5C Students, National Politics: Working on the Campaign Trail

As Nov. 12 looms near, the presidential election is on everybody’s mind. For some 5C students, it’s also on their resumés.

Alex April SC ’15 has been logging up to 14-hour work days since early June as a chief organizer at Organizing for America, the official title of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

In August, April had the chance to introduce President Obama at a rally of 5,000 people, an experience that she understandably described as “nerve-racking.” Yet, a sense of community led April to take this semester off to continue her work for the campaign.

“Basically, my job is to organize people in the Colorado Springs community,” April said. “Our campaign really believes in a two-way conversation. It’s basically just networking to get these teams in every precinct to form, meet weekly, call voters, to do canvassing in high-visibility areas.”

In addition to spearheading volunteer efforts, April is also in charge of the voter registration program in her office, which involves personally tracking and auditing thousands of registration forms. A month after her arrival, she was given her own office to manage. 

“It’s cool being in my office,” April said. “I’m one of the youngest in the region. There’s one other organizer my age, but the rest are in their 20s and 30s. It’s kind of funny sometimes, telling people how to do things when they are 20 years older than I am. But people are so accepting. They say, ‘I love seeing young people come in here. You’re obviously educated about the campaign and the policies, you’re taking a semester off of college for this.’ They love seeing younger students taking initiative in their futures.”

Adrian Vallens CM ’14 did not experience as positive of a reception during his summer at an Organizing for America office in Central Pennsylvania.

“I was in conservative territory,” Vallens said. “Kerry won 31.3 percent of the vote in our county in 2004, and Obama got 37.3 percent in ’08. It was rough. I’d get yelled at and cussed at. Some guy threatened to bring his gun down to the office.”

Despite setbacks like these, Vallens was able to make a considerable impact this summer. He made around 9,000 phone calls and registered hundreds of voters.

“I live under the philosophy that if I was able to convince five people to go out and get involved in the campaign, that makes a difference on the community level,” Vallens said. “I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Even though these two students campaigned on opposite ends of the country, they had parallel schedules and duties. When asked what surprised them most about politics, their answers were similar, too.

“One thing I did not know was how the hierarchy of the campaign works,” Vallens said. “There’s a specific protocol. There’s four hundred fellows like me throughout the state, and we report to our bosses. There’s twenty of them, and they report to the person who is running Pennsylvania, and they report to the person who runs the Northeastern region of the U.S. You have to follow procedure, stay to your station. It’s interesting.” 

April agreed, saying that “there’s such attention to detail.”

Such meticulous work has its rewards.

“I’ve seen Obama speak. I was probably 10, 15 feet away,” Vallens said. “I was really inspired to be in that crowd of people who care about the same things and have each other’s interests at heart. You can’t get that feeling everywhere.”

As heartwarming as these local anecdotes are, they do not resonate with the feelings evoked by the presidential candidates on a national level. A study at Wesleyan University reports a “staggering leap” from nine percent negative advertisements in the 2008 election to 70 percent in the current one. Neither Vallens nor April approves of the vitriolic tendencies of today’s campaign ads. 

“I would love to live in a world where there was only positive stuff to go on,” Vallens said. “My personal belief is that it discourages people—people who refuse to register to vote, that won’t because they think the system is corrupt.”

April took a more lenient stance. “When you’re getting attacked right and left, positivity only goes so far. It is necessary to defend yourself,” she said. However, she also said, “Overall, I’m not a fan of it.”

It is difficult to couple the media’s glum portrayal of the campaign trail with these two animated student activists. When given the chance to deliver a pitch to Claremont’s crop of first-time voters, neither pitched for their candidate. “Don’t forget to register!” was Vallens’s only advice.

“I see that students often go along with what family or friends say, but know that when you send in your ballot, it’s between you and your conscience,” April said. “Vote for what’s best for you and what’s best for your country.” 

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