How an Arena Academy Grad Met Senator Harris in the Gym and Got Hired by Her Campaign

Ahead of the Vice Presidential debate, we wanted to share one of our most popular Arena Academy stories, from an Academy grad who ran into Senator Harris at the hotel gym during Arena Academy Des Moines and had the courage to hand her a resume. (It worked!)
Elizabeth Burke
Kamala Harris at Arena

You know that “elevator pitch” you’re supposed to have in case you meet your idol in an elevator (or in my case, on a stationary bike)? That happened to me at Arena Academy. Now the person I met is on stage running for Vice President — and I’m part of how she got there.

(There’s even footage of Senator Harris telling our story later that afternoon. I think she was as surprised as I was.)

Let me back up. Hi! I’m Elizabeth. I was a field organizer on Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign in South Carolina and a graduate of Arena Academy Des Moines. I’m one of a bunch of Academy grads who’ve been working behind the scenes to power elections across the country.

Arena made getting to this point in my career so much easier than it would’ve been otherwise. I would have never given Senator Harris my resume if it weren’t for one of my classmates. Every morning before Academy sessions started, she and I woke up early to work out and do our homework at the hotel gym. To our surprise, one day we turned around and saw Senator Kamala Harris there too.

When Kamala got off her stationary bike and headed to the hallway, my friend told me, “You have to go chase her down.” So I ran out, stopped her by the elevator, and gave her my pitch. I told her I was with Arena and handed her a resume.

By 11am, I had an email from her senior adviser asking for a phone call.

Not everyone has a chance to catch their idol in an elevator, but anyone can sign up for an Arena Academy. While meeting Senator Harris was the highlight of my weekend, it was my classmates who formed the most valuable part of my experience. They gave me the connections I needed to break into this industry and the context to make smart decisions.

You don’t need professional experience to attend Arena Academy. Some of my classmates had worked in politics for years, but plenty of us had never done anything like this before. My roommate in Des Moines, a new mom, was trained in classical music and had been working with musicians before she applied. She was inspired to switch careers after she volunteered for another new mom running for congress.

The explosion of new voices we’ve seen in the last few years doesn’t just happen — it requires sustained support from progressives like you. If you can, give $15 to the Arena Academy scholarship fund to support the 55% people of color and two-thirds women who attend Arena’s trainings.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done since graduating from Arena. Come Election Day, I’ll be able to say I did everything I could to keep Democrats in power and lift up voices who hadn’t been part of politics before.

I’m excited to see what happens next — on stage tonight and beyond.

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By providing your cell phone number you consent to receive periodic updates from Arena, including automated text messages and phone calls. Txt HELP for help, STOP to end. Msg & Data rates may apply. Privacy Policy.