S. elections.
Day 1: Monday, March 16, 2020
1 a.m. — Ended day five of self-isolation in bed scrolling through coverage of the Democratic debate and COVID-19 on Twitter. Joe Biden announced his running mate will be a woman tonight. A female voice in the middle of this chaos would be nice right now, amiright? Maybe she’d have more luck getting people to stay home. I am so mad at all these people out at bars this weekend — and super-sad that some of them are inevitably going to get sick (or get someone else sick). People need to take #StayHome seriously!
7:30 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm, tired. It’s been a long week, and it’s only Monday. I need to get prepped for our morning staff meeting. My business partner and I made the decision to close our office last week, before most people were on the #StayHome train. I think our staff thought we were overreacting, but now they’re grateful we’re working from home and keeping our colleagues, clients, and community safe.
8 a.m. — I take a quick shower, dry my hair, and throw on a pair of jeans. Everyone recommends keeping a normal routine when working from home, so I’m trying it. Not sure how long this will last...
8:30 a.m. — I post a cat GIF to our company’s Slack to let my team know I’m up and online. Then I make my way through the 10 newsletters I subscribe to (Politico, Axios, Refinery29, The Hollywood Reporter, The Hustle, and Morning Consult, to name a few). I can’t do my work effectively without knowing what’s going on with politics, pop culture, and the economy. Today all the news is the same (things are shutting down), but hearing about it from different angles is helpful.
10 a.m. — Team check-in! We’re having two daily video calls to touch base about projects we’re working on — and to help keep each other positive during this time. It’s going to be a busy day.
10:30 a.m. — Third call of the day already, this time with a reporter. Everyone wants to know: How is COVID-19 going to impact the 2020 election? We’re trying to help ensure the election happens smoothly without putting anyone’s health and wellness in jeopardy.
11:15 a.m. — I check in with a bunch of nonprofit partners to see how they’re doing (and to make sure they’re moving to self-isolate). So much of our work in civic engagement is done in-person: registering voters, delivering information about why it’s important to vote, and helping them get to the polls. Social distancing means hitting the pause button on that and figuring out ways to connect with voters virtually.
12:20 p.m. — Toast a bagel for breakfast (lunch?) and grab a banana.
1 p.m. — Jump on a conference call with a group of foundation leaders to discuss the election. With the uncertainty around COVID-19, several states have delayed their primary elections so far. But delaying the November 2020 general election is not an option, so we’re working to make sure voters have access to vote at home if they choose.
2:40 p.m. — My fiancé tries to
plan his escape go on a walk, and I pause a call with one of my staffers to remind him of what my doctor advised. It’s super-annoying, but because I’m recovering from an illness that puts me at higher risk for COVID-19, my doctor doesn’t want him to go into stores without a mask and gloves — and he has to wash his clothes and take a shower whenever he returns. He’s just going to stroll around the neighborhood, but will shower when he’s back to be extra safe. #RealLove
3:30 p.m. — Turn on President Trump’s daily coronavirus briefing. I don’t like watching coverage of events (briefings, debates, town halls, etc.) because I like to watch the actual event myself. I can do my own political analysis, but really I also just watch as an American and as a voter. I’m so anxious about COVID-19, and am praying he’ll give stronger guidance to people (like my parents!!) to stay home.
4:10 p.m. — On my third huge cup of Yogi Ginger tea. I don’t do caffeine and am really bad at drinking enough water, but my mom keeps texting me about staying hydrated for good health.
5 p.m. — Second team check-in of the day. This is more of a virtual coffee, and a time to swap notes about how we’re managing being cooped up. One of our team members is in quarantine alone after showing symptoms of coronavirus, so we’re especially checking on him.
5:30 p.m. — Respond to missed calls from two clients, both of whom are wondering what philanthropists can do to help protect our democracy during this public health crisis.
6:15 p.m. — Put up an away message on Slack and roll out my yoga mat for a quick stretch. I’m usually bad about keeping up my yoga practice in an election year, but the commute from my kitchen table to my living room is short and I have no excuse to skip.
7:20 p.m. — Start making dinner. I don’t love to cook, but I am committed to learning a few easy dishes during the lockdown. Tonight is fried gnocchi with tomato, basil, and mozzarella with a big spinach salad.
8:30 p.m. — There were so many calls today, I need to comb through my inbox to see what I missed and what I need to follow up on. Tonight I just have a few memos to read and some personal emails to respond to. I do love how many friends I’m hearing from during this quarantine.
9:45 p.m. — Curl up on the couch next to my fiancé and unplug for the day. Watch a few episodes of The Office. (How did I miss out on this when it was on?!)
11:30 p.m. — The anxiety and fatigue have finally caught up with me. I send my parents a text reminding them to stay home and immediately crash.
Day 2: Tuesday, March 17, 2020
8 a.m. — My alarm goes off, and I wake up feeling like I have finally gotten some rest. I scroll through Facebook quickly (a habit I am trying to break) to see what’s new in coronavirus news. I’m worried about my friends and family and send a few “checking in on you” texts.
8:20 a.m. — Shower, dress, throw some makeup on today. I can’t do another full day of video calls looking this washed out. Zoom needs to team up with Snapchat and up its filter game!
8:30 a.m. — The governor of Ohio postponed today’s primary election due to COVID-19. It's understandable some states might need a little more time to hold their primary to help stop the spread of this pandemic. The top priority should be ensuring voters get to have their say in our democratic process in a way that protects everyone's health. Only states with primaries in the next month should exercise the option to postpone — others need to move quickly to let people vote by mail and ensure there are enough in-person locations so no polling place gets too crowded. The 2020 election was already getting significant interest from voters, but the COVID-19 situation is really showing people what kind of impact elected officials can have on our lives, and people are definitely going to want to have their say in November.
8:45 a.m. — My mom calls. She can tell I’m worried, and she assures me she’s gotten the message and will stay home...after one last run to the supermarket. The Boomers are driving me nuts.
My mom calls. She can tell I’m worried, and she assures me she’s gotten the message and will stay home...after one last run to the supermarket. The Boomers are driving me nuts.
9 a.m. — I post another cat GIF in the Slack thread to start the day. Also post a rundown of every project our team needs to finish by end of day. We need to wrap up a bunch of client work that was requested before COVID-19, while simultaneously tackling an entirely new and different set of problems. The team needs to crank today.
9:15 a.m. — Yep. Today is going to be nuts, I can already tell. I’ve gotten 10 calls before 9:30 a.m. Everyone is trying to figure out what the implications are for delaying today’s primary, and what kinds of adjustments they’ll need to make to their voter registration and get-out-the-vote programs if we’re social distancing for the foreseeable future. It’s starting to hit everyone that we need a serious back-up plan, and there’s a lot of scrambling.
10 a.m. — I order a gift card for each staff person to stock up on work-from-home supplies and snacks they need, and realize my business partner and I need to touch base quickly about how to keep the company on track during this transition. Will we keep our office space? (Yes.) Will payroll run regularly? (Yes.) Do we have checks to cut to vendors that we should get out before mail slows? (Just one.) Should we still hire for our open position? (Sadly, no.)
11:30 a.m. — Trump’s daily briefing. He finally says you should work from home, halt travel, and limit social gatherings. Boomers, take note.
1 p.m. — Team check-in. Everyone is juggling multiple tasks, so we keep it short and quickly ask who needs help with what. We let the team know we’ve paused our hiring process. They tell us they get it and trust us. Our team is amazing.
2:45 p.m. — I don’t think I can take weeks or months of this many Zoom calls. They are back-to-back-to-back.
3:30 p.m. — A producer reaches out to me to ask if I wanted to comment on my last tweet (I said that I had data to show the number-one way people are coping with #covid19 is with meandering conference calls). I explained it was a joke, and I do not have actual data. Oops.
7:30 p.m. — We can’t remember what we had for dinner last night or whose turn it is to cook. It’s only Tuesday, but the days are blurring together. We decide to cook some salmon that is on the verge of going bad. I cook the fish, my fiancé does the rest. We both miss takeout.
10:15 p.m. — As election results come in for Arizona, Florida, and Illinois, I look at the results and turnout numbers. I love elections and love that turnout seems to have increased, especially in Arizona and Florida, thanks to absentee voting. But I’m worried about the people who ventured out to vote today and am hoping they stay healthy.
Day 3: Wednesday, March 18, 2020
8:30 a.m. — Wake up with a terrible headache. I drink a bunch of water, but my whole body feels heavy. I’m so overwhelmed by the news and am feeling like I’m not doing enough to make things better.
11 a.m. — Have a video call with a brand we advise. There are seven women on the call and we spend a few minutes checking in with each other about how everyone is doing. Everyone agrees that getting out the vote for the November election is more important than ever before, so we dig right back in where we left off two weeks ago. It feels good to be productive.
2 p.m. — Another video call, this time with a group called Pizza to the Polls. They have such an awesome mission — to deliver pizza to poll workers and people in long lines to vote. They’ve hit pause on sending out pizzas during COVID-19 (so no one gets sick sharing food), but want to figure out what else they can do to support elections right now. We brainstorm.
3:45 p.m. — Have a call with the Democracy Fund (a bipartisan foundation created to serve as a resource to those working to strengthen our democracy) to learn more about how they’re responding to COVID-19, especially as far as supporting the officials who have to find ways to ensure Americans can safely and securely vote in the midst of a pandemic.
5:30 p.m. — Team check-in. We brainstorm for 10 minutes about a game we could play, but end up just talking about work we have to do.
6:30 p.m. — My fiancé is sick of being in the house and says we need to get some air. We grab our tennis rackets, a can of new balls, and end up playing a game of not-tennis in our front yard. It’s fun and nice to be outside, but I’m relieved there’s a gate between us and the many people out for a walk. #SixFeetAway
8 p.m. — We eat leftovers, turn on the TV, and hang out. I scroll through my phone returning emails for a half hour or so, and then decide I’ve had enough of today.
10:30 p.m. — Lights out.
Day 4: Thursday, March 19, 2020
8:15 a.m. — Wake up and do a seven-minute workout with my fiancé. We are definitely going to need to do more than this to stay strong and healthy — we’ve probably only taken 1,000 steps all week. :(
9 a.m. — Drink a giant mug of Yogi tea while reading through morning clips. Feeling a little less foggy today and relieved so many states are taking the pandemic seriously. Whole cities are going to lock down, and I’m not seeing many cars or people on the street. Maybe we can flatten the curve.
10:15 a.m. — Someone has texted me a link to the Marriott CEO’s post about coronavirus. It’s a message to his team about the difficulty the company will face during this time. It’s powerful, and I well up a little. It’s a great reminder just how powerful companies can be when they use their platforms to communicate important messages to consumers and employees. We’re going to need companies to do this in the run-up to the November election, to make sure people not only have access to important information, but know how much their vote matters.
3 p.m. — First conference call in the time of COVID-19 that isn’t a video. I take advantage of the moment and decide to make banana bread. This recipe is quick and easy to do while I listen to the call. And, it’s making the whole house smell yummy.
4:15 p.m. — Back on a video call, talking to the team that runs 866-OUR-VOTE, a hotline that voters can call or text to ask questions about voting or report issues they’re having. With COVID-19 changing elections, this hotline is getting A LOT of questions. We’re going to help them update their website and scale up their operations to meet current demand.
4:25 p.m. — Video call is interrupted when I see a small mouse run out from under the stove. It looks at me when I scream and disappears back under the stove. The people on the call look concerned — I am not on mute.
5:30 p.m. — Staff check-in time today is dedicated to the mouse. Some want to discuss a “mouse-mitigation strategy,” others (me) want to talk about potential names for the mouse. I can’t go out to buy a trap, so I order one on Amazon and we go back to brainstorming mouse names. Mice Pence, Chuck E. Schumer, Treasury Sec. Cheese Mnuchin, and Gov. Andrew Coumouse are strong contenders, but we ultimately settle on Squeaker Pelosi.
8 p.m. — I close my computer after working on different projects for the past two hours. I’ve drafted some sample language for a few celebrities who are wondering how to talk about the primary elections in the middle of COVID-19, reviewed a grant proposal for a program that would help give more voters the opportunity to vote by mail, and started working on a plan to help get a new website (WeCanVote.US) out to the public when it launches next week.
8:15 p.m. — I’m tired and don’t want to do it, but my fiancé has organized a Zoom game night with eight of our friends. Once we get on the call, I’m immediately glad we did this. Everyone is going through the same thing: adjusting to working from home, feeling super-nervous for their loved ones, and being frustrated that their parents aren’t staying home.
8:35 p.m. — We set a moratorium on pandemic talk and start to play Codenames. This is a great distraction and way more fun than I expected.
10:05 p.m. — Our friend in San Francisco announces the governor has just issued a shelter-in-place order for the entire state. Ugh. We say goodbye to everyone and promise to do this every week.
10:20 p.m. — I get ready for bed and start scrolling through Facebook (I have got to stop doing this) when I see that my first group of friends has posted about losing someone they love to coronavirus. My heart is broken for my friend, and his friend’s family. This feels like the beginning of a lot of bad news.
11 p.m. — I can’t sleep, so I download the Calm app. It has a lot of great meditations for anxiety, although I realize I am taking deep breaths to both calm down and make sure I’m not dying of this virus.
11:30 p.m. — I send my family a group text, scheduling a Zoom call with them for Friday night. We’ll have to teach my parents how to download Zoom, but seeing everyone’s face tonight makes me feel better and reminds me that we have to stay connected to the people we love to get through this time. I am so fortunate to be able to work from home and curl up with my fiancé every night. These little things I used to take for granted matter a lot.