As the early stages of the 2016 Presidential Election sweep the nation, young people across the country are getting involved, and Hopkins students are no exception. Hilltoppers have spent time working for major Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, canvassing, attending town hall meetings, and sometimes meeting the candidates themselves.
Campaigning is a required part of the 21st Century Democracy elective taught by Assistant Head of School John Roberts. Students must campaign five times municipally or three times nationally over the course of the semester, and several students made the trek to New Hampshire to spend time working for Presidential campaigns of their choice.
“Campaigning takes many forms. Most of the work I did was canvassing, which is going door-to-door and speaking with New Hampshire citizens about [Senator] Bernie [Sanders]’s agenda, the specifics of his policies, the current standings of polls, and encouraging registered Democrats or Independents to vote for him in the New Hampshire primary,” said Razor Managing Editor Sophia Cappello ’16, who canvassed for Senator Sanders.
Emmanuel Chinyumba ’16 went to the towns of Keene and Swanzey in New Hampshire to canvass for Senator Sanders, along with Andy Sedlack ’16. Chinyumba was most impressed by the level of dedication he saw in his fellow volunteers: “They were people who believe in a change and saw that change in Bernie. I could tell how much they stood behind Bernie and his views based on how hard they were working in this to make sure his name was known.”
Lindsay Meyerson ’16 spent a month in New Hampshire this past summer as an intern for the Rubio for President campaign. Throughout the fall and winter, she has returned regularly to New Hampshire, and had her most recent trip on February 9, just before the New Hampshire primary took place. “A normal day on the Rubio Campaign doesn’t really exist,” Meyerson said of her time with the campaign. “You will always have something to do, and if it seems like you might not be doing two things at once someone will give you another project. Most of the work is contacting community leaders and building and maintaining relationships with them.”
Political conversations are often difficult to navigate, and the students interviewed agreed that the requisite sensitivity was one of the more challenging aspects of campaigning. “I’ve met people who didn’t want to vote for fear of contaminating themselves with the stink of politics,” Meyerson said. Cappello elaborated, “It’s hard to expose yourself to complete strangers and ask for their support in a Presidential campaign. Many people have a strong contempt for politics, and learning how to navigate interactions with people while keeping this in mind took a little time.”
Another challenge was the volume of voters and data, and the work that goes along with juggling such numbers.
“Presidential campaigns span a massive amount of people and land, and it’s simply impossible to reach out to everybody,” explained Will Simon ’16, who campaigned for Governor John Kasich and was later invited to attend the Republican Debate in New Hampshire on February 6th. “The sheer volume of phone calls required to get any attendance at town halls is a bit overwhelming.”
Meyerson recalled her experience with “Marco Numbers,” wherein she took the voter history data from every town in New Hampshire with more than 800 people and broke it down into various categories, describing it as “the most difficult thing I’ve ever done… It took forever and I remember just scrolling through the unfiltered data, thinking, ‘when does it end?’”
The student participants indicated that one of the most rewarding experiences of campaigning was face-to-face interaction with the candidates themselves. “I really enjoyed the town halls and meeting the candidates up close and personal. Both were extremely charismatic and really friendly,” said Drew Nolan ’16, who campaigned for both Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rubio. “These candidates are really smart, know the issues inside and out, are great speakers, and were very at ease answering questions from the audience.”
Students also reported that campaigning helped them recognize the importance of political involvement. “I have always been incredibly engaged in politics but it was absolutely amazing to be a part of the process,” said Cappello. “It was especially meaningful to campaign for Bernie, specifically, a candidate who has relied on the small donations of working Americans to come as far as he has.”
Campaigning introduced these Hilltoppers to people from all over the country, united in their shared support for a candidate and their commitment to political involvement. Meyerson recalled, “I met a man from Poland whose collarbone was broken by a communist police officer when he was 14. Now, he points at the scar and shouts, ‘This is the price I paid for voicing my opinion’ if someone even drifts towards disinterest.” She concluded: “If it really matters to you, find a candidate and do what you can to help get them elected, because if you don’t, no one else will.”