Kal Penn (star of the "Harold and Kumar" films and the 2006 Jhumpa Lahiri adaptation, "The Namesake") is also a surrogate for the Obama campaign. He came to Florida State Universitys Moore Auditorium Sunday to encourage students to vote and get involved, and 150 students showed up, in spite of Tropical Storm Fay.
Penn was kind enough to sit down and answer some questions for the FSView & Florida Flambeau about his involvement with the campaign, as well as some of his ideas about the presidential election and, particularly, the youth vote.
FSView & Florida Flambeau: How did you get involved with the campaign?
Kal Penn: The reason why I signed up last October goes back about four years ago, when I was living in Texas. A friend of mine, who was working at a trucking company and making minimum wage, got a phone call one day from a company that said theyd pay him $90,000 to go to Iraq to drive a truck for the private sector.
That was a big wake up call for us. He called me and a few of our other friends. We talked about what he should do, and the only thing we could come up with was that it was a really sad thing that the worlds richest, most powerful country could only offer two options to a buddy of ours who wanted to go to school: minimum wage or $90,000, in the middle of a war that never should have been waged.
So, that was a big wake up call in terms of knowing that a lot of my friends and I wanted some sort of a change.
The more people we talked to, the more we found friends whose parents jobs had gone overseas and friends who were fighting in Iraq who wanted to come home. We wanted a cleaner environment health care and education.
It just seemed like the logical thing to do to volunteer for somebody who was going to make that happen.
FFF: Why did you choose to visit college campuses?
KP: Im focusing partially on the youth vote, particularly because of how important it is here in Florida.
So, the last election in 2004 was decided by just under 400,000 votes, and there are more than 900,000 college students in this state.
So, essentially, if every college student, even if half of the college students actually register to vote (and then even register a friend or two), then kids 18 to 24 are going to decide the fate of the presidential election.
If Barack wins Florida its a battleground state its going to be won by one or two percent.
And if Barack wins Florida, with 27 electoral votes, hell win the presidency and college students can single-handedly do that. So, we definitely want to make sure theyre involved.
FFF: So, you chose Florida mainly because its a swing state?
KP: No, were actually doing theres a 50-state strategy. Barack, Joe Biden and Howard Dean have been embarking on this 50-state strategy ... making sure that every vote in every state is fairly cast and counted.
Florida is definitely a big part of that because its a battleground state, but the effort, particularly for the youth vote, is all across the board.
But, definitely, Floridas got a particular importance, especially because theres been a lot of discussion within the campaign about how, you know, this realization that if people in positions of power wanted us to all have the fair shot at voting, then Election Day would be a national holiday.
And its not, yet, and it hopefully will be when Baracks our president.
Until that point, you guys have a great luxury here, where you can vote early starting Oct. 20. So, what were encouraging people to do is, obviously, register by Oct. 6, but then vote early starting Oct. 2 and then help us with volunteer efforts (driving people to the polls, and a lot of people that are working two or three jobs need a babysitter one night between Oct. 20 and the election, so they can go vote early).
We want people to go and do that because thats something thats been missing in the past and something thatll really sway the election, particularly in Florida.
FFF: Were you surprised at the number of students showing their support this weekend?
KP: You know, not really. Students for Barack Obama, here on campus, has done such an incredible job at reaching out to folks and building for events, and this is, I think, just the first of a lot of events that youll see between now and November.
It was definitely an impressive showing, I have to say.
To have, you know, 150 people show up, despite the rain, and want to talk politics on a Sunday afternoon was really inspiring to see particularly because it continues to prove the mainstream media wrong.
Mainstream media loves running these articles about passive college students. And my experiences going around the country are that, if youre between the ages of 18 and 35, you are anything but passive. I think the FSU turnout this afternoon really was a testament to that.
FFF: How involved were you in college, or how involved did you plan on becoming in the future?
KP: Oh, in politics?
KP: Not at all. I wasnt involved. Im still a registered Independent. I never thought that I would volunteer for a presidential campaign. What about you?
FFF: Me? Not too involved, to be honest with you.
KP: Yeah neither was I, until last October.
FFF: Have you had a chance to meet Barack?
KP: Yes. The thing that struck me when I met him was how humble he is and how much integrity he has, particularly because when I met him, the way that I describe it is hes the same guy in a room full of three people that he is in, you know, a stadium of 70,000.
FFF: What do you think about the VP pick?
KP: I like Joe Biden; Ill tell you why. I was excited about that because of a couple of things:
First, the fact that Sen. Biden has an incredible amount of foreign policy experience.
I mean, the guy has stared down dictators in the past and has still stood up for working folks, cops, firefighters, you know, very vocally stood up for them. Hes from a working-class background; hes from a middle-class household.
And, despite all of that, and all of that experience, hes still never lived in Washington D.C.
So, he represents the state of Delaware and commutes to work everyday to Washington. Its like a two-hour commute each way.
So, you know, youre a U.S. senator, and certainly he could have made the choice to live in D.C., but it was that particular integrity and the desire to represent his constituents that made him make those choices.