Students attend nonpartisan workshops to learn about political life

Allison Harris

Political uncertainty fueled by a difficult economic climate defines national politics, the leader of a national grassroots political action committee told aspiring political leaders at a student conference Friday.

Arshad Hasan, the executive director of Howard Dean Democracy for America, spoke at a weekend of events hosted by the New Politics Forum, part of the Annette Strauss Center for Civic Participation in the College of Communication. Thirty-five students from universities across the state registered to attend workshops the next day and made campaign strategy presentations for mock candidates Sunday.

The New Politics Forum has hosted three youth-focused nonpartisan events every year since it began in 2003, said New Politics Forum program coordinator Emily Einsohn. She said the boot camp would help the forum’s mission to increase voter turnout and improve citizenship.

“We believe we’re fighting against the growing disaffection in the United States, and we’re trying to create more community leaders,” Einsohn said. “By bringing active political professionals, we show them an insider’s perspective and we tell them their engagement matters.”

Hasan said the rise of the Tea Party and other national political events demonstrate that both Republicans and Democrats are experiencing political uncertainty, common ground for parties that espouse different values.

“[Voters] don’t know what’s coming up next, and that makes them feel less powerful,” Hasan said. “Ultimately, what you’re here to do is to facilitate the work of whether it’s yourself, volunteers, or other staffers, to actually talk to people and make them feel more powerful, make them understand that they actually have an impact in their lives.”

Hasan said political campaign staffers should ask ordinary citizens how they are doing to involve them more in the political process. He told the students they should remember the principles that inspired them to become involved in politics during difficult periods.

“It’s not glamorous, it’s not sexy,” he said. “You work 18-hour days and you’re probably not going to eat right. You’re all doing this because you’re fueled by your passion.”

Einsohn said the campaign simulation was a unique opportunity for students.

“It’s entirely interactive in that regard; it’s not just a normal conference,” she said. “We want to give them the skills to jump immediately into campaigns.”

Government junior Ricco Garcia said Friday’s speakers made him more excited for the workshops. He praised Hasan’s theme of students sticking to the values they feel passionately about.

“His skill set is worthy of a lot of money,” Garcia said. “He could sell out for the highest bidder, but he sells out for whoever he thinks is right.”