Last month we hosted our fourth virtual Arena Academy. More than 250 people from across the country gathered online to learn how to work on Democratic campaigns. The culmination of the training was the Arena Cup which allowed participants to put all they had learned into practice. Each team came up with a comprehensive campaign plan for a real district along with a team of people from other training tracks. Our winning Arena Cup team described the experience as frenzied, fun, overwhelming, and, ultimately, worth it. Read on to learn how seven strangers came together to win the Arena Cup and their insights for the next Arena Academy cohort.
Bryanta “Bre” Maxwell, Campaign Manager
My involvement in politics up until this point varies. I most recently worked on Jaime Harrison’s U.S. Senate race in South Carolina as his political director. I was motivated to apply for Arena Academy after a conversation with a past trainer, DeJuana L. Thompson. We met at an event in Atlanta during the Georgia runoff. I told her I felt like I didn’t need more training and should be the one giving the training. She encouraged me to apply because Arena is like no other political training out there. After her advice, I completed my application.
The timeline for the Arena Cup was quite easy. My Cup team was absolutely dynamic. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. We made sure each team member had everything they needed to be successful. What makes a winning team is a group of strategic, knowledgeable, hard-working people, and that’s what my team was.
During the Academy, I learned more about creating a budget. That was a major thing that I wanted to know about campaigns. I also brought what I have already learned in South Carolina politics to our Cup team’s strategy. My goal is to eventually serve as a state director or a campaign manager on a statewide race in South Carolina or on the national level. Knowing how to create a budget is a key to that success. I will continue this work by expanding my consulting firm with the knowledge I gained.
The Arena Academy training is worth it. Not only did I receive a first-class political training, but I expanded my network. The training sessions, networking opportunities, and Arena Careers—a one-stop platform for progressive job seekers and leaders to connect and find jobs—are a welcomed addition and will help shape me to be better.
Jared Warner, Communications
Before Arena, I’d worked in politics primarily in Field, including on the 2020 Coordinated Campaign in Georgia. As invaluable as Field is, I’ve long been interested in working in political communications. I’ve found that it’s not easy to transfer departments, especially from Field, but I was told by several people who know what they’re talking about that Arena Academy was the ideal place to level-up my skills in any department. So, I applied.
Winning the Arena Cup is still an unreal experience. I knew immediately that our team was special, oddly perhaps, because there was absolutely no panic or anxiety from the moment we first met to when we started the 24-hour work period on Monday. Everyone knew their role well and, most importantly, sought out the advice and assistance of everyone else to ensure we were on the same page. A consummate team exercise. We struck the perfect balance between hard work and not taking ourselves too seriously—something a lot of real-world campaigns might want to think about.
The talent of the team was evident from the start. Everyone understood their role perfectly. The first sign of our drive and skill was Jeffrey coming into the work period with several quality mock-up graphics for our candidate and a 30-second ad.
From there, everyone got to work. I personally relied heavily on the Communications track lessons, especially with regards to candidate and campaign messaging. I realized early on that I had an extremely limited amount of time to present a comprehensive communications strategy. I suspected that focusing on messaging more than any other aspect would provide the best picture of our vision to the judges. I created a full Message Box (which the judges really seemed to appreciate) for our campaign. One of the biggest lessons I internalized from the track was how a Message Box provides the clearest vision of your campaign, both internally and externally. I also crafted a sample press event advisory, sample opponent attack issue messaging, and a one-month campaign calendar to demonstrate that our team wasn’t just focusing on the big-picture. For all future communications cohorts, remember that during the Arena Cup your message has to be conveyed in an extremely short amount of time, so be judicious with your presentation. Don’t overthink it, enjoy the exercise, and take advantage of the tools from your track training that speak most to you!
I’m currently applying for jobs in political communications—fingers-crossed!—and in retrospect, even though I believe in my ability to intuit and learn on the job, it’s really hard for me to imagine jumping into the political comms world without having the background and training from Arena. I feel so much more confident and prepared not just to work in communications but to thrive and deliver victories for any candidate or organization. I had a blast working with Arena and would recommend the program to everyone, regardless of their experience.
Avery Lumeng, Data
I first got involved in politics when I was an intern on a 2016 congressional campaign in Michigan. Since then, I’ve been an active volunteer in any campaign I can find. I’m currently in college and took time off from school last semester to work full-time for different campaigns in 2020, ending with Jon Ossoff’s runoff campaign. I met a lot of Arena grads during my 2020 work, and they strongly encouraged me to apply. I have always had a lot of imposter syndrome, and I wanted to apply to Arena Academy to solidify my skills and my confidence in my abilities
My team was so successful because we genuinely gave it our all and acted as if this were more than just a simulation. As Data Director, on a real campaign, a lot of my job would involve making and updating our path to victory and tracking our program’s success. Since there was no actual program to track, I made myself available to provide any data products our team could use. I helped Ashlyn and Cameron target voters, helped Raymond create financial charts, and deferred a lot of my time in our final presentation so we could spotlight the amazing programmatic elements that gave us the win. Our team was built on trust, mutual respect, and admiration for the work each other did, and it came through in our eagerness to let every part of the program shine.
Jeffrey Akers, Digital
Since graduating from the University of Kentucky, I have struggled with where I should put my energy. Inspired by Bernie Sanders and Charles Booker’s campaigns, I have seen a part of myself waking up to the power of politics, and it is something I can’t shake. Stepping into this five-day training, I knew it would be intense, but it was hard to grasp the idea of digital being interwoven into every aspect of a successful campaign. We covered what felt like everything—email campaigns, fundraising, social media pages, ads, security, the list goes on.
Then, to go into a 24-hour campaign simulation with seven other people I hardly knew was, honestly, overwhelming. Our team set a level ground and had some reassurance that, at the end of the day, this is a chance for us to display what we learned and how we could win. And, that next day, we did just that.
So, if you are struggling with where to put your energy, find where your purpose is moving you and plant your feet. Progressive campaigns need what you have to offer, trust that you are exactly where you need to be. This experience showed me that, and I am ready to take my skills into local, state, and national level digital campaigns.
Please keep creating in a way that educates, inspires, and supports. We need more of that.
Raymond Beamon, Finance
I previously served as an organizer for the Georgia runoff and North Carolina Coordinated campaign. I want to build the political power of marginalized people in the South and have a desire to reform our political system to ensure an equitable political process. I have encountered several colleagues that have graduated from Arena Academy. Each spoke highly of Arena Academy’s ability to support and political operatives to make a continued impact in progressive politics. I have always considered myself a lifelong learner, so I decided to apply.
The experience of the Arena Cup was fast and furious. From the onset, we were inundated with practical information. Natural leaders in the group helped quell any fears or concerns about the presentation. We used MOCHA (Manager, Owner, Consultant, Helper, Approver)—a tool we learned at the Academy—to implement a strategic plan while simultaneously understanding our individual roles. We each brought various degrees of experience and were able to speak up and revise the campaign plan regardless of our title. The glue that brought it all together was the coaching from an experienced mentor. Greg Jackson’s, our General Consultant, ability to frame how the presentation should flow enabled us to quickly put something together. But to our surprise the most important action for our presentation was a simple run through. We were able to revise and curtail the presentation to create equal space for each aspect of the plan. A winning team is diverse but humble and has a slight degree of humor. Our team was fortunate to comprise each element.
My plan post-Academy is to seek relevant work in political fundraising and finance, especially in North Carolina. The universal tools and materials provided during the five-day training will be beneficial in my political career. Tools like MOCHA and networking skills seem to be essential in progressive politics. I will also continue to learn new and innovative digital fundraising tools.
To the June Academy cohort: you will receive the same amount of support, information, and fun as if the Academy was conducted in person.
Cameron Holland, Organizer
I heard about Arena Academy through Hood to the Holler (Charles Booker’s organization) and instantly knew it would be a great opportunity. After reading more about it I realized that Arena was the real deal. I decided I had to apply to learn from some of the best in the country, both peers and professionals.
The Arena Cup was a frenzied experience that seemed to simulate the high stakes, hard deadline, nature of political campaigns. It seemed like there was just enough time to format a decent plan and nothing else. All of the excellent techniques regarding organizing, collecting data, ID’ing your universes were essential but even more important to a winning team is setting clear and defined goals and roles (MOCHA), encouraging your teammates, creativity, and understanding your district. As an organizer, I will always keep in mind the 80:20 rule of engagement, the principle of utilizing relational organizing as the central organizing/mobilizing force, and empowerment through the ladder of engagement. I see most of these principles as not only organizing and mobilizing tools, they are rules to live by in forming healthy relationships.
Although we won the Arena Cup, we didn’t think we would win. Until we finished our presentation, we were nervous. There’s not enough time to say or do everything you may have wished for. Therefore, nervousness is a part of the equation.
To future Arena Cup teams: do your best, build a positive team culture via empowerment, encouragement, and clearly defined roles and goals. You’ll do great!
Ashlyn Jones, Organizing Director
I’ve worked on campaigns before Arena Academy, most recently working as an Organizer for the Georgia runoff elections. I’ve been eager to learn more about how to be a better organizer and manager for when I eventually want to move up in Field. Arena Academy gives you the tools necessary to prepare you for future campaign cycles.
When our team first met, we were all full of great ideas for how we wanted our campaign to be run, but were unsure and a little overwhelmed on where to begin. After meeting with our General Consultant and getting our questions answered, we decided that we could each work independently and regroup in the morning. The morning of the final presentation, we all met virtually to ensure our presentation flowed properly. About 30 minutes before our presentation, we finished our slide deck and decided we’d have to focus on what was most important to get through. Luckily, when it was our time to present, we were able to get through it!
As an Organizing Director, there is a lot of math that goes into planning a successful organizing program. Academy helped make the numbers make sense, while teaching necessary management skills to help us work together. A “winning” Arena Cup team is a team that can collaborate on ideas, encourage each other, and ask questions when needed. We all came from different backgrounds, but we all believed in each other and believed in our ideas, and that definitely helped us focus on creating a detailed campaign plan.
Arena Academy has taught me skills to be a better organizer and manager that I will likely use in my work on a daily basis; but it also taught me about management styles and how to be a better coworker as well. I can’t wait to share my love of organizing with my community and bring more people into this line of work for the next righteous fight.
To the next Arena Academy cohort: have fun! Lean on each other when needed, and ask a lot of questions. You will learn so much in a short amount of time and it can feel overwhelming, but take time to breathe and remember why this work matters to you. We all come to Arena Academy for different reasons, but all have a shared passion for making this world a better place. Keep that passion with you, and bring it into your work.
Arena Academy online works. We’ve got the virtual training system down and we’re excited to welcome you to our next cohort from June 10 – 14. The application deadline is 11:59 ET on April 25. Apply here.