“People tend to think from the outside looking into political organizing that getting involved is all about small networks, formal job opportunities, building good LinkedIn profiles, and applying to work on campaigns. But so much of it is just people who like working together, who have experience working together on previous projects, deciding to take up a new charge and deciding, ‘Hey, here’s another issue that we can address, or here’s another person that we can get elected.’ It’s really a lot about calling on the people you know who do good work and who care a whole lot.” – Gabriel Hoyle, GWU 2020
Gabriel Hoyle, Gardner-Webb University Class of 2020 global studies major, has already made his mark as a consistent political organizer in the state of North Carolina. Whether it is managing campaigns or working with organizations specializing in voter registration, Hoyle always has his finger on the pulse of politics in NC and beyond.
Hoyle was the 2020 campaign manager for Jennifer Childers (D) in her race against incumbent candidate Tim Moore (R) for the North Carolina House of Representatives, District 111. He was introduced to Childers in February 2020, as she came to visit the social sciences department at Gardner-Webb. After a brief conversation and an exchange of contact information, they had a few more in-depth discussions in the coming weeks and realized that a cooperative effort would be a great fit. Hoyle was soon offered the position as Childers’ campaign manager.
“We jumped right into things, because at that point it was February,” Hoyle said. “They didn’t have a primary challenger, so we didn’t have to worry about an election coming up in March, but we knew that we needed to put boots on the ground quick for November, so we really just jumped into things right away.”
It is no secret that the year of 2020 brought its fair share of challenges that impacted all levels of society, especially the political world, in an election year no less.
“The Childers campaign was both difficult and opportunistic in that we had never campaigned during a pandemic before. No one who is alive had ever campaigned during a pandemic before,” Hoyle said. “That also meant that our opponents had never campaigned through a pandemic before. So, it did provide an opportunity to take a lot of our on-the-ground canvassing plans and look at reworking those for the digital space.”
Since the inception of digital campaigning in 2008, most organizers have treated it as a separate entity from field organizing. But, Hoyle does not see the two as mutually exclusive, and witnessed this first-hand as he adapted to managing the campaign with COVID-19 becoming a major issue everywhere.
“It is possible and necessary to have heart and mind conversations on a digital platform. Having real conversations with real voters about real issues, and not just at the door, but on Facebook, in comment sections, in direct messages – that’s important.”
Although Tim Moore was reelected to the North Carolina House of Representatives District 111 position in the November election, Hoyle is appreciative of the opportunities and knowledge he gained from working on the Childers campaign. This is not only concerning the challenges and obstacles of the pandemic, but it is also connected to the reality of organizing as a Democrat in a statistically predominantly Republican area.
“The most valuable thing I learned first-hand was the difficulty of organizing as a Democrat in a heavy Republican area,” Hoyle said. “So many voters just see the ‘D’ beside the name and go the other way, but I also learned how many other voters were willing to hear ideas. Through seeing how difficult that was and learning how tough that was going to be, I was able to get my first experience of learning the important work of organizing everywhere.”
In recent months after the Childers campaign, Hoyle has focused his attention to the voter registration project, Secure the Ballot. Hoyle described it as “a voter registration, education, motivation, non-partisan, non-profit organization.” Secure the Ballot was developed in 2020, and initially worked exclusively in the state of South Carolina.
“Major players in South Carolina politics saw a need to register and educate young voters, rural voters, low-income voters, and Black and Brown voters,” Hoyle said.
Impressive results from Secure the Ballot in South Carolina put this group on Hoyle’s radar, and in December, he received the opportunity to join the team as they expanded into North Carolina. Currently, Hoyle supervises essentially all of Secure the Ballot’s on-the-ground organizing operations in the state.
“I get to build on the success that an organization has already had, and chart out a new course. South Carolina and North Carolina politics could not be more different. So, it’s exciting to see that there’s an opportunity to accomplish a lot of the same things in very different ways,” Hoyle said.
There are more colleges and universities in North Carolina spread across the entire map of the state compared to South Carolina, and NC is generally ranked higher in education overall.
“Our base for Secure the Ballot in North Carolina is going to live and breathe young people,” Hoyle said. “Because we’re everywhere, and that’s how you build an energized and engaged network of people. You start with young people and get them to buy into the vision. The vision is bringing people who are underrepresented into the electorate, into the fold moving forward, so that we can rebalance our politics and make our politics look more like our people. That’s the mission.”
Secure the Ballot intends to continue broadening its influence in colleges and universities around the state. As of right now, there is already some movement at UNC Chapel Hill, as well as Appalachian State University.
“I currently don’t have anyone at Gardner-Webb who is directly involved in the networks of Secure the Ballot, so anybody who ends up encountering this and is interested in becoming involved in political organizing in a very important time in a very important place, that’s how you do it,” Hoyle said.
Reflecting back on his time at Gardner-Webb, Hoyle spoke of his involvement with student government and the valuable lessons he gleaned from his many years of participation in SGA.
“One of the most directly applicable experiences I had at Gardner-Webb was through student government campaigning,” Hoyle said. “I had great experiences campaigning through student government, I had great success campaigning through student government. Not only did I never lose an election, but no one that I ever mentored or helped guide through the campaign process ever lost a student government election.”
Hoyle went on to describe that even though he did not consciously recognize it at that moment, his introduction to the concept of political organizing that drives so much of what he does now was through student government.
“So many of the concepts I gained with experience through that opportunity have directly correlated with what it looks like to organize in the ‘real world,’” Hoyle said. “A lot of the same principles apply. You establish your personal networks, and then you work and leverage your networks.”
Hoyle used the term “origin story” in reference to Gardner-Webb on multiple occasions during our conversation.
“My personal and professional origin story is Gardner-Webb University,” Hoyle said. “And in a lot of ways, I think I’m still building my origin story, because it’s hard to say that my origin story is complete when I’m only a year removed from the university.”
Hoyle mentioned a few of the individuals at Gardner-Webb who played a big role in shaping the person he is today.
“People like Dr. Casey Delehanty, Dr. Elizabeth Amato, Dr. Joseph Moore, Dr. Perry Hildreth, and Micah Martin were the first batch of academic leaders in my life who genuinely believed in me,” Hoyle said. In all of these ways – academically, professionally, and personally – the personal investment that I received from those five people in particular set me up for success professionally. They gave me the skills and tool sets I needed to develop as a functional member of the political organizing universe that I’m in now. But also, just my personal development as a human being is the most impactful way that they invested in me. I know for a certainty that those five people in my mind will always be a part of my purest beginnings in becoming the thinker and the organizer and the person that I am.”
Looking to the horizon, Hoyle is always seeking out more avenues of involvement in political organizing and campaigning. He also has plans to launch a media network with some of his closest friends and colleagues that will begin with a foundation of podcasting, with hopes that it will eventually evolve into something larger. Wherever Hoyle goes in the future, he hopes to tackle every new challenge and opportunity with the great tenacity that he has displayed up to this point in his life so far.