Levi Todd is a proud Ball State English alum from the class of 2017. After working in nonprofits for 4 years after graduation, they transitioned to politics as Field Director on soon-to-be Congresswoman Delia Ramirez‘s winning campaign. They currently serve as Field Director for Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Daniel La Spata’s re-election campaigns for Chicago City Council. They are committed to supporting progressive candidates who use their offices for social change, and to building grassroots movements capable of holding their elected officials accountable. Outside of politics, Levi is a lifelong Chicagoan and queer, nonbinary poet. You can read their work at levitodd.com.
Read more about Levi’s first job after college with a nonprofit.
Note: This interview was published by Kaitlyn Herrenbruck.
What did you study at Ball State and why?
I was an English Major (General Studies concentration) and a Spanish minor. I took a smattering of English courses across the concentrations, which I feel like helped me be flexible and adaptable in my writing and comprehension skills. I originally chose English because I loved reading and creative writing, and then when I got to Ball State I realized how many other skills (editing, technical/professional writing, public speaking) I learned in the major. I chose the Spanish minor because my hometown of Chicago has a large Spanish-speaking community and I wanted to move my conversational skills closer to fluency.
What led you to your current job?
After I graduated in 2017, I spent 4 years working in the nonprofit sector doing domestic violence prevention work (which I previously wrote another blog post about). At the same time that I was spending my “9-5” in nonprofits, I had moved back to the neighborhood I grew up in and was getting more involved locally. I started volunteering with United Neighbors of the 35th Ward, a local independent political organization dedicated to engaging our community members in local politics and community organizing. This is where I got more familiar with local political campaigns and movement struggles to fight for affordable housing, funding for public schools, violence prevention, police accountability, and more.
In 2022, I started working full-time in political campaigns, specifically in “field” work as a Field Director. A Field Director is someone who coordinates a campaign’s volunteers to do voter outreach like door knocking, phone banking, and to generally reach voters about their message and platform. Most recently, I worked as Field Director on Delia Ramirez’s campaign for Congress in the 3rd Illinois District, who just recently won her Democratic primary nomination and is on her way to a sure victory in the general election as the first Latina Congresswoman from the Midwest. I also volunteered for my dear friend Anthony Joel Quezda in his successful campaign for Cook County Commissioner. I am now serving as Field Director for Chicago City Council members Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Daniel La Spata.
When I explain to people that I work in politics, I often feel a need to clarify why, especially when people often hold (somewhat valid) negative or critical views of our political system and government at large. In Chicago, I find immense pride in the recent wave of progressive candidates who have been elected to a variety of local and state offices. These candidates that I support use their campaigns to confront corruption, elevate broader community struggles, and build coalitions that last long after the election. When elected, they use their government offices to serve the needs of the people—from filling potholes, to helping survivors of domestic violence find shelter, to housing homeless neighbors, and more.
What kinds of jobs are available in your field to people with degrees in English or the humanities?
I can’t stress enough how well-suited English and Humanities majors are for Government and Politics. The skills that English majors bring—interpersonal communication, writing for various audiences and platforms, public speaking, critical analysis—are directly translatable to political campaigns and government work. There’s a wide variety of political campaigns to elect candidates to office, unionize a workplace, pass a law, etc. The job opportunities across different types of campaigns are fairly similar.
- Campaign Manager: Someone who oversees the broad strokes of a campaign. This person makes high-level strategic decisions and manages a team of other staff, and needs to have excellent communication and organization skills.
- Fundraiser: Someone who helps raise funds for a campaign, candidate, or organization. This person helps facilitate phone calls to donors, plan events, and manage digital fundraising. They often have to write for a variety of audiences, be it an email, formal presentation, or report.
- Field Organizer: Someone who builds relationships and coordinates with volunteers to reach community members, workers, or voters. This person oversees door knocking, phone banking, and peer-to-peer programs. They have to be very organized and able to explain complex ideas succinctly and clearly.
- Communications Coordinator: Someone who oversees internal and external communications for a campaign or organization. This person is responsible for communicating with the press, social media, print media, email outreach, and overall messaging and communication strategy.
What does a typical week in your position look like?
There’s not really a “typical” week because of how fast-paced and ever-changing campaign work can be, but my work is broken into a few buckets:
- Volunteer Outreach: This includes the time that I spend having “one-on-ones” with volunteers getting to know them better, calling and texting volunteers to recruit them for upcoming shifts, and meeting with organizations interested in endorsing our campaign and plugging in. I also try to identify especially dedicated or ambitious volunteers who can take on new levels of responsibility or projects for the campaign. This sometimes involves a lot of biking or driving around to meet with people or getting them materials, and other times involves locking myself in a room until I’ve called through my list of volunteers.
- Data Management: This includes the time that I spend doing “campaign math” —looking at how many registered voters we think will turn out in a given election, how many we need to support our candidate, and how many volunteers we need to reach that number of voters. It also includes the time evaluating our own field program and making sure we’re on track to our goals–looking at how many volunteers worked a shift in a given week, how many voters we reached, and how many expressed support for our campaign. It also involves a lot of work within our voter database—a reminder that tech and computer skills are super helpful to round out humanities majors!
- Staffing Events: We have weekly door-knocking and phone-banking events, where I welcome volunteers, train them on what we’ll be doing for the day, and answer questions. When I have time myself, I also join on the doors or on the phones so that I’m able to hear directly from voters if our approach is working. This involves a lot of public speaking and fast-paced problem solving.
Is there an organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion?
This really depends on which campaign you work on. I only work with progressive Democratic or independent candidates who I know are dedicated to pay equity and having diverse staff—accounting for race, gender, sexuality, and class background. Beyond the campaign itself, these candidates (and the teams they work with) advocate for policies that confront inequities and embody justice frameworks. I feel comfortable being out and open at work as a queer and nonbinary person, and I feel respected and uplifted by my colleagues. However, I can’t say that these commitments are universal across all campaigns or political work.
How did your major in English prepare you for your life and for this job?
I can’t emphasize enough how much I think English majors undervalue their ability to write for different audiences and platforms. When I graduated from the English department and moved into the professional world, I realized that communication skills are not every person’s strongest suit. The classes I think back to are ENG 213 Digital Literacies, ENG 329 Editing & Style, and my senior year capstone ENG 444 Social Justice & Rhetoric. Each of these classes taught me how to keep the core of a message but switch up the format, tone, and length. Some real-life examples of how I do this is remembering the core of a candidate’s platform and message, but writing differently for:
- An email promoting upcoming volunteer opportunities and trying to motivate readers to sign up
- Making a website with Squarespace or WordPress and writing the copy for various pages
- Researching a specific issue or policy and writing a report to my team with recommendations about a stance we should take
For anyone who’s interested in working in politics, I think learning hands-on is the best way, whether that’s getting an internship on a campaign, volunteering with a local organization, or starting your own campus organization.
It’s worth noting I didn’t take a single political science class in college (I encourage you to take one if you’re interested!), as I gained my experience by volunteering for candidates and campaigns and having communication and organization skills from my time as an English major.
What is your best advice to students majoring in the humanities?
Your studies as a humanities major give you well-rounded skills that will translate to most workplaces—your task is to help your interviewer understand why this is the case. Your strongest tool you have in your job search is your ability to write compelling resumes and cover letters. Before even having had a paid full-time job, you can make the case for why your coursework, internships, and volunteer work have prepared you for the position you’re applying for. I know internships (especially unpaid ones) can be difficult to land or sustain—which is why it’s fantastic that so many immersive learning courses at Ball State like Compass Creative and ENG 489 Broken Plate are practically internships themselves: those courses are intentionally designed as professional experiences and absolutely have a place on your resume.
I strongly encourage humanities majors to choose a passion project to pursue during your time in school. Designing a project you get to structure yourself allows you to practice whatever skills or content you want for your portfolio or resume. I had friends who launched podcasts, literary magazines, social justice campaigns, and other projects that allowed them to feed their creativity and leadership, while directly applying the skills they were learning in their humanities classes.
Connect with Levi on LinkedIn, where they encourage you not to be shy and reach out if you want to learn more about their work or talk more.