Campus Activism Before and During Election Day

Campus political activism spiked with the coming of the national election. Despite some obvious pre-election fatigue in some quarters, many Stanford students were nonetheless energized by the California Propositions 4 and 8 and, of course, Barack Obama. The main pre-election event took place just before November 4 and was designed to encourage students to vote. Then, after the election, students staged impromptu celebrations for Obama and protests against Proposition 8.

On a windswept afternoon less than 12 hours before the 2008 state and national election began, hundreds of Stanford students rallied in White Plaza in support of Barack Obama, as well as opposition to California Proposition 4, an amendment requiring parental notification for a minor’s abortion, and Proposition 8, an initiative to ban gay marriage statewide. Sponsored by a coalition of liberal student groups, the event featured Stanford Law School Professor Larry Marshall, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, former California gubernatorial candidate Steve Wesley, and several student leaders.

First, Professor Larry Marshall of the Law School, who knows Barack Obama personally, spoke about the historical and political significance of electing America’s first African-American president. He also emphasized aspects of Obama’s character from a personal perspective, based on their friendship in Chicago several years ago.

Luukas Ilves, a former Editor-in-Chief of the Stanford Review, also took the microphone to make “the conservative case for Barack Obama and against Proposition 8.” Striding to center stage in a pink Oxford shirt, Luukas first argued that gay marriage reflected the desire to participate in the conservative traditions of marriage–monogamy and long-term commitment. Then, turning to a group of “Yes on Proposition 8” demonstrators, Luukas declared “You are not real conservatives!” Moving to the issue of Barack Obama, Luukas argued that “Obama has a better understanding of the market and a more prudent foreign policy” than McCain. After Luukas, former Stanford student body President Steve Wesley spoke briefly about his time as a campus activist against South African apartheid, using it as a lens through which the history of race relations in general, and this election in particular, can be seen.

Finally, the Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsome, compared gay marriage to interracial marriage, stressing his view of their common status as “civil rights” issues. Although Mayor Newsom’s speech was received with great elation by the students in White Plaza, his very public consideration of a run for Governor of California caused other students to wonder if the speech was simply a voter- relations operation. Barack Obama’s dominate victory brought on a wave of euphoria among students on the evening November 4th. Clustered in dorms and row houses, most students watched with small groups of friends and housemates. Stanford-in-Government, meanwhile, hosted a larger event in the CoHo that drew a large crowd.

After the completion of Obama’s victory speech at around 9:30 PM, students began streaming out of their residences to meet in the Main Quad. Between 10 and 11, as many as 100 students sang songs including “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and danced around a spontaneous bonfire in the Main Quad. The atmosphere, generally upbeat, was tempered by the anticlimactic nature of Obama’s victory and the success of Proposition 8.

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