As the ASSU concludes yet another election cycle, Stanford students are still on the campaign trail; only this time, they are not posting fliers on campus bathrooms or promoting their candidacy to unsuspecting bikers in White Plaza. Instead, students are volunteering their time and expertise to help elect politicians in the upcoming California gubernatorial and state assembly elections.
At both the graduate and undergraduate level, these students have something significant to offer: social media skills, especially with Facebook and Twitter, and connections with a rising generation of young potential voters—the same demographic that was crucial to landing President Obama in the White House.
“Students are a vital part of campaigns because they represent the next generation of workers and a growing population,” says Marcheta Marshall ’13, who volunteers for Republican Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor. Marshall works part time in Whitman’s “War Room”—an office that serves as a telecommunications and social media hub for the campaign. “What we do is monitor all forms of media, such as blogs, articles, TV interviews, and radio
interviews,” Marshall explains.
Campaign offices like the “War Room” attract student volunteers who can effectively interact with broadcast and digital media. Such campaign strategies are vital for getting the word out. For one thing, they allow politicians to communicate with a broad audience relatively quickly. In addition, media savvy campaigns are more likely to attract younger audiences, who—come election time—just might log out of Facebook for a brief excursion to the voting booths.
Another student volunteer for Meg Whitman’s campaign, Tommy Schultz ’11, has taken on a more traditional task. “My role…is to create new campus chapters, coordinate with Regional Chairs, organize volunteers, and be a liaison for students to the campaign staff,” Schultz shared. In other words, Schultz is a middleman between the campaign and its student constituents. This is no small task, for any campaign values a college campus packed with potential voters.
John Haskell ’12, Co-Vice President of the Stanford Democrats, shares a similar responsibility. “It’s more my job to get other students involved with campaigns,” says Haskell, who volunteers for Josh Becker’s state assembly campaign. Haskell asserts that students who volunteer at the state level are central to the political process. “It’s not a partisan thing. It’s important that everyone gets involved.”
While they are not getting paid or receiving political accolades, these Stanford students see the value in campaigning for what Marshall refers to as “a new California.” Regardless of political leanings, these students bring something valuable to the table—a fresh perspective and an eagerness to engage the political world. “Being involved in campaigns is perhaps the best way to put…higher thinking into practice on the ground,” commented electrical engineer graduate student David Hoffert, the director of a student group that formally endorsed Democratic San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for Lieutenant Governor.
However, not all politically-engaged students serve as workers or interns. Some actually choose to become candidates themselves. Before his move to the Becker campaign, John Haskell worked for Democrat Kai Stinchcombe, a current Stanford Ph.D. student and founder of the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute. Another Becker volunteer, Ansaf Kareem ‘10, also previously worked for Stinchcombe’s campaign for state assembly until the candidate swiftly dropped out of the race in January of 2010. According to Kareem, Stinchcombe decided to end his campaign because Becker shared “similar views” and was “better established” in local politics.
Students who volunteer for state politicians will benefit from the experience if they later decide to run for public office. Indeed, many of them have started to ponder their political careers in the not-too-distant future. Schultz hopes to work as a “political consultant for local and national candidates,” while Hoffert plans to “run for office” at some point.
Marshall, who has an interest in global security and economic relations, is focusing on politics at the federal level. “I am working in Washington, D.C. this summer and am definitely ready to feel the rush of national politics after getting a taste of state politics.” For student volunteers like Marshall, state politics is not the endgame but a gateway to a broader focus and a distinguished career. But we cannot forget those ambitious few—students that volunteer now—who intend to run as tomorrow’s leaders.
Although they come from diverse fields and backgrounds, these student volunteers all agree on one thing. It’s better to get involved, to immerse themselves in the process, than to sit on the sidelines of the democratic process.