Coming to New Hampshire I had a lot of ideas about what it would be like to volunteer on a presidential campaign. This would be my dramatic leap into politics, a triumphant onset into a world of glamour and expensive suits and ties. What I was met with was much more humbling, yet much more fulfilling.
Essentially, the life of a political intern, from what I have found, at this stage consists of two major tasks: canvasing and making phone calls. Now I am personally yet to have gone canvasing, but for those who don't know it consists of a whole lot of walking in the freezing cold and a lot of knocking on doors. Not incredibly glamorous stuff. What what I have done is made plenty of calls. Hundreds of calls. This task made me super nervous at first. No doubt that was incredibly evident to the first few callers that had the misfortune of drawing the nervous, stammering eighteen-year-old, but as the day drew on I felt more confident utilizing the script and even throwing in some kind of variation in there, free styling if you will.
After one day of this job I came to a realization: this wasn't easy. I can’t even count how many answering machines I have heard over these past three days, how many “please take me off your list” responses I received, and even how many disconnected phone lines I heard. In fact, I was starting to question whether or not this was worth doing. I mean I never lost faith in my candidate, but I was wondering if I was cut out for the grind that is low-level campaigning. That was until I had one conversation that made it all worthwhile.
It began like any other, in front of me I punched in the number of a seventy-something year-old lady and awaited her answer. We went through the scripted technicalities and arrived at the quiddity of the call “do you know who it is that you would support if the primary was held today?” Now most elderly people, if you have engaged them for this long, will give you either a definitive yes or no, or say that they don't know and will decide when the time comes. Yet, this answer was different. The elderly woman went on to say that she had no idea. She had no idea, not because of a lack of information nor because she had problems with the candidates, she didn't know because she is tired of getting let down. She told me that when you go through this time and time again, a politician who says he will do something and then proceeds to not get that thing done for one reason or another, it makes it really hard to believe in anyone. This, to me seamed like a great chance to pivot this conversation into a talking point about my candidates consistency, or his stance on an issue, but she stopped me. She said something along the lines of “Yeah I agree with that, but someday you will see that there is a huge difference between what they say and what they intend to do.” I mean I am not naive (at least I like to think not) and already knew this, but then she continued- telling me her story. She told me about how she was retired, but barely had enough money for groceries and about how her husband had to work until he was seventy to pay for her various hospital bills. Essentially, I was at a loss for words. Regardless of politics there is something fundamentally wrong with a family who has worked for their entire lives only to be continually let down by politicians and systems all around them.
Despite the hours of phone calling and hundreds of rejections I receive as a result, in a weird way this experience so far has made me fall in love with politics again. On the one hand, politics has this giant capacity to fool people for their vote and to put petty politics before moral obligation. But on the other hand, it reminds me of the tremendous power that politics has to change lives. If all of the people mad about a system just gave up and rolled over then the interests of the powerful would continually be the only ones addressed. But in New Hampshire especially, we see people upset about something going to their representatives and speaking their mind. Whether it was to me, the lowest level volunteer, or it was a man asking Chris Christie about the minimum wage in a crowded firehouse room, voices are being heard. Now it is just a matter of leadership doing something about these pleas. While it may not be glorious, true politics are truly about the hours of devotion and hundreds of monotonous calls not just fancy suits and ties.
-- Tristan Voegeli is a St. Olaf freshman from Winona, MN, majoring in Political Science. He is in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf political science class studying the presidential election.