As the primary election campaigns unfold across the country, Illinois Senator Barack Obama has preached that “the time for change is now.” And Thursday night his words resonated in the Elm City — for Yale’s Obama supporters, the time for change was 7:30 p.m.
With less than three weeks until the Connecticut primary, Yale’s presidential-campaign organizations have begun efforts to convert campus enthusiasm into action. The Yale Students for Obama event — which drew over 50 supporters to the Afro-American Cultural Center — marked a turning point for the group, which is joining the other campaign organizations on campus in focusing its energy on reaching out to voters.
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This campaign season has already seen a strong emphasis nationally on the youth vote, beginning with the three-fold increase in youth turnout in the Iowa caucus on Jan. 3.
“It’s not just about getting excited and getting enthusiastic,” said Ben Lazarus ’10, Yale for Obama’s Campaign Coordinator. “Tonight — which could have just as easily been a rally — is a way of getting people involved.”
For this reason, Yale for Obama brought in Jarel LaPan, Obama’s Connecticut State Director, who gave a quick tutorial on calling voters. A quick show of hands revealed that the majority of supporters in the room were veteran phone-bankers.
Within minutes, most of the crowd had pulled out their cell phones. Each supporter was given a list of 15 voters to contact, and they soon got to work. After 20 minutes, the group had made 630 calls, said Sam Schoenburg ’11, the communications director of Yale for Obama.
But the Obama supporters are not Yale’s only political activists who know how to work the phones. Members of Yale Students for Hillary and Yale Students for Edwards have been phoning for their candidates since the beginning of the semester, too.
Leaders of all three groups — of which the Obama group is the largest — said they have spent months closely coordinating with campaign staff to prepare for the upcoming campaigning surge.
And election fever on campus has certainly not been limited to the left-leaning part of the student body.
Matt Klein ’09, a current member and the former head of Yale Students for Giuliani, said that while the group has been in touch with the national campaign organization, one of the largest focuses of the group will be to get affiliated Republicans on campus to register and vote for Giuliani in their home states. Klein cited Giuliani’s strong polling numbers in Connecticut and New York as reasons for urging students to vote in other states, where voters could have a larger impact.
For the leaders of Yale Students for Edwards, a primary focus has been to provide individual student members with ways to get directly involved in larger campaign efforts.
“Our role is to be a liaison between the people who are excited about the campaign and the campaign itself,” explained the organization’s co-coordinator, Adam Goodrum ’10.
Still, up to this point, efforts by each of Yale’s political campaign groups have been largely concentrated on building awareness and excitement among campus supporters. Now, each group is looking for ways to channel this energy into activism. Organizers of the Obama event said Thursday evening was meant to keep supporters hungry for change — but also for phone-banking.
“We’re hoping the calls tonight will get them excited and keep them coming back for more phone banking and more canvassing on the weekends,” said Jacob Koch ’10, campus coordinator for Yale Students for Obama. “People want to feel like they’re a part of this.”
During every week until the Feb. 5 Connecticut primary, Yale Students for Obama will be hosting two phone banks and one canvassing trip.
Likewise, Yale Students for Hillary, working with Yale Law Students for Hillary, will host phone banks and canvass as part of a “college caravan,” said Ben Stango ’11, the organization’s president. While Obama has concentrated on drawing support from college students, he said Clinton’s focus on different demographics provides for unique opportunities to work with other members of the community.
“When you unite people of disparate backgrounds, you have a group that’s much more dynamic,” Stango said. “I think that kind of dynamic group is able to accomplish more.”
The other groups are also very conscious of the power of the community. Yale Students for Obama invites local Obama supporters to its meetings, and Goodrum said Yale Students for Edwards will draw from increasing localized support in the following weeks.
Although it remains to be seen how effectively each campus group, on both the Democratic and Republican sides, can harness the energy of their supporters into results, Schoenburg said the immense political energy among students points to new heights of political activism — at Yale, but also on a larger, national scale.
“People have been so energized by the 2008 elections that they are willing to put in the effort to actually make the change they are looking for,” Schoenburg said.
So, even for college students running on four hours of sleep, most say, the effort is entirely worth it.