Many who have worked on a political campaign will tell you being in the field is the most thankless job on the trail — including Paige Suelzle.

Suelzle’s 14-month stint on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign took the Issaquah, Washington, native to far-flung reaches of Washington, Colorado, Ohio and Iowa. And it was there in the 20-degree windchill, knuckles raw from rapping on hundreds of doors, that she decided to become a lawyer.

“That was the most formative experience of my life,” said Suelzle, a 2L at UW Law. “I can look back at that year and a half and pinpoint that that’s where I changed as a person. I was looking for the reason why to go to law school — and I found it on the campaign.”

I was looking for the reason to go to law school — and I found it on the campaign.

Paige Suelzle

Three years later, Suelzle is one of two recipients of a 2019 John Paul Stevens Fellowship, one of the nation’s most prestigious and competitive programs that provides grants to outstanding law students to work in public interest summer internships.

This past summer, Suelzle leveraged the fellowship to activate on a passion cultivated on the campaign trail.

“Working on the campaign is what inspired me to go to law school specifically with the goal to protect voting rights,” she said. “All the other issues we care about boil down to the right to vote, because if people can’t vote, all of the other things we care about become much harder to accomplish.”

For nearly a year and a half, Suelzle eked out votes the hard way — one at a time, household after household. She learned that connecting with people wasn’t about finding what they agreed on, but instead was about finding their deepest values — even when there’s disagreement about how to bring them to life.

Most importantly, she learned voting rights, which are the very foundation of American politics, are constantly under threat and need to be protected at all costs.

I VOTED

When it was all over and the final ballots had been cast, Suelzle found herself in a country set to undergo unprecedented political change — change that would reshape the global landscape in a matter of years. And in the aftermath of the election, voting rights remain a central issue in the years leading to 2020.

Suelzle, who had a front row seat to it all, knew she was ready to make a difference on a bigger scale.

By summer 2019, the Stevens Fellow found herself in Sacramento, California, doing exactly what she dreamed of during the election as a law clerk for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations focusing on defending the rights of Latinos living in the United States.

In her work with the organization, Suelzle was immersed in all things voting rights, including advocacy work at the State Capitol, investigations into potential violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and working on a major Title VII discrimination case involving an upscale grocery story.

The work — coupled with who she described as an amazing mentor and supervisor — provided a tremendous amount of real-world experience for Suelzle. Having just completed her first year in law school, she was blown away by the amount of hands-on efforts of which she was a part over the summer.

“This is exactly what I came to law school wanting to do — and what I want to continue doing,” she said. “It seems too surreal, especially in my 1L summer. It’s actually my dream come true.”

Suelzle said she would love to graduate and go on to do the kind of work she performed over her summer in Sacramento. What began as a fervent interest has now become a career goal — an experience for which the Stevens Fellowship paved the way.

“I was very honored to receive the fellowship and a bit shocked, because it’s such a big deal,” she said. “I felt like the reasons I came to law school were given a thumbs up. I’m here for a reason, and others recognize that reason is important.”

While Seattle may be a long way from Iowa, Suelzle can draw a straight line from where she was to where she is going. And it were those experiences fighting for something important — door to door, person by person — that ended up putting her on a path to effect change at the highest levels.