For Nathan Atkins, a high school teacher spurred him to be politically active. Hayley Moore’s inspiration came from her family. And for Christine Gonzales, President George W. Bush brought out the political fire.
During an election year, the month of August means more to college students than just the start of a new semester. Many students hit the campaign trail with textbooks in hand.
Over at the Andrew Rice campaign headquarters, Gonzales is working the phones, trying to convince veterans Rice is their man.
“This is the first campaign I’ve volunteered for,” Gonzales said. “This is the first time I’ve been politically active.”
Rice, currently a state senator representing Oklahoma City, is the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. His opponent is the formidable and well-seasoned Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, who is seeking his third re-election bid.
EXPERIENCED COLLEGE VOLUNTEER
While Gonzales is treading the political waters for the first time, Atkins is an experienced college volunteer, even helping out Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign. Atkins, an Edmond Santa Fe graduate, said his high school government teacher was the spark to get him involved.
“He really challenged us to get us to take an active part in democracy,” Atkins said. The 23-year old attends the University of Southern California where he majors in political science and philosophy.
Gonzales, a 27-year-old student at the University of Oklahoma, served four years in the Navy after high school before heading off to college.
Another OU student, Moore, recalls dinner table talk as the trigger for her political interest.
“My family was always very politically active when I was in high school, so I decided to major in political science,” Moore said. “The more people I met, the more opportunities were put in front of me.”
MUNICIPAL CANDIDATES, LOCAL INITIATIVES
Most of Moore’s volunteerism has been with municipal candidates and local initiatives. She helped Cindy Rosenthal win the Norman mayor’s race last year, and also worked on the Norman library initiative.
Moore’s job this election cycle will be away from a specific candidate and instead aiding the OU Young Democrats.
“We have more involvement due to the upcoming election than we’ve ever had in the past, so I feel that is where I’m needed,” Moore said. “The main concern for Young Democrats this fall is a voter registration initiative that we will be conducting throughout the semester.”
Look for Moore and her Young Dems handing out fliers at OU football games.
When it comes to getting students involved, OU political science professor Keith Gaddie said it is usually the student that takes the first step through some form of socialization.
“They find their way to the campaigns themselves,” said Gaddie, an Oklahoma Gazette commentator. “They were brought up in a house where politics was important, or they were in an organization where they came in contact with politically active people.”
A college volunteer’s activity ranges from rallying troops to stuffing envelopes.
“I’m an envelope-folding queen,” Gonzales said.
In his quest to send Inhofe back to Washington, D.C., Atkins has knocked on doors and written letters to newspapers editors since joining the campaign a year ago.
“My favorite part is going door-to-door,” Atkins said. “I love talking to voters.”
Wanting to volunteer for a campaign is only half the process. Once a student decides to become active, picking a candidate to work for can be just as difficult to decide.
Atkins said he researches candidates’ views and goes with the one that best lines up with his values. Meanwhile, Gonzales found herself wanting change after her military service.
“I felt so betrayed by Bush,” said Gonzales, who was upset with Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and the administration’s handling of Iraq War veterans. “I served my country and felt I was lied to.”
Originally from Minnesota, Gonzales was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base. After researching the candidates for Oklahoma’s Senate race, Gonzales said Rice fit her views, even though she is a registered independent.
Motivation alone will not help college students become great campaign volunteers. Gaddie has one important bit of advice: “Check your ego at the door,” he said. “It’s not about you but the candidate.”
Gaddie also said don’t forget the role of most college volunteers is groundwork.
“You’re not going into a campaign to make policy.” “Scott Cooper