4 T-Swift Songs to Understand Your Gen Z Staffers: with One Year in Politics’ author Morgan Searcy
After wrapping up as the Design Director on Jon Ossoff for Senate’s Digital Team, I began working on ‘One Year in Politics,’ recording and documenting the experiences of young Democratic campaign staffers.
Between Summer 2019 and early Winter 2021, campaign staffers were able to nailed down and refined the craft of their roles. However, I quickly found there was no clear method for my peers to pass on our findings for the next cycle or future local efforts.
Meaning, the established learning curves, systems, and processes of each cycle would need to be repeated. The absence of documentation makes the work of the movement more repetitive, especially for those in the field.
One Year in Politics is a response to the short-term nature of electoral systems that prevents staffers and campaigns from building knowledge and benefiting from prior experiences.
The book is a collection of 40 interviews with 225 former first-time campaign staffers that document and critique Democratic campaigns, with the goal of strengthening our efforts to win more elections.
In the spirit of pop culture and all the grassroots girlies, here are four Taylor Swift songs that apply to some trends in the book. Get a copy of the book here. 🔗 📖
4 T Swift songs to help understand your Gen Z staffers:
1. Intentional Involvement
“What if I told you none of this was accidental” (Mastermind, Midnights)
What does this mean: I found that young people are intentionally getting involved in electoral work. While some do ‘accidentally’ fall into it, (right place, right time kind of deal) most staffers have their eye on the field way before graduation.
“I had been waiting for the 2020 elections for years…The 2020 elections signified a turning point and a decisive moment in history, and I knew I wanted to be part of it.” Gabbi Perry, One Year in Politics, Interviewee
Why is this important: Young people who work in Democratic politics are initially passionate and eager for change. Establishing healthy workplace habits, including clear boundaries, respect, and meaningful professional development opportunities, is crucial for the long-term retention of people working in the movement.
2. Accessible Entry-Points
“But no one notices until it’s too late to do anything…Nobody ever lets me in” (The Outside, Debut)
What does this mean: Young people are more engaged in politics than ever (ty to the internet) but they aren’t always aware of how to do more than be internet activists.(CIRCLE, 2023.)
One Year in Politics found the extensive coverage on the cycle, frequent debate nights, early mobilization efforts, and other factors played a crucial role in young people getting involved in 2020. Young people were able to identify with different campaigns on the national conversation to find employment opportunities.
Why is this important: We need to have easy access points for young people to engage in political work. This will mean continuing to recruit outside of our own networks to diversify the field by creating paid and simple paths for passionate people to get involved. (ex. mentorship opportunities or paid ads for open roles)
3. You are Replaceable
“Got a long list of ex-lovers… I’ve got a blank space and I’ll write your name” (Blank Space, 1989)
What does this mean: Young people in politics (especially in field work) are often treated as a disposable tool.
Why is this important: Continuing to burnout young staff costs progress in the movement. Treating entry-level roles as replaceable contributes to high burnout rates, making a career in Democratic politics not a viable or sustainable path.
While talking to young people, I found that 90% of first-time staffers experienced burnout in the 2020 election cycle with little or no support from their employers. This is an example that that burnout culture is accepted and not questioned in our field.
Again, establishing a culture that values and supports the well-being of young people in the progressive movement, recognizing their contributions as integral is something for employeers to work on.
4. Disillusionment is Real
“So many things that you wish I knew. But the story of us might be ending soon” (The Story of Us, Speak Now)
What does this mean: Many first-time staffers often noted that their teams didn’t completely align with their values, especially regarding Gen Z outreach, communities of color, gender, and other aspects. In fact, 70% of these staffers were uncertain if their employer (campaign or organization) truly reflected their beliefs.
Why is this important: Ideological misalignment amplified other negative experiences (bottlenecks, lack of transparency, or workplace inconsistencies) while working in the campaign cycle. Creating open and responsive communication paths is essential.
Morgan will be speaking on her new book, One Year in Politics, at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City on November 2nd at 6:00 PM. Get your tickets for the event here.
Order your book before the event to support the research on internal sustainability in the movement: politicsproject.com
Morgan Searcy is a researcher, creative lead, and strategist with backgrounds in design and politics. She has previously worked with and supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Jon Ossoff, Stacey Abrams, the League of Conservation Voters, and others in the progressive space.