Election ’08: Students sacrifice studies on Obama campaign trail

Danny Yadron

CHICAGO – Weinberg sophomore Chenault Taylor has her first paper for Global History II due Thursday. And a midterm. And she’s hardly been to class all week.

It’s the Tuesday night of midterms week – Super Tuesday – and Taylor is manning the VIP room at Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) rally at the Hyatt Regency downtown.

“It’s borderline impossible,” she said. “It’s either study for a class that I have no interest in or do something that could potentially change the country.”

Since winter break, she and other Northwestern volunteers have spent up to 25 hours a week making phone calls, collecting data on polling places and organizing a grassroots army of supporters.

“I really have kind of put school on the back burner,” she said. “I already warned my parents this might not be the straight-A quarter.”

The job can be repetitive, but Taylor and fellow Obama workers said they see an internship with the campaign as an opportunity to get their feet wet in politics. They form a group of idealists who have helped the senator’s campaign surge since his January win in the Iowa caucuses.

“I have friends at other schools who work with the campaign, but you know they’re doing such minimal work compared to me being in the epicenter,” said Mike Schoengold, a Weinberg senior. “Obama is coming into the office or the top guys in the campaign. It’s amazing.”

Schoengold is charged with directing last-minute entrants at the Hyatt to their destinations. If someone hesitates for more than two seconds, he’s immediately assisting them.

The senior political science major, who wants to work as a congressional aide after graduation, spends about 15 hours a week managing one of the senator’s Web sites and various Obama-related Facebook groups.

The work isn’t particularly glamorous, he said. But Schoengold and others said the real reason they’re spending hours in a Chicago campaign office rather than hanging out in Evanston – or going to class – is more than abstract devotion to the party platform.

“I got involved specifically because it was Obama,” said Jessica Klein, a SESP junior. “I’m not working for campaigns. I’m not working for Democrats. I’m working for a specific candidate.”

At the rally, Klein is directing hoards of supporters down a single escalator to a gathering room and a rapidly-filling overflow room. She’s completely engrossed in it, and the fact she’s in the thick of midterms seems to be the last thing on her mind.

“If I’ve taken the initiative to e-mail the professor, they’ve been very accommodating, and for the most part I haven’t needed them to be,” she said.

Taylor, on the other hand, still has to e-mail her Global History TA about an extension on that paper. She said she’s not worried.

“It’s such a break from college that it feels like you’re a real person,” she said. “I’m just excited. This is something that I’ve never been a part of and I don’t know if I ever will be again.”

Reach Danny Yadron at [email protected]