U. Arizona Students Hit The Campaign Trail

This story was written by Ashley Villareal, Arizona Daily Wildcat


When most students can be found lugging their towels and tanning oils to the pool to relax on bobbing inner tubes, other students find work that doesn't pay, but carries on meaning into the summer months.

Javier Espitia, a political science sophomore at the University of Arizonawho describes himself as a "political junkie," found an engaging possibility last semester while cruising through the vast blogosphere.

It was called Obama Organizing Fellows, and after a series of phone interviews, Espitia was invited to pay his own way to New Mexico to volunteer for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign.

"Politics has been my thing for a while, so it seemed like a good opportunity to do it," Espitia said.

During the six-week program, where students and recent graduates are required to work 30 hours per week and are provided housing with members in the local community, Espitia spent his time helping set up voter registration events and trying to appeal to potential voters through phone banking.

"What I did was largely volunteer recruitment," Espitia said, "asking if people were Obama supporters and if they wanted to help with the campaign, telling them when they were interested and wanted to get out the vote, we would pick them up if they needed a ride."

With the all-too-well-known claim that often buzzes throughout the media that posits Obama as the youth's candidate, Espitia said he saw a lot of political excitement along the campaign trail overall, and although he doesn't consider himself an Obama "fanatic in any sense of the word," he chose to get involved because he was looking for an alternative.

"I don't think I'd be supporting the guy that wasn't for me," said Espitia. "But there are some times (when) he gets my heart going when he makes some amazing speech."

When students are heard discussing politics and the impression candidates leave on them, it isn't always altogether new. But it isn't altogether old, either.

According to data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, an organization founded in 2001 that uses the methodology of pairing national voting polls against census data on young American citizens to figure voting statistics, 2004 saw the greatest number of votes cast by those between the ages of 18-24 since 1972 - the year the voting age was changed to 18.

The political science department is usually responsible for encouraging their students to seek out internships or volunteer for local campaigns, and undergraduate advisor Pamela Coonan said election years always bring spikes in student involvement.

"When I was in school, internships were pretty unusual, but I think it's become a more standard practice nowadays - and we have seen an increase in encouragement, I think, from our department," Coonan said.

But as there are many students who get politically involved to gain a letter of recommendation or to receive course credit, some student volunteers are stimulated less by the connections they will make and more by the principle of it.

Andrew Goetting, a senior majoring in political science and psychology who also applied for the campaign fellowship and drove to Oregon in hopes to persuade others to vote, said it was a lot of hard work but it was worth it.

"I kind of feel this is the best way to get involved," Goetting said. "It's like making your vote one out of a thousand instead of one out of a million."

Goetting said although he is not sure the majority of students have become more involved, he does sense there is more political enlivenment this time around.

"I'm n sociologist, but it might be a reaction to the apathy of Generation X," Goetting said. "They see that apathy accounted for nothing and people are just getting more excited now."

Angela Hilliker, a post-doctoral student in biology research at the UA and a first-time money donor for a political campaign, said she feels the recent voting surge is offshoot from issues the current administration "hasn't handled well."

"I think what concerns people is the future of national security and the future about climate change, and when you think about it, people vote for the same things," Hilliker said. "There was 9/11, and now after a couple years, there are concerns about global warming - and these are scary things."

Hilliker said she feels the political climate allows for an increased interest for many, but mentions there are also tools being used in the campaigns that have facilitated student involvement overall.

"The Obama campaign has done a good job of reaching out to young people," Hilliker said. "They have used the Internet really well, and they're at places where young people are, so they get to learn about them."

Espitia said he believes that although there has been a lot more enthusiasm with the youth this election, he isn't sure the activism will last in the future or if people will "go back to being apathetic."

"When stuff is going good, people don't care," Espitia said. "They might stop paying attention as much when it goes back to how it used to be."

For Hilliker, despite whatever way the election might go, she has become much more politically involved since she was a student and hopes others will remain "fired up" as well.

"If we don't raise our voices," she said, "politicians will have no one to be accountable to, and will then have no reason to listen to us."

For Goetting, a major take-away point from his volunteerism this summer has been the reassurance of an attitude toward the importance of voting.

"I ran into too many people that use (their vote not counting) as an excuse for not voting," he said -- one reason he will definitely be convincing his friends to vote in the upcoming term.

"If they don't register to vote, I'm probably not going to talk to them," he said jokingly. "I don't care who they're going to vote for -- as long as they do."
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