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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Student experience: life on the campaign trail: This week, Obama for America volunteers relay their experiences

<ny Carleton students were relaxing and enjoying their well-deserved free time from school this past winter break, four politically conscious students decided to stay busy and get involved in probably the biggest political event this year, the 2008 presidential election. Ben Garwin ’10, Robert Martin ’11, Erika Pearson ’09, and Julianne Skinner ’11, worked for the Obama For America campaign in Iowa.

Martin was a deputy field organizer in the campaign. His primary responsibility was to inform Iowa residents about the caucus. When he began working in the campaign, he was shocked to learn that only 5 percent of all legal voters in Iowa were expected to participate in the caucus. “People have a lot of misconceptions about the caucus,” Martin said, as he tried to explain why people do not participate in caucuses; many people mistakenly believed that they were ineligible, while others erroneously thought it would take too much time. Martin’s job then was to correct these misinformed beliefs and tried to persuade as many residents to go to the Iowa caucus as possible.

Although Martin worked specifically for Obama’s campaign, he did not see his goal as persuading people to support Obama. Martin believes that there is a fine line between campaigning and advertising. He was not so much concerned with whether people shared his opinions from his; rather, his main goal was to persuade those who supported Obama but did not plan to caucus to participate in the event. He is convinced that individual voters are very important in effecting change, and that the best thing that Obama’s supporters could do was to participate in the caucus and show their support.

Given that Martin placed great importance in the caucus, he was particularly touched when, on caucus night, he saw a Mexican-American teenager to whom he talked to during the campaign. The teenager originally did not plan to go to the event. Moreover, Mexican-American teenagers as a whole are one group that is particularly hard to reach Martin said. Therefore, Martin felt rewarded and that his long nights in the campaign office spent calling residents were not wasted when this teenager showed up on caucus night with three friends.

Garwin is another student that worked for Obama’s campaign in Iowa this past winter break. Garwin’s experience during the campaigning process was quite similar to Martin’s. Garwin’s main responsibility was to write letters to and call people to inform them about the caucus. Working 13-hour days at the busiest time, Garwin recalled spending the entire day asking residents how Obama could change their lives.

Garwin decided to work for the campaign because he saw a lot of problems in the United States. He believes that nothing will get done unless people are actively working. This past summer, after reading one of Saul Alinsky’s books about being a radical, Garwin was convinced of the power of community organizing in solving problems.

Already socially and politically conscious before college, Garwin was disappointed when he first came to Carleton because he saw that little effort was put into “making a difference.” While understandable, he said, he would like to do more. The potential of grass-roots organizing that was demonstrated during Paul Wellstone week further convinced Garwin of the importance of social activism.

When asked what he learned this past winter break, Garwin said that polls do not mean anything. The importance of campaigning is in the act of talking about politics.

*Please contact crowleye or caffreyj if you have experience volunteering or working on a recent political campaign. The Carletonian hopes to include the student experience as part of its continued political coverage.

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