Hundreds of Yalies devoted a few hours last semester to electing the nation’s 44th president, Barack Obama; but only a handful gave their entire semester.
Five undergraduates who took the semester off to work for the presidential campaign spoke about their experiences Monday night in the Branford common room at the weekly meeting of the Yale College Democrats. Before a gathering of two dozen students, the ex-campaigners swapped stories both entertaining and harrowing from the trail.
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“Your job there is to sort of organize the neighborhood into a community of Obama volunteers,” explained Zach Marks ’10, who worked out of the campaign’s Philadelphia offices.
Over the course of the semester, Marks handled his “turf,” dealing with challenges from corrupt politics to angry voters.
Chris Magoon ’12, who volunteered in Ohio, spoke of the hardships of recruiting volunteers. Magoon said this was one of the most difficult parts of his work, but also the most rewarding.
“A lot of times you wanted to die,” Magoon said. “But the best part was empowering people who have never been trusted with much in their lives.”
Working as an office manager and out-of-state volunteer coordinator, Audrey Huntington ’12 said one of the most interesting aspects of her experience was watching the interactions of people from different states, races and socioeconomic backgrounds. While these sometimes lead to tension, she said she made “some wonderful friends” and “the community really enjoyed us.”
A sixth panelist, Brian Bills ’12 worked not for Obama but for Tom Perriello ’96 LAW ’01, now a freshman congressman from the 5th District of Virginia. Throughout Perriello’s campaign — which the Democrat won by a narrow 745-vote margin — Bills served as Perriello’s “body man,” living and traveling everywhere with Perriello.
But the campaign trail also took a heavy toll, the panelists said. Most of the six students expressed strong reservations about entering a career in politics. Bills said he was “less likely to get into politics in the future.”
“I would not use the word ‘fun’ to describe the work,” added Sam Schoenburg ’12, who worked in Virginia. “It’s grueling stuff.”
Audience reactions ranged from admiration to surprise. Drew Ruben ’11 said he is not sure whether the realities of the campaign trail are right for him.
“I respect these guys, but I don’t know if I have it in me,” Ruben said.
Nevertheless, some present said they felt inspired to try their hand at campaign work.
Bradley Pough ’12 said the students’ stories gave him pause about entering a career in politics, but nevertheless intrigued him.
“This made me kind of curious just because of how negatively it impacted their ideas of political life,” Pough said, before concluding: “I will do it.”