Activist Senior Hits the Campaign Trail


A Wildcat since 7th grade, Ruby McElhone Yates has long been an involved and active campus presence. And now as a senior, she’s lending her activism skills beyond Williston’s boundaries, as an intern for the Maine Democratic Party.

But first, before the Zoom meetings and phone banking and canvassing, Ruby must keep up with her rigorous class schedule. This year it includes: AP English Language, AP Calculus BC, AP Spanish, AP Economics, and AP Biology. Ruby must also keep up with her afterschool commitments; in addition to serving in her sixth year on student council, she’s also a leader of the Young Democrats and Janus, a member of Teller Chorus, a writing center tutor for the second year, an Arete tutor, and a day-student proctor.

She doesn’t exactly have a ton of free time, but that seems par for the course for this engaged political activist.

Since Covid has prevented her and her fellow interns from canvassing in Maine in person, Ruby make calls almost everyday. “I recruit people to volunteer to make calls to voters and ask them about how they’re voting and talk more about why they are supporting democrats.”

The region Ruby is working in is Somerset County. This region is a specific target because many of the residents are undecided voters, meaning they could swing either Democratic or Republican. The Maine Democratic Party’s goal is to reach out to these voters and try to find out how they will be voting, and persuade them to vote Democrat.

Even if a voter is not completely persuaded, there is the chance that they could list a Democratic nominee second on their ballot, because Mainers, Ruby explained, participate in ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting is a system in which voters can rank their top candidates from one to three.

Ruby has been invested in politics for the last four years. Her parents, who continue to be involved in politics, introduced Ruby to this world at a young age.

“I started being interested in politics a little before the 2016 election,” she said. “My parents are super involved [in politics], so it’s never been something that’s super foreign,” she said.

In fact, Ruby and her family helped many campaigns, including Obama’s 2008 campaign. That year, Ruby and her family drove up to New Hampshire to canvas. Canvassing is when campaigners try and solicit votes from eligible voters.

“When [Barack] Obama ran in ’08, my parents drove my sister [Ava, class of 2017] and I out to go canvas in New Hampshire,” she said. “It’s been a thing that we’ve done, but it wasn’t something I got into and did on my own until 2016.

Ruby started working on her own when Nicole LaChapelle ran for mayor in Easthampton. During LaChapelle’s campaign, which she eventually won, Ruby was able to learn from the candidate. LaChapelle, in turn, also opened many doors for Ruby. It was LaChapelle who told Ruby about the fellowship with the Elizabeth Warren campaign; Ruby worked for the Warren campaign in 2019.

“When Nicole LaChapelle was running for mayor, I met with her and talked about how to volunteer and since then she has been so amazing and has helped me meet people who I can volunteer with,” Ruby said. “That’s the whole reason why I started volunteering with Elizabeth Warren last year,” she said.

Currently, the work Ruby is doing with Maine Dems has been completely remote, which has been a change from what she is used to, especially since working on the Warren Campaign. However, she and the Maine Democrats are still trying to foster a community in which everyone can come and work towards a common goal.

“Maine Dems has been tricky in some ways because I am completely remote,” she explained. “I would love to be in the field offices in Maine and be doing what I did last year with Warren’s campaign, but that has been recreated as much as it can be online because they don’t have volunteers going into the offices all that much. It’s very much about building a community that’s remote.”

Since working with Maine Democrats, Ruby has found that she prefers to take a leadership role within the community. Ruby runs training every Friday for the Western Mass phone banks.

“I really like doing the trainings. I love doing the Western Mass phone banks on Fridays because I think that’s a really good example of, even though we’re not in an office and there’s not that same built in [community], you’re sharing a version of the space and doing the same thing.”

Ruby has been able to establish relationships with people she said she never would have met if not for her campaign work.

During her time working in the Warren campaign in 2019, Ruby was thrown into the deep end of what a political campaign is. In her work she would train volunteers, who would reach up to about 60 people at a time. Through this work, Ruby was able to gain confidence in a community filled with people of all ages all working towards a common goal.

“Last year, I went to the office almost everyday after school and basically did what I’m doing for Maine Dems … I had absolutely no idea how much goes into a campaign and I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I feel like I gained a lot of confidence,” she said.

Ruby also has noticed that there have been many differences in the types of people she talks to about politics. She has noticed that geography has played a large role in how people discuss politics, and which party they tend to align with.

“In general, people in Massachusetts are comfortable talking about who they support politically because they feel like, and are correct in assuming, that a lot people feel pretty similarly,” she said. “New Hampshire and Maine have a lot more independent voters, a lot more people who aren’t ready to vote a straight party ticket.”

While Ruby is ostensibly helping others get ahead in their careers, working on political campaigns has given her a strong sense of optimism, confidence, and identity.

“I have definitely gained a sense of confidence and independence in being able to take this on, and I had so much support from really everyone,” she said. “From teachers here, to my parents, from the people on the campaign .. it definitely felt like I had a little bit more control over my life. I had more of a chance to say, ‘This is something that I’m interested in and this is something that I want to pursue.’ It’s been very empowering.”

While Ruby is unsure if she’ll continue doing the work she’s doing now next year in college, she said, “I definitely want to stay involved. I don’t think I want to be a political science major and then go work on campaigns for the rest of my life, but I could totally see myself spending a year on a campaign doing field organizing when I’m out of college,”

“I think taking time to work really hard for something or someone to believe in is totally something I would want to do in some form,” she added.

Ruby ended her interview telling The Willistonian about her favorite story working on the campaigns.

“Last December, I was splitting my time between [Elizabeth] Warren’s campaign and squash, and after practice one day I went in to the office because I had been texted, ‘Oh you should really come in today,’ and I was like ‘Okay, but I’m tired, I just got out of lift.’ I got there and the field organizer and her girlfriend had thrown me and another one of the fellows a birthday party and brought us cupcakes,” she said. “It was a good symbol of how everyone is so into what they’re doing that you get to know people really well.”