With a student body passionate about engaging with the greater community, the outpouring of voters headed to Williamstown Elementary to cast their votes every Election Day should come as no surprise. Nor is it shocking that some of those students are also working on the other side of the equation, encouraging their peers to vote and spreading the word about local and national candidates in whom they believe.
This summer and autumn, a handful of Ephs volunteered in election campaigns all over the country – in their hometowns, in Williamstown, on Capitol Hill – and then sat down with the Record to share their experiences.
Lourdes Orlando ’14, a member of the Williams College Democrats, joined Barack Obama’s presidential campaign within the predominantly Republican community in her hometown of Naples, Fla. Like a true college student, she was extremely dedicated: Orlando worked from 11 a.m. til 11 p.m. for five days a week on assignments varying from constituent voter registration to canvassing. She worked to inform voters, both over the telephone and by going door-to-door, about Obama’s platform, further encouraging them to vote. Her main task was to organize phone banks and get information out to campuses. Overall, Orlando says she enjoyed her time volunteering for the campaign. “I learned that people can be very ignorant and cruel when it comes to politics, but they can also be willing to listen and so kind,” she said. Her favorite memories were of speaking to people with beliefs different from hers. “Once, a lady pulled up to me in her car and we had an hour-long conversation out of nowhere. She took this time out of her day to talk to me, someone she disagreed with, which still blows my mind since all I was doing was holding an ‘Obama’ sign up!” Orlando said.
Brian McGrail ’14, co-president of the Williams College Democrats and a double history and political economics major, describes himself as very interested in policy. He is currently volunteering with Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for a seat in the Senate on behalf of Massachusetts. He says working on the campaign is “intense” and “unending” and that “the hardest part is probably guarding your time.” Nevertheless, “If you can establish a reasonable balance, it’s a lot of fun,” he said. Though McGrail describes much of the work, like registering voters, as mundane, he still finds his effort very rewarding and the job itself to be important. “I think Elizabeth Warren might be the next Barack Obama. And we’re in on the ground floor of that. How could it not be exciting? I find the policy arguments that are happening to be super interesting, too,” he said.
Last August, Aliza Shatzman ’13 volunteered on an election campaign for Kathy Boockvar, a candidate for Congress representing Bucks County, Penn. Shatzman knocked on doors, canvassed and made phone calls to potential voters. Her primary goal was to make people aware of Boockvar’s campaign, especially because, if elected, this would be her first term as a congresswoman. Shatzman targeted likely Boockvar supporters and people who were undecided, especially Democrats and middle class families. She also worked in the campaign’s finance department, asking donations from people who had donated to Obama and EMILY’s list (“Early Money Is Like Yeast,” a group founded to “raise the dough” for pro-choice candidates) in the past. “Kathy [Boockvar] aligns with my political beliefs perfectly. She’s fantastic,” Shatzman said. Shatzman says she’s “committed to electing pro-choice Democratic women to Congress” and believes that Boockvar, a former voting rights attorney, is the ideal candidate to represent women’s issues.
Like several of her peers on campus, Shatzman is currently volunteering for Elizabeth Warren. Warren especially appeals to Shatzman as a candidate, she explained, both because she is a professor and is extremely committed to women’s issues. “Picking up Democratic seats [in the Senate] would be fantastic,” Shatzman said. She contributes to the campaign by canvassing. “Your face out there really helps” in giving people a concrete and personal association to the campaign, Shatzman explained. “I tell them ‘I’m a student, I’m a woman and this is why I believe in Warren,’” she said. Though Shatzman admits that working on the election is “a lot to juggle,” she says that it’s “really important and super rewarding, especially when you talk to people on the fence. Elizabeth [Warren] represents the average American; she represents my ideals,” Shatzman said.
For a few hours a week over six weeks this summer, Laurel Jarombek ’15 volunteered for Chris Murphy ’96, Connecticut Representative and a candidate for one of Connecticut’s Senate seats. “I was making sure people got out to vote and took the time out of their day,” she said. She volunteered before the mid-August primary, which Murphy won by a significant margin. “I wish I could have worked during Election Day,” she said, referring to all the excitement that comes with volunteering the day of the primaries. “Even though I don’t want to be a politician, it’s all relevant,” she said of the experience, stating that it exposed her to the world around her. Jarombek now volunteers for Elizabeth Warren and encourages students to register to vote in Massachusetts. “Tabling in Paresky is very effective,” she said.
Certainly, political involvement at this level isn’t guaranteed to be glamorous; students who choose to volunteer with election campaigns often end up with mundane, boring tasks, like canvassing or making phone calls. Yet each of these students discovered a unique emotional and intellectual payoff by going above and beyond civic duty. By believing in each candidate’s purpose, they were able to find the merit in the mundane.