BOSTON — As the calendar inches closer to Nov. 4, American citizens are preparing themselves for a historical presidential election. With such diversity amongst the candidates and their running mates, college students are getting more involved than ever. In Boston, Mass., students at Suffolk University are finding new and unique ways to participate in this year’s campaigns and elections.
Suffolk University’s government department offers students several opportunities to become involved with the presidential election. One opportunity in particular is the University Pollworkers Project (UPP) directed by Rachael Cobb, professor of government. The UPP has teamed up with MassVote and Boston area schools to recruit students to serve as poll workers for the upcoming election. The goal of the UPP, according to their Suffolk Web site, is to “build a lasting program that gives the City of Boston a secure source of poll workers, year after year, while helping to create a generation of empowered engaged citizens.” It is a one-day job that pays students and whoever else is involved to help administer the voting process. The UPP helps Suffolk students become more involved in politics, and provides the opportunity to help make history for the 2008 election.
Another opportunity Suffolk’s government department offers is involvement with the Suffolk University Political Research Center (SUPRC) directed by Professor David Paleologos. The SUPRC was started by a Suffolk student in 2002 who suggested conducting a poll about Jane Swift and Mitt Romney in February 2002 for Paleologos’ class. After the poll was released, the Boston Herald came out with the same exact findings. This was essentially the beginning of the research center. “One student had a huge impact on Massachusetts politics,” said Paleologos.
Since then, the SUPRC has continued to keep students involved in politics in many ways. Only when a student takes Paleologos’ class are they allowed to make the actual calls, which only happens once a year. Generally, students help formulate questions, analyze results, and assist in the distribution of the polls. The SUPRC recently released the results of their latest poll taken in Virginia on the upcoming election: Obama had a 12 percentage point lead over McCain. If Obama continues with this lead in Virginia, it will be the first time in 44 years that the state will vote Democratic instead of Republican. Becoming involved in the polling process allows for students to discover pertinent information before the rest of the public.
A Suffolk freshman, Elizabeth Page, spoke about her thoughts on the upcoming presidential election. This will be her first time voting, as she is 18. She is registered as a Republican, but is leaning toward the Democratic vote this year. “I’m only a registered Republican because my family votes that way,” said Page, “but I consider myself an Independent.” Page plans to vote for Obama based on his personality, campaign style, and running mate. She spoke about how both Obama and McCain express their motions for change, but, “to me, Obama has been more aggressive in campaigning this point…and I find that comforting.”
Page also expressed her concerns for McCain and Palin. She feels that McCain’s only reason for picking Palin as his running mate was to win over female votes. She also feels that Palin is “too inexperienced to become a competent world leader.” She is worried that McCain may not live through his term and does not want to send “the ‘hockey mom’ to face off against Vladimir Putin, as Matt Damon put it.” Page also mentioned that if the campaign was between McCain and Clinton, she would vote for McCain. “I can’t stand Hillary Clinton,” said Page. “I did not like the way Clinton debated. Clinton snarled at and interrupted her opponent in every debate.”
A Suffolk junior wanting to remain anonymous is choosing not to vote this year. He has concerns for both candidates and feels “like I don’t have enough knowledge about each candidate to cast a valid vote.” He explained that every person at Suffolk he has spoken to thus far seems to be voting for Obama. “I think that most people voting for Obama have good reasons. But, I also think that a whole lot of people are voting for him because it’s what everyone else is doing.”
This Suffolk junior spoke about leaning toward McCain more than Obama. He said that for personal reasons, McCain would be the better candidate. “My mom is losing a lot of her money in the stock market, and she currently has no income. Also, if Obama becomes president, she will be one of the people he will tax more.” He said he was embarrassed to say that he might be on McCain’s side more than Obama’s because, “I don’t know anyone else other than my mom and her friends that are voting for McCain. I think that people would judge me for wanting to vote against Obama.”
Joanna Paola, another Suffolk freshman, will also be voting for the first time this year and plans to vote Democratic. She believes that Obama has had enough knowledge and experience to become president, and is more “real” to her. “The fact he and his wife were still paying off school loans makes someone seem real to me,” said Paola. She also spoke about how Obama seemed more straightforward than McCain during the presidential campaign. She said that Obama tended to look at McCain and into the cameras, whereas McCain appeared only to look down. “This body language shows a lot about each one of the candidates,” expressed Paola.
She talked a bit about the vice presidential debate as well. She did not like what Palin had to say for herself during the debate. She did however, think that Biden spoke very well and had better things to say. “She did not have strong points, and did not always give a straight forward answer,” said Paola of VP nominee, Sarah Palin, “I do not believe Sarah Palin has enough experience to become vice president.”
An Active Student
While many Suffolk freshmen are getting ready for Nov. 4 by registering to vote, one student is getting ready in a very different way. Suffolk University senior Aaron Straus Garcia could have spent this fall finishing his education and preparing to receive his degree. Instead, Straus Garcia decided it was more important to invest his time in helping this country make an important decision by taking this semester off to work for Democratic nominee, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Straus Garcia, a New York native and media studies major, began volunteering for Obama during September 2007 by carpooling with fellow students from Boston to New Hampshire where the group went door to door canvassing for the nominee. As time went on and the presidential race grew tighter, Straus Garcia’s passion for the cause grew as well. He continued his volunteer work through the Massachusetts and Rhode Island primaries and by the end of the spring semester, Straus Garcia was ready to take on something more.
He decided that he wanted to become even more involved and applied for an internship within the campaign that would send him to work in the swing state of his liking. Once accepted, Straus Garcia quickly had to make a decision that would impact his next six weeks and possibly many months beyond that.
“It got to the point where I had 24 hours to make a decision and it was actually a friend of mine who convinced me to pick North Carolina,” said Straus Garcia, “She kept saying, ‘They’ve got beaches and mountains and it’s a great battleground state to work in.’ So I said, ‘Okay, sounds good’ and of course I haven’t seen a single beach or mountain since I got here.”
By the end of July, Straus Garcia had accepted a position as a full-time employee of the Obama Organizing Fellows working as a Field Organizer in Raleigh, N.C. Living in “supporter housing” provided by volunteers who open their homes to campaign workers, Straus Garcia works from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. seven days per week, organizing volunteers and assisting with campaign events.
“It’s definitely hard work,” said Straus Garcia, “Had I known then what I know now, I may have taken more time to consider the situation but in the end this has been the opportunity of a lifetime and it has been well-worth all the effort, win or lose.”