In our series Our Movement Monday, we talk with Texans across our state about their work and the challenges facing their communities.
Bethanie Olivan is the current Digital Organizing Manager for the Texas Democratic Party. She most recently served in the same position for the Julián Castro presidential campaign. Prior to that, Bethanie worked as a substitute teacher on Title 1 campuses in San Antonio, Texas.
We’re so excited to have you on our team! We know you’re just as thrilled as we are — what made you want to join the biggest battleground state in the country?
I am a Texan through and through. I’ve seen the strides that people in this state have been taking for years and how transformational change has taken a strong foothold since 2016 and how it exploded in 2018. I know that winning in Texas would mean a monumental shift in other battleground states and I want to be part of moving the country forward. Our work here not only impacts Texans, but the country. This is a moment to work hard, step up, and do all we can do.
What about this position are you the most excited about? What are some challenges do you think you’ll have to overcome?
I’m excited to get back to building relationships with volunteers and funneling their talents and drive into turning Texas blue. Starting a virtual field office from scratch takes a lot of work, but I know that putting this work in means that we will be well prepared for the large scale at which we’ll be doing things. Being part of a coordinated campaign and scaling up my work and using my foundation in digital organizing to include a larger number of volunteers than I’m probably accustomed to is exciting.
Turning Texas blue will take a coordinated campaign as big as Texas. What are some initiatives that you’re looking to implement to take us there?
I was super pumped to set up and roll out our online community hub, ConnectTexas. It was the first project I was involved in and I started working on it my first day on the job. I’m also excited about distributed organizing. I love training and providing guidance and support while people make calls and send texts. Something I look forward to every week is our Townhall Thursdays — these are virtual townhalls that allow supporters to have access to candidates and panels speaking about the issues that are important to them.
Previously, you were working on the Castro presidential campaign. What was that experience like?
Working for Julián Castro was a dream come true. Being involved in such a historic campaign for someone I had looked up to (and continue to look up to) for the majority of my life is still something that brings a huge grin to my face when I think about it. My candidate approached everything through a social justice lens that truly did put people first. I would say it’s one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I was also lucky to work for and with some strong, powerful women. I will always hold dear the things that I learned from them and am especially thankful for Lillie Catlin, the organizing director for that campaign.
What would you say is the biggest misconception that people may have about digital organizing?
People often think of digital organizing solely as posting on social media or throwing up a few comments online and calling it a day. While social media definitely is part of digital organizing, it’s just one small piece of the puzzle. Making calls, sending texts, attending virtual events and townhalls are other parts of the process when it comes to organizing online. Digital organizing allows people to be involved in the organizing process who might not otherwise have the opportunity. Sometimes people don’t have transportation to make it out to a field office, or they work two jobs and volunteering online allows them to do so in peaceful surroundings, maybe they can’t find childcare, or they just prefer volunteering from home — we’re giving these individuals a space to help elect Democrats in a way that best fits their needs or schedule.
Why get involved in politics? Was this something that you’ve always wanted to do?
Politics is not a realm that I ever saw myself being involved in. I wasn’t aware of all that goes on behind the scenes in politics until I volunteered for the Castro campaign. It was always something that seemed out of reach and made for specific people, but I was able to get an inside look and realize that “now” is always the best time to take action. As long as you have the passion and drive, you can find a place in politics where you fit, and even then, you can create new spaces or positions that don’t yet exist and fill in the missing gaps.
What is the one thing that you wished people would have told you before getting involved in politics?
At times there’ll be extremely long days on the job but they never dull your passion for your work. Once you start, it lights a fire within you that you didn’t know was there. You come out with more resilience and strength than you ever thought was possible. That coupled with the great relationships and mentorships that you carry during and after a campaign or election cycle is different than anything I’d experienced before.
Who, or what inspires you to do the work you do?
I would say my grandparents are my biggest inspiration in this work and everything that I do. They left their home in Mexico and had to start over in the US and I think it’s important to live out the dream that they had for their family. My nieces and nephews also inspire me on a daily basis. I want the world they live and grow up in to be a better place than it is now. Volunteers are also a huge source of inspiration — being able to give people a venue to channel their passion, commitment, and work is what keeps me going and gives me hope even on the hardest days.
How can folks get involved with the Texas Democratic Party that’s beyond casting their vote at the ballot, especially given the coronavirus pandemic?
If folks are interested in meeting other Democrats in their community and across the state, engaging with our Constituency Organizers, or volunteering, they can join our online community hub and virtual field office ConnectTexas at txdem.co/ConnectTexas.