NU students join Obama’s grassroots campaign in Ind.

Shanika Gunaratna

Call it a weekend road trip with a political purpose.

On Saturday, a group of Northwestern students crossed the border to Indiana and joined a grassroots volunteer effort to canvass for Sen. Barack Obama. Obama is locked in a close race with Sen. Hillary Clinton in today’s Democratic primary in Indiana.

By Saturday’s end, the group of 10 students, all members of NU Students for Barack Obama, had knocked on over 250 doors in Schererville, Ind.

Throughout the day, NU students visited households targeted by the campaign as Democratic or potentially undecided.

“They had been receiving a lot of Obama mail and had been receiving phone calls,” Communication sophomore Kyla Robinson said. “A lot of them were still undecided.”

Weinberg sophomore Melissa Perry, who has canvassed in Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina for the candidate, said the student turnout was impressive.

“I think it is really a testament to how great the grassroots organization is (in Indiana),” she said.

Communication senior Leah Nelson, head of NU Students for Barack Obama, organized Saturday’s trip. More than 270 people are in the “Northwestern University Students for Barack Obama” Facebook group; Nelson said 70 students in the group are active. The group has organized canvassing trips to every Midwest primary state this year.

NU students were not alone in their efforts. Many of the day’s volunteers were from the Chicago area and were organized by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, an Obama supporter who represents Illinois’ 9th Congressional District. The district includes Evanston and other North Shore suburbs.

Schakowsky addressed the group of volunteers at one of the Obama campaign’s Indiana headquarters before they began their day of door-to-door canvassing. Amid talk of Obama’s campaign platform, Schakowsky said the candidate had garnered support from the nation’s youngest voters.

“We’re not going to run an ageist campaign but, you know,” she said. “It’s apparent that Barack Obama is the 21st-century candidate.”

Indiana schoolteacher and recent Purdue University graduate Amy Molnar said the campaign’s focus is to make sure all committed supporters get out to vote. During the campaign, they have been planting lawn signs, calling volunteers and arranging transportation for canvassers.

According to Molnar, the team is also dealing with a few Indiana-specific obstacles. Molnar said Indiana has unusually strict voter identification laws. All voters must show a government-issued ID at their polling place, an additional obstacle that typically dissuades the elderly and young electorate from getting out to vote.

Nelson said that despite college students’ widespread interest in the presidential race, she has encountered problems organizing political activity on such an academics-centered campus like NU.

But several student volunteers said they plan to work for the campaign as long as they can. Perry, for instance, plans to volunteer with the campaign in New York in addition to having a full-time job this summer.

“Once he gets the nomination, it will be a whole different kind of fight,” she said.

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