Howard Universitystudent groups made a last-minute push to register new voters this weekend in Virginia, but few knew they'd get to hear presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama speak.
Forty-one students loaded the bus. The day's agendaincluded canvass training at the Campaign for Change Newport News, Va.office, voter registration in neighborhoods and a surprise visit to Victory Landing Park in downtown Newport News to hear Obama speak.
"I was only expecting to register voters and get out the word that Obama is the choice for the next four years," said Cierra Haynes, a sophomore human development major. "I had no idea I would get the opportunity to see Obama. It was an added treat to my great experience."
For decades, Virginia has voted for the Republican presidential ticket, but the state is considered a key battleground state in this election due to a gradual shift in statewide voting habits. The College of Arts and Sciences Student Council sponsored "Get On The Bus," a day trip to Newport News, an area with high rates of unregistered -- and primarily African-American -- voters.
Howard University College Democrats also helped students spur change. The organization brought 12 students to Richmond, Va., to register voters, work phone banks and campaign to residents.
"Traveling to Virginia was very essential. A Democrat has not carried the state since the early 1960s," said Amal Bennett-Judge, HU College Democrats president. "That could possibly change, thanks to Howard students."
Among thousands of people at the rally, Howard students heard Obama criticize McCain's health care policies and give a detailed outline of his own plans to help insure all Americans.
"I know something about our broken health care system," Obama said. "The question is not whether we can afford to fix healthcare. The question is how can we afford not to? I want everyone to get registered. It's too important to sit this election out. We need you on November 4."
Nicole Ditto, a freshman African-American studies major and Virginia native, thought Obama's speech was inspiring.
"Health care is a big issue this election year, so I'm very happy he spoke on that," Ditto said. "I got three people registered to vote, too, so it feels good to be home making a difference."
Noticing a need for more student involvement in the presidential election, COAS Student Council President Bryan Smart and Alveta Addison, coordinator of student programs for COAS, organized the trip to Virginia. The trip was originally scheduled for Sept. 13 but was scrapped. Addison and Smart worked tirelessly in renewing the initiative.
"In the past, Howard has been known as a very politically active school," Addison, a Howard alumna, said. "Students must learn from Howard's legacy and continue to contribute to the change of our nation and global community."
She continued, "Today's participants are not only contributing to change, but bonding, networking and building friendships for life for a better quality of life."
Smart shared Addison's thoughts, adding that as leaders for America and the global community, students should help with one of the most important elections of their lifetimes.
"We all hear, 'Vote, vote, vote,'" said junior political science major Smart. "But there's so much more work behind it. It is getting out and talking to the people, telling them about Obama's views and policies and making sure they're registered."
Smart added, "We want our legacy to still exist 20 years from now, and that means being active and taking part in the change."
Jess Thomas, a psychology major, said he went with HU Collge Democrats to Richmond because he would like to say he contributed to this momentous election 20 years from now.
"While campaigning, we only registered three voters," Thomas said. "Nearly everyone we asked was already registered. Seeing that people were taking part in their civic duties this close to the election was good news to me. The hard work is paying off."
More activities leading up to the November election are in the works from both COAS and the College Democrats. For now, HU College Democrats are helping students with absentee ballots every Friday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Blackburn Center.