I’m A Comedian, DSA Member & I Have Anxiety. I’m Running For Congress.
On June 23, Democratic socialist Lauren Ashcraft will challenge longtime Rep. Carolyn Maloney in NY-12. This is what her days look like.
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: Lauren Ashcraft
Gender Identity: Woman (she/her)
Location: Long Island City, NY
8 a.m. — I’m up, I’m up. Pre self-quarantine, I would be at the gym right now, or swimming laps at NYC parks, but these days, I make a beeline to the kitchen, fix a cup of tea, and roll out my yoga mat for an episode of Yoga with Adriene. Today marks Day 9 of the 30 Days of Yoga Challenge. I’m not sure what the rules are as far as chugging green tea mid-warrior two pose, but it’s all I can do to stay awake at this hour.
8:30 a.m. — I get dressed, get showered, and scroll through my email inbox and social media feed, which these days, is an extremely effective wake-up call. I see an email from my policy adviser, Andrés. He curates news stories I should read in the morning. I make my breakfast reading list.
9:15 a.m. — I feed the cats — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Jean Louise — and make some breakfast. Today, it’s a smoothie. Into the Vitamix go protein powder, whey, homemade almond milk, and whatever fruits and vegetables I can get my hands on. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.
9:45 a.m. — During the coronavirus pandemic, our campaign has been making an effort to help people in need. Today, we (“we” being me and Paul, my partner and campaign manager) are picking up groceries — beans, rice, chicken, eggs — for one of our neighbors. After a short detour to the drugstore down the street to restock on masks and gloves, I cue up the address on my phone and head to the nearest supermarket. The streets are empty, but thankfully, the shelves are still somewhat full.
11 a.m. — We deliver two heaping bags of groceries to Queensbridge and we take a walk to Resobox, a Japanese cultural center in Long Island City, for takeout. We order two ramens to go. It’s strange to see it so quiet and empty.
11:45 a.m. — I hop in the shower, start a load of laundry, and sit down to read and take notes on Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s Automatic BOOST to Communities Act, which Andrés forwarded me earlier in the week. I eat half of my ramen while I’m at it. The bill would provide a debit card with $2,000 to every person in the U.S. Each card would be recharged with $1,000 a month until one year after the end of the coronavirus crisis.
1 p.m. — So much of running for U.S. Congress is making phone calls. My field team does a lot of the heavy lifting, but I still put in 10 to 15 hours a week conducting community check-ins and meeting with voters from all over the district. Pre-coronavirus, I would knock on a couple hundred doors a week. Now, our campaign uses an auto-dialer to reach the same number of people via phone. Today, I speak to 30 to 40 voters. I strike up a conversation with a man in Greenpoint who filed for unemployment weeks ago, without a response. Then, a woman in the Upper East Side who owns a small business, and is struggling to apply and then qualify for stimulus support. It’s hard not to feel disheartened on behalf of the hardworking people who find themselves left behind, but I do my best to channel that anger into action. (You can, too: act.laurenashcraft.com.)
3 p.m. — Another conference call. This time to prepare for a virtual town hall we are hosting next week. Paul joins in.
4 p.m. — I scroll through my inbox one more time. Ruth Bader Ginsburg the cat does what she can to help. Usually, this involves napping on top of my keyboard.
5:45 p.m. — My grandmother calls. We catch up through GrandPad, a web portal that helps seniors connect with their loved ones, and given the present circumstances, an excellent Christmas gift. She lives alone in Pennsylvania, not far from my parents, who drop off groceries once or twice a week. Social isolation aside, she is doing well.
7 p.m. — Dinnertime. On the menu is the rest of my ramen and a handful of dill spears. I learned how to pickle last week and it has since become an obsession of mine. I make a mental note to make sauerkraut next time.
7:30 p.m. — I go over fundraising with the team, then close out the evening with a few additional calls, hoping to strengthen our numbers before the FEC deadline.
8 p.m. — I attend an activist check-in with a local organization. We talk about the economic stimulus bill. I take a mental note to reach out to a new activist on the call. I wonder if she’ll join us for a virtual town hall.
9 p.m. — Paul whips up a round of whiskey sours to celebrate, although we sometimes hit up the Huntress, a local bar that, thanks to the shelter-in-place order, now serves cocktails to go. I drink mine over my Nintendo Switch.
11:30 p.m. — I start and finish my bedtime routine. Feed the cats. Fall asleep scrolling through my Twitter feed.
7:30 a.m. — Feeling tired. I get started on the mat with a mug of green tea and half an hour of yoga. My hamstrings are tight, but I power through.
8:30 a.m. — Jean Louise has a check-up today. She has been wheezing a lot, so I pull a sweatshirt over my head and book it to the veterinary clinic. It’s open, but pet owners have to remain in a closed-off vestibule in the waiting room. I send Jean Louise through the cat door and a pair of gloved hands take her into the back.
9 a.m. — I distract myself by scrolling through my Twitter feed and flipping between two sets of briefing notes for two different town halls: one this afternoon on activism surrounding disability rights, and a second tomorrow on climate action. Funny how, even after a year of campaigning, I still get butterflies the morning before speaking in public. I wonder if I always will.
9:30 a.m. — The gloved hands return Jean Louise through the cat door and I head on home: pill bottle in one hand, carrier in the other. It’s rush hour, and I am the only person riding the A train.
10:15 a.m. — Jean Louise falls asleep in her cat bed. Meanwhile, I get dressed. I put on makeup for the first time in days, knowing I’ll be on camera later.
11:30 a.m. — Conference call. I sit down with my digital team to go over social media strategy. We are in the middle of putting together our digital street team featuring our most dedicated volunteers. I leave the meeting feeling inspired.
12:15 p.m. — Our town hall starts in 45 minutes, but we convene half an hour ahead of time to conduct a sound check and give our four panelists a chance to meet each other. While everyone gets acquainted over a conference call, Paul coordinates with a volunteer to ensure that live closed captioning will be available throughout the entire event. I make a mental note to speak slowly and clearly. If nothing else, for the sake of the volunteer's fingers.
1 p.m. — It’s showtime. The town hall goes off without a hitch, which means it's the most I have smiled all week. The panelists and I discuss the impact of the coronavirus on people with disabilities, and listen to the lived experiences of disability activists from all over the district. Dozens of people tune in to ask questions about what they can do to support people with disabilities during the pandemic.
2 p.m. — I make tacos with tilapia and whatever else I have on hand. We have a subscription to Misfits Market: a life-changing service that reduces food waste and fills my crisper drawer (and compost bin) with an inexhaustible supply of fresh vegetables. I've thought about starting a vegetable garden on my windowsill, but all I have to show for it so far is a half-dead cilantro plant and eight avocado seeds in glass mason jars, two of which have sprouted and zero of which have produced avocados. For now, I’ll stick with Misfits Market.
3:30 p.m. — I hop onto a conference call with my life coach. I’ve been seeing her for months now, thanks to Brand New Congress, which offers life coaching for all endorsed candidates. I have GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), so I knew I would find it helpful, but never in my wildest dreams could I have anticipated how important she would be in helping me through the pandemic.
4:30 p.m. — I answer emails while streaming the daily coronavirus briefing, taking notes throughout, and writing down numbers for our research team to fact-check.
5:30 p.m. — Paul heads out for a short run. I put in some call time with voters — first dialing into a Zoom call with Karen, our communications director, on mute — to hold me accountable and provide some much-needed company. I answer emails between calls.
8:30 p.m. — We make dinner: fish, rice, vegetables. The usual. Then, I try to find a grocery-delivery service that reaches our house. No such luck. In an attempt to destress, I tell Paul to choose a movie for us to watch. Paul puts on Blue Gold: World Water Wars, a documentary about the implications of our planet’s dwindling water supply. It does not help me destress (thanks, Paul), but I do turn off the TV feeling inspired. And thirsty.
11:45 p.m. — I check on Jean Louise before climbing into bed. She seems to have made a fast recovery. Then, I fall asleep, again scrolling through my Twitter feed. I suppose it’s my new bedtime ritual.
7:15 a.m. — Shower. Check. Green tea. Check. Cereal. Double check. It is T-minus 14 days before the New York Democratic Primary on June 23, and I am doing everything I can not to overthink it.
8 a.m. — I open my laptop to a deluge of email notifications and news stories. After a week of mass protests, the New York State Legislature is voting to repeal 50-A, a state law that law enforcement uses to hide disciplinary records. (Update: It was repealed!) It’s a step in the right direction, but as I start to clear my inbox, I can’t help but reflect on the bigger and more structural changes that must also take place.
9:30 a.m. — I dial into a podcast interview scheduled weeks before anyone knew who George Floyd was. What was supposed to be a 15-minute call turned into a long and meaningful conversation about criminal justice reform. I make thousands of calls every day. Many are tough. This was one of the good ones.
10:30 a.m. — Debate prep. I join a conference call with several team members and together, we prepare for what will be our district’s second debate. After weeks of late-night conference calls and tall stacks of briefing materials, it’s hard to believe that we record in just five days.
12:30 p.m. — It’s lunchtime. On the menu is a leftover salad featuring everything in my crisper drawer, including a sad-looking rutabaga. It’s not my favorite recipe, but it does the trick.
1:30 p.m. — I make a few hundred calls. Folks are starting to get their absentee ballots in the mail, which makes it more important than ever to make ourselves — and, specifically, myself — known to NY-12 voters.
2 p.m. — Emails (and, for a few minutes, my yoga mat) consume the rest of my afternoon.
6:30 p.m. — I put on my mask to join several hundred people at McCarren Park in Williamsburg for a protest against racist policing. People are holding signs and showing their support for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and hundreds of people whose stories have gone untold. We are surrounded by police officers. I am surprised to see that none of them are wearing masks. Later, I will find out that our field director, Amaury, is at the same protest. Somehow, we end up missing each other.
9 p.m. — It’s too late to make much of anything for dinner, so we order takeout. Paul and I keep Piazza Pizza on speed dial because it’s family-owned and because every pizza comes with a garden salad and a slab of garlic bread the size of my head. The delivery driver is wearing a mask and gloves. I make sure to tip 30% before returning upstairs.
9:15 p.m. — I had intended to spend the rest of the night answering emails. The election is in 14 days, and my to-do list is growing longer by the minute. But my close friend Paula Jean Swearengin, who is running an inspiring senatorial race in West Virginia, has her primary tonight and after half an hour of clicking between browser tabs, I give in and watch the results come in over a second slice of pizza.
10 p.m. — The Associated Press calls the race for Paula Jean. I leap onto the sofa and do a happy dance. When I break the news to Paul, he joins in.
12:30 a.m. — I sink into bed, feeling a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration. T-minus 13 days to go.