Activism and Campaigning Varied at Carleton

Carleton Students

By Aron Feingold

By Aron Feingold
Unigo Campus Rep at Carleton College

In light of the upcoming election, some activist groups at Carleton are experiencing an increase in volunteer efforts and campaigning, both on campus and in the Northfield community. For example, CarlDems, Carleton’s democratic club, is running a coordinated campaign, in which they are promoting four democratic candidates: Al Franken for US senate, Steve Sarvi for Congress, David Bly for the state house representative, and most importantly, Barack Obama for president.

One of CarlDems’ biggest goals is to encourage Carleton students to register to vote in Minnesota. “We try to convince students why their vote matters here [in Minnesota], because we have four tight races,” explained junior political science major Erika Pearson, Chair of CarlDems. 

In their effort to register democratic voters in Minnesota, CarlDems collaborates with the local DFL (Democratic Farm Labor) office to encourage both Carleton students and Northfield residents to turn out and vote for the democratic ticket on Election Day. CarlDems recruit students to act as “dorm captains” who are in charge of different dormitories and talk to every student about registering to vote. Student volunteers also table in Sayles Hill, the student center, handing out Obama stickers and registering voters. Outside of the student community in Northfield, Carleton students also volunteer by encouraging undecided voters to vote democrat.

Additionally, a few Carleton students are on leave for the academic quarter and are working full time on Obama’s campaign. Unfortunately, these students were not allowed to comment on their experiences for this article.

Like many student activists, Pearson has deeply personal motivations for her contributions to the Democrat’s campaign efforts. Pearson commented, “Student organizing is something I feel passionately about, and I’ve done it since high school and wanted to continue in college. When it became clear that Obama was running, it became clear to me that he was the choice. One of the things I like most is he has the ability to bring people to the polls in numbers we’ve never seen before. Especially minorities and students and women to a certain degree. I feel like he is a unique opportunity.” 

While the CarlDems have seen a rapid increase in student volunteers, the liberally focused activist interest house, “Whoa house,” is not experiencing huge differences in involvement in light of the election.

“Whoa house,” or the Wellstone House of Organizing and Activism, was started at Carleton closely following the death of Paul Wellstone. Wellstone was a U.S. Senator from Minnesota and a member of the DFL before his tragic death in a plane crash in 2002. A professor of political science at Carleton before serving in the senate, Wellstone was well known for his efforts in peace, the environment, labor, healthcare, and mental illness. “Whoa house” was designed to conduct activism in the spirit of Wellstone’s causes.

“Whoa house” houses twelve Carleton students who share the mutual interests of activism and organizing. The house serves as a resource to Carleton students who are interested in conducting activism and desire help organizing their efforts. “Whoa house” hosts research nights in which interested students brainstorm how to promote their causes on campus. They also hold philosophical discussions about ethics and activism.

Cristina Sainati, a junior political science major and active “Whoa house” member, explained, “We have twelve activists living in the same house, and we’re all part of different campus groups, so [“Whoa house”] serves to network. We bridge the gap between different interest groups.”

Because the “Whoa house” members have differing focuses, they work on many different issues including rural homelessness, Civil Rights, social justice, food and poverty issues, immigration, and feminist issues. While most of these issues are relevant to the presidential election, Sainati hasn’t noticed a difference in involvement given the upcoming election, “It’s really sad, people are just doing what they were doing last year. I’m kind of disappointed in that.”

While Sainati is dissatisfied by “Whoa house” efforts in conjunction with the election, political science Professor Barbara Allen, who is currently teaching two classes on media and American politics, has observed a decidedly increased intellectual devotion to understanding the issues behind the election.

“We are seeing far greater depth in discussions about American politics and foreign policy as well as election strategy in the political science classes engaged in the Election 2008 study,” Professor Allen explained.

Jordan Smith, a junior history major taking Professor Allen’s upper-level class, explained, “Our class talks about the current election every day to varying degrees. While some days, we spend the entire class looking at current political ads or the debates, we usually learn about historical or philosophical applications of media involvement in elections or news in general. If this is the case, we then spend the last part of class applying what we have learned to 2008.”

Professor Allen is also taking her upper-level class to the Democratic and Republican headquarters and to a news station in the Twin Cities on the night of the election.

While the election has affected some aspects of Carleton student life in dramatic ways, such as the CarlDems and the political science department, others groups such as “Whoa house” are still waiting for fervor about the election to light fire.