Students postpone classes, follow Obama

By Becky Reiser

Almost everyone saw them ‘mdash; the students following crowds down the sidewalk, asking groups… Almost everyone saw them ‘mdash; the students following crowds down the sidewalk, asking groups to register to vote, the advertisements for President-elect Barack Obama written in chalk on the Litchfield Towers’ patio that seemed to appear overnight, tables set up around the city with hope paraphernalia and volunteers ready to persuade passersby to vote Democrat. A few Pitt students felt especially compelled to dedicate their work to the campaign. They were so dedicated, they decided to take a semester off from classes to work full-time for the Obama campaign. Robin Lane, a Pitt sophomore from St. Louis, Mo., said she has supported Obama since the primaries. ‘I wanted to directly affect something, fix all the country’s problems,’ said Lane. She said she felt like she was making that impact as a summer volunteer. ‘It was cool to be involved with so many young people; that’s what hooked me.’ ‘I learned that the biggest issue was not about Obama. It was strong, motivated people standing up to do something,’ said Lane, echoing the familiar ‘change’ motto that was so familiar during the campaign. Robin was a field organizer on the first ground team in Missouri. Beginning in May, her duties included registering voters, making phone calls to potential supporters and going door-to-door to distribute literature. As the summer progressed, Lane started to hone leadership skills that later aided her in her position last fall. ‘There were originally five of us,’ said Lane. ‘The others were older campaigners, and they asked me if I was interested in taking a semester off.’ The answer, said Lane, was a no-brainer because she ‘had so much invested at that point.’ While other students were stressed about classes, Lane said she was stressed about planning rallies in St. Louis and meeting former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Obama and their families. The months didn’t pass without a few all-nighters. Lane said that one of her favorite memories revolves around the night before the St. Louis kickoff party for Obama. ‘We came to my house to make a map and list of people [to distribute fliers], and we worked until 3 a.m., then fell asleep on my basement floor,’ said Lane. ‘The next day we got up and worked again all day. It was awesome.’ Instead of sprinting down Forbes Avenue after Obama’s victory, Lane was at the Chase Hotel in St. Louis with her family, co-workers and volunteers. ‘After my job became paid and full-time, my parents supported me,’ said Lane. ‘My dad even knocked on doors with the other volunteers.’ Although she doesn’t plan on majoring in political science, Lane said she is interested in learning more about the government and has decided to take her first class about it this semester. Lane said she’s also interested in interning in Washington, D.C. ‘I’m only 19, but I learned to manage other people. I learned tools and skills during this campaign,’ said Lane. ‘I would definitely do it again.’ Lane will return to Pitt this semester. She said she hopes to graduate on time, with the class of 2011. Lane wasn’t alone Pitt senior Sarah Posner, a political science and international studies major, also worked for Obama’s campaign, forgoing a semester of college. ‘For me it was less a question of whether I could afford taking a semester off of school to work for the campaign and more a question of if I had the opportunity, how could I pass it up and not devote all of my energy to a cause that I was more passionate about than anything else in my life,’ said Posner in an e-mail. ‘The sense of urgency was too strong to ignore.’ Posner, who served as president of Pitt Students for Obama, helped the campaign in the primaries. During finals week last spring, she volunteered in Indiana and West Virginia for their primaries. She then received an offer to work full-time in Indiana, North Dakota and Virginia but decided to stay close to home, working full-time in Pennsylvania, a ‘guaranteed battleground state.’ ‘My experience working for the campaign was undoubtedly the best experience of my life,’ said Posner. ‘It was absolutely worth it to miss one semester of school, because I was a part of something truly special.’ Posner met numerous celebrities, such as actors Deirdre Hall, Kal Penn and Dan Rooney, the band Rusted Root and the Obamas. But not all of her experiences were as pleasant. ‘I did have some heartbreaking experiences, which mainly involved encountering racism during the primary and general election,’ said Posner. ‘It really saddened me to see that racism was still prevalent in our country, and I was disappointed that Obama’s race seemed to be such an obstacle to him being elected president.’ Posner said her favorite memory is seeing a woman at a ‘Get Out the Vote’ event the weekend before the election holding a sign that read, ‘Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama is running so our children can fly.’ ‘Seeing this put tears in my eyes and rejuvenated me for the final stretch of the campaign,’ said Posner. Posner said she plans to seek a job in Washington, D.C., after graduation.