How'd You Get That Job? Samara talks to an NDP Media and Outreach Officer

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How'd You Get That Job? Wednesday, August 13, 2014 View Count = 3489

How'd You Get That Job? Samara talks to an NDP Media and Outreach Officer

What inspired you to get involved in politics?

I am originally from Vancouver and I went to a very political high school. It was an inner-city school, not prestigious or anything, and it had a big Chinese population. The teachers there always talked about current events, and about things happening in our neighbourhood and in the country.  I think that really influenced me and made me aware of certain problems in our society.

First I took the route of working with charitable organizations— I volunteered to raise money, and did some donating of my own. When I was in university I started reflecting about myself and the causes of the problems I was working on, and I started to think that charity is often only a band-aid solution to many of them. It’s really legislation from the government that is needed to address many of the problems I care about, so I started following a route of working for change, not just charity.

How did you become a Media and Outreach officer, dealing specifically with the Chinese community? What path brought you to that particular role?

It wasn’t easy. My parents were quite opposed to me getting involved with politics. My dad is from China, so politics is sort of foreign to him. He has very strong opinions and I often clashed with those opinions.  My mother was a refugee from Vietnam. She took a boat from Vietnam to Malaysia and stayed in a refugee camp for two years before coming to Canada. Politics in our household was a very sensitive subject, and my parents were of the mindset that you should find a good job, do your duty and fly under the radar.

One thing that really sparked my desire to get more involved was my mom’s story. A lot of Canada’s immigration policies are changing now, and it’s possible that if she was a refugee today she wouldn’t be accepted into Canada.  I understand my roots and I feel a sense of obligation to do something about that.

The path to this job started with me volunteering on my first NDP campaign. Even though I was already a member of that party and I believed in their politics, I never knew that there was a role for people to play during campaigns. It wasn’t until one of my friends decided to run for the NDP and she gave me a call and said, “I am running, I don’t think I’m going to win but I would like your help,” that I learned I could do that. I stumbled into the campaign office knowing only that I had strong opinions. They put me on the phones, showed me what to say, and told me that I should ask the person on the line whether they were supporting the NDP. I was terrified to pick up the phone and make those calls. I punched the numbers and waited as long as I could and hoped that no one would answer.

After that I started doing a lot more volunteering with the party and I also got to know more people there. That was also the time when I was transitioning to university. A lot of my friends and network from high school went to colleges because they couldn’t afford university. I was fortunate enough to go and I had to build new circles of friends. The NDP was a good home for me to meet new people.
Timothy Chu

Timothy Chu (left) with Anson Chan and Martin Lee from Hong Kong in Tom Mulcair's office in Centre Block, talking about democracy in Hong Kong. 

The specific position that helped me get to my current job was my work for the NDP during the HST campaign in British Columbia. I was one of the organizers in British Columbia and my job was to organize 50 volunteers to collect signatures on a petition. We wanted to get 10% of voters in one riding to sign.  I did that on a volunteer basis because I felt strongly about it. The party saw that and I guess they thought I was good because they hired me for some contract work and then continued to hire me for other jobs. During summer breaks they would hire me to do fundraising work and work on by-election campaigns.

One thing I find about the NDP, particularly federally, is they always make room for young people. In my journey to get to this point I have had a lot of mentors who have taken me under their wings, taken the time to teach me, but who have also listened to my opinions and then talked with me about why they might or might not work. That made me feel comfortable getting more involved. When I graduated, I moved across the country to work for the party.

I guess they thought I was the right person for this job.  In my experience, political awareness in the Chinese community is not very high, especially among the younger generation who are born here. Often their parents don’t speak English, and there just isn’t that sense of awareness. My parents forced me to learn Cantonese and Mandarin, so I had both the language skills and the organizing experience to work with this community, so I was a really good fit.

What does a day-in-the-life of a Media and Outreach officer look like?

Every morning I get an email at around 7:30am. It’s sent by a staff member and includes a rundown of all the events that the Canadian Press might cover that day from the smallest town to the largest cities. The first thing I do in the morning is look through that email to see what’s going on that day. If I see an event and I think we should be there, I’ll make sure that we are and that we’re asking questions about Chinese families.  

Next I have a morning meeting where we get briefed about what’s going to happen in Question Period and what we should push toward the media. That takes up the morning and then we start drafting the press releases and the media advisories.

In the afternoon I switch to the outreach side where I have more long-term projects such as building databases, finding out what events are happening in the community, calling the organizers of those events, getting MPs to follow up with them and prepping MPs for events.

At the end of the day I’ll often go out for beers with other staff members. We work hard, but we have fun too.

What has been your favourite moment in this job?

I’ll give you a serious one and a more fun one.

The serious one is that I have meetings in Centre Block every Monday and Wednesday. Even though I’ve been in this position for almost a year and a half, walking up to Centre Block is still a very powerful feeling. It just kind of sends a chill down your spine to think that this is where so many decision-makers are. That feeling hasn’t worn down for me because I like what I’m doing and I think what I do is important, so that is one favorite moment.

Chu with ChowFor my more fun moment, well, I do a lot of work with media in the Chinese community so I’ve had the chance to work really closely with Olivia Chow. She’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known, so sometimes we would be bouncing ideas until midnight and then she’d call me at 6:00 the next morning! One time I was in the shower and I heard my phone ring and I knew it was Olivia Chow so I ran out, grabbed my phone and picked it up and she kept talking about her ideas for the day. They were all good ideas but I was in my towel freezing and trying to hurry her and wrap it up and she just kept having more and more ideas. I remember just thinking—this is fun.

What skills or expertise are required for this job?

Language is a huge one, being able to speak with people who are new citizens and are still struggling with English is a big part of this job. Just because someone doesn’t speak English doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to participate. There are positions like this for other communities as well.

I act as a bridge for the Chinese community in terms of politics and I think having good political judgment is important. That comes from volunteering and experience, it’s the ability to realize whether an issue is something that is affecting one person very seriously, or whether it’s something larger that could be important to media.

I also think that being firm and confident in what you do goes a long way, especially when working with media.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a job like yours? What is a good first step for them to take?

I think the first step is to do some soul searching outside of politics and figure out what you actually want to do. I think that a lot of people think politics is glamorous because of the power or because you get to deal with media, but it’s not always like that. One of the reasons my parents discouraged my participation was because of the difficulties they saw. They told me, look, politicians get yelled at by everybody whether they do the right thing or the wrong thing.

So, it’s important to know what you want do and why you want to do it in this way. It shouldn’t be for power or for glamour because our positions aren’t really glamorous at all. You have to manage the egos of people around you and work with voters who are often unhappy, there are a lot of hours and then you also have your own personal life. Still, when I’m working late, past 11:00 at night, I like thinking about the people I get to meet and the ways we can help them—that keeps me going.
My final words of advice are, don’t be afraid to work hard. I guess as New Democrats we understand that. I remember in British Columbia we got down to two seats and federally there was a time we were down to nine seats and not even recognized as a party. We work hard because we know we need to fight for every vote, so don’t be afraid to work hard.

tim chu

Timothy Chu is an NDP Media and Outreach Officer in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition (OLO). He was vice-President, External for the Alma Mater Society at the University of British Columbia.



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