Many Blair students participate in politics
As Montgomery Blair High School students adjust to a new school year, September 10, the Primary Election Day, led a handful of these students to work even harder: not for school, but on a political campaign.
I worked for State Senator Chris Van Hollen's campaign, one of the four Democrats who competed in the primary for the opportunity to run against Republican Connie Morella to represent Maryland's 8th District in Congress.
Since I had some extra time on my hands over the summer, I decided to get involved with something in which I could learn and gain valuable experience. I soon discovered that volunteering on a campaign was a great way to learn about politics and to find out first-hand what the political process is all about. I also racked up nearly two hundred community service hours in the process.
I decided to volunteer for Chris Van Hollen after attending a debate in the Takoma Park Municipal Center between all four Democratic candidates. To me, Van Hollen seemed the most prepared and impressed me more than the other candidates.
Blair junior Elana Kanter worked with me for the same candidate and believes that she discovered how campaigning truly operates out of the spotlight. "I really learned what it's like and how it works," says Kanter proudly. "Behind the scenes and past the commercials, you know. It's a different experience."
An interest in finding a "different experience" is probably what allured me the most into the campaign. However, people join for other reasons. Sophomore Julia Penn joined because her mother was involved. "She is really into the campaign, so I decided to volunteer, also." A smile breaks across her face. "My mom's a real die-hard Chris Van Hollen fan!"
Senior Carly Vieira became involved with the campaign in order to learn about politics, and possibly to land a job over the school year. "This year, I have a half-day schedule," Vieira explains, "so I wanted to work on the campaign so I could meet people in politics and possibly get a job with one of them."
Martin Casas is one of two Field Coordinators involved in the Van Hollen campaign. His main job is to find volunteers to help out with work that needs to be done. According to Casas, students decide to participate for many different reasons. Casas says the campaign get volunteering offers over the Internet or on the phone, "from people who support Chris [Van Hollen], from children of people who support him, by the literature, commercials and word of mouth." Casas reclines in his swivel chair and chuckles. "We just try to get anyone who calls in or seems interested enough to volunteer."
Nowadays, it isn't uncommon for students to work on political campaigns. According to a study conducted by Harvard College in 2000, nearly a quarter of all students in college have participated in a political campaign or have worked in a government related organization. In addition, more than 60% of college students believe that political activity is enjoyable.
Many of these students participated on a campaign during high school. The other Van Hollen Field Coordinator, Katie Fisher, says that the campaign has received a great deal of help from high school students. "I would say that we have probably thirty student volunteers who come in frequently," Fisher estimates. "They come from all the county high schools, but we've got a large number of kids from Blair." According to Casas, anywhere from ten to fifteen students volunteer each night.
And of course, all of the help that I and the other student volunteers contributed has absolutely made a difference. "Our student volunteers are really enthusiastic with their work, and they cooperate and work hard," says Casas eagerly. "They do a lot of the important stuff around here. My job would be harder without the students' volunteer support!"
The work I was assigned usually involved going out and gathering support in person. I would travel door-to-door or distributing literature at Metro stations to spread the word of Chris Van Hollen to people. (If I harassed any of you over the summer while handing out flyers, I apologize.)
Other people have different types of jobs, though. For example, Penn mostly spoke to people on the telephone and sent out mailings. "Some days I just folded and sent literature," Penn admits with a nod. "But on other days, I would work the 'phone bank,' calling people and preaching Van Hollen to them."
Vieira's activities on the campaign were more varied. "I walked door-to-door, installed lawn signs, and gave support for Chris [Van Hollen] at events and debates," Vieira tells me. "But I also would answer the phones, perform research over the Internet, and look for eligible voters."
Fisher accepts that the work may be difficult and may consume a great deal of effort, but she claims it never fails to be enjoyable. "I love this kind of work. It's always fun and you always have something to do." Fisher shakes her head. "It's always high-energy and high-pressure, though."
Casas agrees with Fisher, saying that work on the campaign is constantly a "faced-paced pressure-cooker!"
As the clock signifying the passing of Primary Day has counted down, the pressure built even more and the stress became tangible. These workers, who have dedicated much of their summer and more to a candidate, felt concern of what the election will hold.
But, despite all of the hard work and potential stress, working on a campaign allowed me and many of the other volunteers to develop close relationships. "You spend twenty-four hours each day with these people," states Casas, "so you tend to make friends fast."
Vieira believes that the volunteers develop a sense of unity. "I definitely feel like it's a community on the campaign," Vieira states, "because I've been there so long and I've gotten to know everyone really well."
Penn agrees that there is a community among the people involved with the campaign. "Everyone is always working together toward a common goal," explains Penn. "I'm really friendly with everyone there."
In the modern world of 2002, the senior members of the Chris Van Hollen campaign think that it is great to see how many high school students are becoming involved in the Congressional race here in Maryland. Casas, who regrets not becoming involved in politics until college, states that the students in Montgomery County who are involved in the campaign have made a great decision. "It's really important for kids to participate in extra-curricular activities outside of school, because it shapes what they want to do after they are out of school. Plus, it gives them a broader perspective of what they can do in life."
Alan Coleman. Alan Coleman is currently a junior in the CAP program. '04 Baby! He is a writer on <i>Silver Chips Online</i> and a Sports Writer for <i>Silver Chips</i> print. During the winter, Alan wrestles. This season, he had a remarkable 8-6 record (not bad for a … More »