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Students lead political discourse on campus

March 18, 2008

(Portland, Ore.)—As the nation trains its focus on the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and the remaining states on the primary calendar, Oregon readies itself what could be the most relevant primary in recent state history.

Lewis & Clark students are among those preparing for the May 20th primary, as campus groups are engaged in discussions of how they can create the change they want to see in the leadership of the country.

Barackapella and buzz on campus

Junior Ben Brysacz joined the Barack Obama campaign almost a year ago, organizing a group of Lewis & Clark supporters on Facebook and registering with the official campaign.

The political science major from Tucson, Arizona, is no newcomer to the political process. He previously worked on a successful Congressional campaign and completed an internship at the Brookings Institution during a Lewis & Clark off-campus program in Washington, D.C in 2006.

Now a state coordinator for the Obama campaign and leader of Lewis & Clark Students for Barack Obama, Brysacz sees this election as an opportunity to move the country in a new direction.

“People are ready for something different,” Brysacz said. “The Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton pattern is not a sign of a healthy democracy, and this election is the perfect opportunity for young people to voice their opinion about what type of future we want for the country.”

After making calls to voters in Iowa ahead of the nation’s first caucuses and providing support for the Washington caucuses in February, Brysacz and his group are ready for the focus to shift to Oregon. Recently featured in The Oregonian, the group shows that it has no shortage of ideas or energy to advance the campaign.

Group member junior Isaac Holeman, a biochemistry and molecular biology major and member of an a capella group on campus, helped organize a concert as part of a series of Obama events on leap day. “Barackapella” featured a set of eight songs, including “Yes, We Can,” an internet-phenomenon-turned-Obama-campaign-anthem. A video of the group’s a capella version of the song got more than 20,000 hits in its first five days online.

Combating cynicism and going beyond party politics

Senior Graham Hopkins, a member of Lewis & Clark College Republicans and self-described Republican, decided to cross the party aisle to support Obama.

“I believe that Republican values can do a better job serving the American people than those of the Democratic Party,” Hopkins said. “But I think the Republican Party needs to confront the enormous contradictions of the past seven years. Only then, do I think a changed and united party will emerge, of which I can be proud.”

In the mean time, Hopkins, an English major from Gulfport, Mississippi, says he trusts Obama and believes that he will be a fair-minded president.

“Obama, more than the other candidates in the race, embodies the change and reform that our increasingly cynical society needs,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins counts himself in the political minority on campus and points out that, given the Democratic Party’s prospects of winning in November, he is surprised more students are not involved in campaigns or the election.

“I hope more students will show political support for whichever candidate they choose as the general election approaches in the fall,” Hopkins said. “Politicians will continue to overlook the concerns of young voters until we can demonstrate that our ideas are just as important as those of our parents and grandparents. If we want to change that, we have to get involved, and we have to vote.”

Students making space for objectivity on campus and online

One group encouraging students to look beyond individual candidates to larger issues, the Lewis & Clark College Democrats, has organized events to bring both Clinton and Obama supporters together.

The group’s leader, junior Nick Wirth, sees this exciting election season as a unique opportunity to bring young voters together around the issues, rather than candidates.

“We need to promote objectivity in the College Democrats,” Wirth said. “Despite individuals personal candidate preferences, we’re emphasizing our common goals by working on projects like voter registration and education. Our focus remains on the general election and on regaining the White House in 2009.”

Wirth, a political science major from Eagan, Minnesota, is well-qualified to lead such discussions. He began an internship with BlueOregon, an online community of Oregon Democrats, last fall, and he previously worked as a youth organizer for a U.S. Senate campaign in his home state and campaigned with the College Democrats for Governor Ted Kulongoski’s re-election in 2006.

As the BlueOregon fellow, Wirth distills the day’s news, providing links and sparking discussion of essential issues. The experience has inspired Wirth to pay closer attention to Oregon’s political news and has given him perspective about the nature of political discourse online.

Campaigns are increasingly turning to the Internet, where the young voters are. Facebook has played an unprecedented role in organizing voters during this election season, making it easy to identify voters by view or party and invite them to meetings or notify them about candidates’ platforms.

“I’m still trying to reconcile the impact of technology on politics,” Wirth said. “Venues like Facebook have given campaigns access to young voters and have allowed voters to tell politicians what they care about. In other contexts though, the Internet has given people a perception of anonymity, and the impact of that on the political discussion can be both good and bad.”

Resisting that potential for negativity, students on the campaign trail this year are focused on welcoming more people into a conversation about the country’s direction.

“I think that both parties, despite what the media suggest, have the best interests of the American people at their core,” Hopkins said. “The challenge now will be to move students to vote, volunteer, and just get involved in the process.”

For more information:

Emily Miller
Public Relations Coordinator
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