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From College Hill to campaign trail: how Brown students are getting politically involved virtually this semester

From local congressional races to presidential election, students share experiences on campaign trail

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2020

When Seth Goldstein ’22.5 voted in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial election in 2018, he woke up the next morning in tears — the candidate Goldstein supported, Democrat Tony Evers, had defeated Republican incumbent Scott Walker. It was Goldstein’s first time voting in a statewide election, and the experience galvanized him. 

“I thought, ‘I want to feel this way in two years and I want to do more about it’,” Goldstein said. 

Now, Goldstein is taking time off from school to volunteer with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “I thought if Wisconsin’s going to be the state that decides the election this year, I want to make sure that if I can be helpful, I’m a part of it.” 

Goldstein is one of several students at the University campaigning for political candidates during this abnormal fall semester. 

Many students said the shift to virtual campaigning and remote classes has presented a unique opportunity to head out on a new kind of campaign trail. Some, like Goldstein, have chosen to take the semester off, while others have opted to balance both school and campaign work. 

Alexandra Blitzer ’22.5 is taking a leave of absence to volunteer for former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. 

“Working for Biden was a big goal of mine, especially once I decided to take the semester off,” Blitzer told The Herald. “I felt like I really wanted to throw myself into the presidential election and do everything that I can to ensure a Democratic victory.” 

Blitzer has been organizing volunteers in “deep blue” states like Massachusetts and California to phone or text bank for Biden in highly contested, battleground states. Although COVID-19 has presented challenges to typical campaigning, Biltzer said that the remote format of Biden’s campaign has allowed her to connect with voters across the country. 

“COVID has obviously changed the game. I think it also has gotten a lot of people to volunteer who wouldn’t have necessarily signed themselves up in the past,” she said. “There’s this urgency to the whole thing.”

Caleb Apple ’21, who is currently a Herald columnist, is balancing a five class course load with his work supporting the campaigns of several Democratic candidates — including Sima Ladjevardian for Texas’ 2nd Congressional District and Shaun Donovan for mayor of New York City. Apple also served as policy director for Tiara Mack, who successfully won a Democratic primary bid for Rhode Island State Senate earlier this fall.  

“I’ve known for a year or longer now that this is the stuff I want to be working in after college,” Apple said. “I’ve felt that getting real experience as opposed to just learning about politics in the classroom is really valuable. So since I enjoy it so much and I’m taking a lot of seminars as well, it hasn’t felt like I’m ever really overburdened.” 

The remote nature of Ladjevardian’s campaign has “strangely given me the opportunity to work in a place like Texas where I would’ve never been able to work while in school,” Apple said.

While Apple is volunteering in a state far from his Providence residence, other students are campaigning closer to their homes. 

Emery Shelley ’22 is volunteering in Ohio, her home state, while also taking University classes remotely. Shelley is a press and communications intern for Democrat Kate Schroder in Ohio’s 1st Congressional District, who is looking to unseat Republican incumbent Steve Chabot. Shelley said she was drawn to Schroder’s history as a public health official, a qualification she sees as an advantage for the candidate during the pandemic. 

While Goldstein is also volunteering in his home state of Wisconsin, a thousand miles away from College Hill, he has managed to convince some of his peers in Providence to help him out.

Goldstein has recruited the Brown Democrats to help in the Wisconsin Democrats’ phone banking efforts. He said that the Brown Democrats “probably talked to over 100 people in an hour. And those 100 people could be a crucial part of what decides the state.”

Goldstein has been helping coordinate “neighborhood action teams” in Juneau and Adams Counties, two “swing counties” that voted for Obama twice and flipped to Trump in 2016. “We’ve just been building relationships there, trying to build up some infrastructure to last beyond” the 2020 election. 

Since the Democratic National Convention in August, Goldstein has focused his efforts on phone banking. He emphasized the importance of connecting with individual voters, especially in states like Wisconsin that could determine the outcome of the 2020 presidential race. 

“What we know is that in 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by 23,000 votes,” which is about six votes per electoral precinct, he explained. He noted that then, in 2018, Democrat Tony Evers defeated the Republican incumbent governor by 28,000 votes — about seven votes per precinct. 

“Basically, no matter what we do,” he said, “Wisconsin is going to be a close race this year.”

Goldstein’s own experience campaigning in a swing state like Wisconsin has shown him the potential impact that connecting with individual voters can have on a race. 

“I think huge numbers of Brown students are in districts that don’t really have competitive races right now, but there is, especially in the virtual world, so much you can do when you’re out of state,” he said. 

Although away from the University’s campus and not enrolled in classes, Goldstein and Blitzer both said they don’t regret choosing to work on campaigns this semester. 

“I and everyone who I’ve talked to who’s also on leave feel really, really good and secure about their decision to not be Brown students this semester,” Blitzer said. “Especially as someone who’s interested in politics and working in politics, this opportunity seemed too important to pass up.”

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