I believe there are changemakers all around us, often quietly doing great work and tucked away behind people they’re elevating. I believe there are many “young people,” as we’re often referred to, making change more than we are often recognized for doing. I started following Virginia Reed, 25, on Twitter last summer when the Raleigh municipal elections were gearing up and she was Campaign Manager for Jonathan Melton, who is now Council Member At Large for the City of Raleigh.
Virginia and I have since gotten to know each other and I do believe she is a valuable NCChangemaker. So we sat down at Trophy Tap + Table to support the bus fundraiser and talk about her work.
Introducing Virginia Reed, Voting and Campaigns for Change
Lindsay Saunders: I saw your recent Twitter thread about being an undecided voter torn by “how to
vote.” Big question to start us off — how do you feel about the state of the world now?
Virginia Reed: I don’t know. I think my perspective is different because I’m young and hopefully have a lot of time left in the world. I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I’m not going to pretend I’m smart enough to know how to fix every issue. It’s hard not to get a little discouraged sometimes because the kind of work I do, you can never really check out of. It’s not like a 9-5 where you can clock out, not think about the work for a few hours, then clock back in the next morning. As far as the state of the world, I have optimistic and pessimistic days depending on what news I’ve been taking in.
Lindsay: What kind of work do you do?
Virginia: I’m a Political Consultant. Sometimes I freelance, but now I’m contracting as a Regional Campaign Director through the Democratic party, which is great for benefits with more resources this way. When I’m freelancing, I decide who I want to work for, but working for the party, I am assigned candidates at the Senate Caucus.
Lindsay You’re one of those “young folks” people wonder about their priorities, but after you and I met, at that July Municipal Candidate Meet’n Greet event (that I co-hosted with North Hills District Democrats and Progressive Democrats) and then had that drink at Wye Hill Kitchen in August, I was more motivated to get to know Jonathan Melton because of you.
I thought, hmm, I like her, so I’m probably going to like him. What issues do you prioritize when making choices for which candidates to work for or who to vote for?
Virginia: I have a pretty easy litmus test with candidates: “why are you running?” What’s your plan to raise money and path to victory? As a campaign manager, you are the person who will drive the plan for raising money and contacting voters, but it’s reassuring to know that candidates have at least given some thought to those things when considering a run for office. It’s important to ask the candidate why they are running. Some can’t explain that.
One of the reasons I was drawn to Melton was not that he wanted to be governor, but that he didn’t like the direction things were going. I was drawn to Melton because he didn’t seem to me like someone who wanted to climb the ladder. He wanted to run for the office where he thought he could do the most good, in a city where he felt things were not going in the right direction. He had that mindset of, “If not me, then who?” You should know why you’re running. What’s your answer? That’s how I try to decide who to work for.
I don’t really consider myself a single issue voter person. Character matters a lot to me because it’s not something you can teach. At the end of the day, I want people in elected office who are empathetic, their life experiences are different than others’, and are willing to admit that they don’t know everything. People in elected office should want to do right by their communities, not only by themselves.
Lindsay: When I was 9, I decided I was going to be an actress, teacher, and writer. Did you have an idea of what you wanted to be when you grew up? I also thought my husband would wear a top hat for some reason like the men in Mary Poppins even though my Dad was a builder and he never wore a top hat…
Virginia: I can’t remember what I wanted to do when I was younger. I really don’t know. I think I kind of bounced around. In school, I was doing research projects on different people. One minute, I thought it was cool to be a vet or the next it was an astronaut. The earliest job I can think I wanted to pursue was the music industry and managing bands on tours. I got involved in a campus organization that handled bringing music to campus for students. I like music and travel, but I’m also really organized.
A couple years into pursuing political work, I realized that working on campaigns was a lot of the same stuff minus the live bands. Campaigns still entail some travel, a lot of meeting new people, and require a high level of organization, just without as much live music.
Lindsay: That sounds fun. That’s big influential work. I get tired of hearing the mention of changemakers only being icons who have been around forever. You are driving change by electing people. How would you describe your own identity?
Virginia: Just demographically, I’m on the tail end of the millennial generation. I am white and grew up in a middle-upper class family, never wanting for anything. I recognize that family and financial stability has allowed me to get a lot of jobs here that other people couldn’t. Living here in Raleigh with my parents nearby, I could take a state campaign job that paid me nothing. My parents paid for my sister’s and my education and we have no student loan debt. Those privileges and freedoms have allowed me to pursue opportunities that I’ve been interested in.
So, I’ve been pretty lucky. I try not to take it for granted. The people you tend to see working on campaigns aren’t always very diverse because these jobs don’t come with a lot of security and benefits, which impacts who can take advantage of these opportunities and participate.
Lindsay: What kind of campaign job do you have now?
Virginia: I’m what you call a “cycle hire.” The Democrats need to flip a few seats in the Senate chamber to take the majority. A few are targeted as the most likely to flip since state legislative maps have been redrawn. Aside from district changes, some candidates can raise money easier than others, some districts we have incumbents not running for reelection – a lot of factors go into making any given district “competitive.”
The races I’m working on right now are Donna Lake, in Senate District 7 which is in Wayne and Lenoir Counties, and J.D. Wooten is in Senate 24 which is mostly Alamance County. Donna and JD are in unique positions to flip their districts because neither of them are running against a strong incumbency advantage. No strong incumbency advantage in either.
Dealing with Life & Making Change for Issues that Impact
Lindsay: You seem very seasoned to me. Calm, cool, collected. How old do you feel?
Virginia: Well, after going to the gym, sometimes I feel pretty old. It’s weird because there are a lot of days that feel very old, but that’s probably just fatigue. The last few years have been hard. With the way the news cycle has changed it feels like there are 30 big stories a day to keep up with. Makes the days feel a lot longer and harder.
I pay rent, car insurance, do weekly grocery shopping, I adopted a dog and deal with all of her expenses, but I still feel like a teenager pretending to be an adult. I don’t know when that feeling is supposed to go away, but my parents have two kids in their 20s and still have that teenager feeling sometimes too, so maybe we’re all just faking it.
Lindsay: How do you deal with the news or issues that concern you?
Virginia: Sigh. Deal with the news? I don’t know. I should really prioritize having hobbies because my job tends to consume a lot of my life because the news impacts my job and often impacts the strategies we employ in campaigns. I don’t feel like I have the option of ignoring the news.
All the people I spend time with are people I met through this line of work. A lot of us end up friends and talk about it in our spare time. I don’t have a great answer because I haven’t been dealing with the constant onslaught news in a healthy way. It’s very heavy. I can scroll through Twitter for 15 minutes and think, “Enough!”
Lindsay: I’m with you there. How do you make change or even identify solutions with these issues?
Virginia: I try to get people elected who can fix things who I believe will advance the causes I care about.
Lindsay: Are there top causes?
Virginia: The issues I’m probably most passionate about are women’s rights and climate change, and both are just because they frustrate me so much. It was snowing four days ago, but yesterday I went to vote wearing a short sleeve t-shirt and then went to Goodberry’s afterwards. I think the issue of women’s choice is so polarizing because it’s less about policy and more about a perception of morals.
Lindsay: I get the comment about being pro life, but then people don’t want to expand Medicaid to help low wage workers or cutting food stamps programs. How do you say you’re about LIFE, but you don’t help improve people’s QUALITY of life. That drives me crazy.
Virginia: I stopped using that phrase. People who describe themselves as “pro-life” are typically more “pro-birth” or “anti-choice.”…because they won’t love a child who is gay or help a a family who lives in poverty with the costs of childcare. They’re pro birth and after that they check out. I try not to get emotional about it, but like I said before, it’s such a polarizing issue I think because it’s based in emotions and perceptions of morals and human decency.
Lindsay: What about when you encounter differing viewpoints for those issues?
Virginia: That kind of goes back to empathy. I always try to understand where someone is coming from. A lot of it can be personal experience. We have to think about how people were raised and what they learned from the people who raised them.
I think we can all be better about trying to understand how someone arrived at their opinion. understanding of how someone arrived at their opinion.
It doesn’t mean you’ll be on the same page and changing minds, but we don’t lose anything by practicing a little empathy.
Lindsay: Are there groups that are leading and working on issues that you care about, like women’s rights?
Virginia: I haven’t done any work with this group outside of the candidates they’ve endorsed, but there’s a big place in my heart for Planned Parenthood because they do a lot of unflinching work on a very polarizing issue and receive a lot of hate for just trying to take care of vulnerable people in need.
They’re strong and they care, whether it’s the policy shop or actual healthcare providers, they put themselves at serious risk everyday.
They keep showing up everyday. I have limited resources and time, but they’re always at the top of my list when I could give money or support.
Getting Personal with Virginia
Lindsay: Is the rest of your family as engaged as you are?
Virginia: They’ve always voted but since I started pursuing this line of work they are more engaged. We’re a very close family and we all still live in Raleigh so we are so connected. My being involved in local politics has convinced my parents to start opening the door or answering the phone when people are canvassing and phone banking. It encourages them to get more familiar with candidates too. My parents have never been lazy voters and have always voted but they’ve become more visibly engaged since I started doing what I’m doing.
Lindsay: See, there you are inspiring! Who inspires you?
Virginia: Honestly, my Mom inspires me. She is my closest friend. In addition to being my Mom, she has been my friend for a long time. After she gave birth to me, she went back to work, but soon after decided that she would rather be home with me. When she had my sister Grace, she continued to be a stay at home Mom.
After about 10 years, she decided to go back to school and get her Master’s in Library Science and become a librarian. My dad’s job had the flexibility to allow him to work from home and do the stay at home parenting stuff that enabled my mom to pursue her degree. Between pursuing her degree and working at Wake County Public Schools as a library assistant, we didn’t see much of my mom. But we didn’t feel like she loved us any less. My Dad didn’t even think about it. He supported her in that. She doesn’t give herself enough credit for how hard she worked.
Lindsay: One of the things I missed while I was overseas was our public libraries. We have a wealth of information, resources, and all that at our fingertips…I just love libraries.
Virginia: Yeah. When I am in between jobs I’ll go volunteer and help in her library. She’s at Leesville Elementary School. I’ll just help shelve books or do other office projects. You know that magic you get watching someone do what they love? It’s amazing. I watched her for years going from job to not quite finding the right fit. This job opened up for her and it was her dream job.
It is nice to see her SO happy. Her relationship with those kids is so different because she’s not the classroom teacher. She doesn’t give them homework assignments, she just tries to teach them a love of reading. She couldn’t have done it if we didn’t have the close family that we have. It wouldn’t have worked if our family dynamic was any different.
Lindsay: I like listening to you talk about your Mom.
Virginia: It’s lame, but she really is my best friend. The idea of my parents’ relationship has impacted so much. It’s what I seek in my relationships. I love that idea of being invested in someone else’s success, not just your own.
Lindsay How do you feel empowered?
Virginia: I like a good election night.
Lindsay: Ha! Same. What makes you happy?
Virginia: It’s not totally relevant to what I do now, but part of why I liked my extracurriculars in college was that I have a weird thing about event planning. I like to see people enjoy a well-planned event. I’m very project-oriented. I like being able to cross things off a list.
As far as a normal person and non-work things, obviously my family makes me happy, but Toby (her dog) makes me very happy. I got her in early 2018. I didn’t know what line of work I wanted to be in. I had relationships that were influx. What do I want to do? I felt so up in the air.
I got Toby and that made me feel a lot more grounded. I had more of a reason to get out of bed everyday. She’s my little friend everyday. She’s perfect.
Lindsay: Where did you go to school and do all those extracurriculars?
Virginia: I went to Appalachian State University. It was the best I got into and an affordable in-state school. It was just far enough away that I could create my own life. Two weeks after getting there I was like, why wasn’t this my top choice? It was just right for me.
Lindsay: I miss the college days. We have good colleges here in NC. Any parting advice?
Virginia: I am always encouraging people to stay engaged.
This is not the time to check out. We have so much power in our generation that we could all make a big difference if we stayed active.
Make it a habit to vote. Mostly older people are turning out because they’ve been doing it for longer. I would advocate that younger people are registered, know where to vote, and I’m always happy to answer if people have questions about how and where to vote. I had a couple people ask me last night, hey I can still early vote last night?
When I worked for Melton, I had that advantage of growing up here. I know a lot of people and their parents. I went through my Facebook friends list and started messaging people. I wasn’t even trying to be coy about it, it was essentially, “if you want to catch up, I’d love to catch up, but my sole purpose is to ask if you are registered and plan to vote in the city council election.”
I think by this point everyone who knows me knows that I am a staunch advocate for voting and voter education. I took a risk by choosing to work for an underdog challenger, but this was someone talking about the kind of Raleigh I want to live in.
Lindsay: I found the same feeling that led me to supporting Melton too. Where can people connect with or follow you?
Virginia: I’m most active on Twitter. I post some original content, but mostly I share what I find to be important things. If you want dog content, I would say Twitter and Instagram accounts are the best places for that.
Enjoyed this changemaker story? I’m doing a series about changemakers under age 40 in the NC Triangle and want to present a diverse range of narratives. If you or someone you know is making change in the area, I want to interview them and feature their story. Email me at lindsayksaunders at gmail dot com to connect.
Lindsay K. Saunders is a North Carolina native, communications and outreach professional, community builder, and activist for a safer, happier, healthier, smarter, and more equitable, just world. Lindsay is also a Millennial who optimistically believes there is more creative change happening around us than we appreciate or realize.