Activism on the road

The 2008 Presidential Election is one of the most exciting and important races that our country has ever seen. And given that it’s the first presidential race in which I’m old enough to vote, my sense of civic responsibility is higher than ever. But until about two weeks ago, I could barely list the major candidates. Many people I’ve talked to are interested in the election, and though they’d like to be experts on the candidates and the intricacies of the current primaries, that’s about as far as they’ve gotten. Now, there are certainly a number of Williams students who know much more about the election than the majority of the American public or I do, and there are certainly students who are pushing their peers to get involved in 2008. In fact, young people, and college students especially, can and are playing an integral role in the presidential race. But my goal is simple: perhaps by providing an example of how I tackled the daunting task of becoming more well-informed in time for November 2008, I can help push the rest of you to make the effort too.

Realizing that I hardly knew anything about the impending election, I decided to dive right in and take a Winter Study course about it. A large part of the course involved a trip to New Hampshire to do campaign work preceding the Jan. 8 primaries, throwing us right into the heart of the process. The 36-hour trip turned me from an ignorant but curious voter into an involved and exhilarated one. I was hardly prepared for the near-insanity that is an early American presidential primary and wasn’t even sure I fully supported Hillary Clinton, the candidate for whom I had decided to campaign. During the two and a half hour drive to Manchester, N.H., I was just praying that no one would be asking me to explain the details of her foreign policy. When we arrived at the Clinton campaign headquarters, the campaign workers (none of whom seemed older than 30) immediately sent us back out to canvass, which involved knocking on strangers’ doors and encouraging people to “get out the vote” for the following day’s election. I had suddenly found myself a small but intricate part of the American democratic system. What I found most worthwhile, interesting and rewarding was that doing campaign work in New Hampshire put faces to the numbers that would be reported on CNN the next evening. And the issues became relevant, too. People clearly cared about what affected them directly – education, health care, the economy.

After visiting and calling hundreds of homes, we had the opportunity to attend Hillary’s final rally in Manchester the night before the New Hampshire primary. It was the first time I had seen Senator Clinton, let alone any major politician, speak in person. After an exhausting day of doing work on her behalf, I was impressed with what I perceived as Hillary’s genuine compassion for her constituents, and how seriously the audience seemed to be considering their enormously important role in the election. I left finally feeling connected to the nebulous, fascinating process our country goes through to elect its president, although I admit that I’m only a little closer to deciding who to vote for. I realized that deciding who to cast my ballot for is a lot of work: it requires research, critical judgment calls and some serious grappling with my personal beliefs.

My experience in New Hampshire wasn’t what I’d call life altering, but it was certainly a catalyst. And while not all of you can or would even want to volunteer for a campaign, it is possible (and in my opinion), exciting and worthwhile to follow the election and become more responsible voters. Do your research. There are myriad Web sites, blogs and news outlets that will quickly and thoroughly get you up-to-date (anything from www.realclearpolitics.com to The New York Times Web site would be a good start). Vote in your state’s primary if you can; the rules are different in every state, but with a little investigating it’s possible to figure out if and how you can vote absentee in a primary. Do the work of figuring out what issues matter to you. Help the campaign of a candidate that excites you. Because at the end of the day, while our political process may not be perfect, I’ve found that stepping from behind the obscurity of this election can actually be empowering.

The drive back from New Hampshire was devoted to something I could have never guessed I’d embrace: AM radio. My classmates and I listened to predictions and exit polls, experts and results, commenting and arguing on our way back to Williams; I, like almost everyone else in the world, was convinced Hillary would lose New Hampshire. And then, she won in what was one of the most unexpected turn-arounds a presidential primary has seen. After the victories of Huckabee and Obama in Iowa, then with McCain and Hillary in New Hampshire, the election is as open and exciting as ever. But don’t just take my word for it.

Sarah Moore ’09 is an American Studies major from San Marino, Calif.