With the presidential election just months away, students on both sides of the political spectrum have begun to more actively promote political activism on campus.
This weekend, a group of about 50 students and Ann Arbor citizens filled the Hutchins Hall conference room overlooking the Law Quad for the 2012 Michigan Field Organizer Academy. The program is a part of Organizing for America — a grass-roots group started by the Democratic National Committee to support President Barack Obama — and trains participants in campaigning strategies and skills to potentially become OFA field organizers.
Though the Republican Party has yet to choose its presidential nominee, Republican students on campus have similarly been working to promote their ideals and formulate unique ways to encourage political participation leading up to Election Day.
LSA freshman Pavitra Abraham, an intern with OFA and a volunteer at Saturday’s event, said she became involved with Obama’s campaign to help ensure his re-election in the fall.
“I have always kept up with politics … I figure, what better time to get involved than now?” Abraham said. “Now that I’m here and the campaign is so active, I figured it was the perfect opportunity for me to get involved. I’m just excited to be a part of a movement that helps (Obama) get re-elected in November.”
LSA freshman Ari Cicurel said he decided to attend the session to increase his political involvement after being inspired by the Young Americans for Obama’s Greater Together Student Summit Tour, which stopped at the University earlier this month and featured an address by actor Kal Penn and Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager. Cicurel will vote in his first presidential election this year, and said now is the opportune time to make his mark.
“I’m very interested in politics and getting involved in the campaign,” Cicurel said. “This is my first election that I am able to vote in, so I am really excited about being able to vote but also being involved and being able to express my opinion and what I’m voting for.”
LSA sophomore Stefanie Rubinstein, member of the University Career Center’s Public Service Intern Program, said the OFA field organizer training sounded appealing because of her growing interest in campaigning during a high stakes presidential election.
“Over the past year, I’ve realized the importance of this campaign and making sure that the president gets reelected,” Rubinstein said. “It’s something that I am really passionate about, so when I saw this opportunity, I figured it would be a fun way to get involved … if it leads to something more, that would be great.”
LSA junior Matt Jones, a board member in the University’s chapter of College Republicans and leader of Students for Romney on campus, said the Republicans do not have the same opportunity to participate in activities like OFA has because they still don’t know who their party’s nominee will be.
“Volunteerism is just as important to us as for Obama’s campaign, but … (Republicans) are still in the primary phase, so the further in we get, the more extra structure we are going to have (and) more organizing efforts will start emerging,” Jones said.
As a member of the Romney campaign in Michigan, Jones plans to distribute posters and placards on campus and recruit volunteers to make phone calls to foster support for the Republican Party. In the following months, Jones said he hopes to have Republican candidates come to Ann Arbor to strengthen support among students.
LSA freshman Sarah Myint, also a member of College Republicans, agreed that the primary process makes it difficult to campaign for a specific candidate.
“We’re just campaigning on the Republican ideal and what any Republican candidate really would offer versus a Democrat candidate,” Myint said. “What we really want (students to know) is that it is not about Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, it’s about them and their country.”
LSA freshman Elena Brennan, the newly elected external vice chair for College Republicans, said the group is preparing for the election by reaching out to a new set of students.
“We are hoping to get people that normally (are) not even political to come to (an) event,” she said. “We are hoping to tap into that market here on campus because I think that’s huge, and I think the majority of students here on campus are apathetic.”
Brennan added that College Republicans will implement new campaigning techniques in the fall to bring a unique perspective to Republican values, including working with the College Democrats.
“With our new leadership, I think that we’re looking to change the dynamic of our group to make it more open,” she said. “We’d like to collaborate more with the College Democrats and with other student organizations so that we are not just polarized as this minority conservative group who no one knows about. We are planning on doing a variety of fundraising events so that they bolster our presence here on campus.”
She further acknowledged the importance of the next presidential election and how it will determine the fate of the nation.
“It’s amazing that it is happening at this moment when we are the youth, and we can really have a say in what goes on,” Brennan said. “The Democrats and Republicans are so polarized right now that I think this election is definitely the biggest of our lifetime, and I think it will decide which way this country goes.”