Arriving at the Philadelphia International Airport and armed with the motivation of contributing to Senator Obama’s campaign as a “springtern” – a colloquialism for a spring internship – little did I know what to expect. But experience I did, and it was uncompromising, rewarding and ultimately, eye-opening.
Philadelphia is a city that is distinctly heterogeneous. Buildings appear segmented, even aloof, from each other. On the one hand, the neoclassical architecture harks as a reminder of the past, intent on maintaining the memories of patriots pursuing independence. Meanwhile, symbols of the capitalist advance – the leaden, towering skyscrapers – juxtapose these cultural ancients. Coexisting, they both brim and bore, at times seemingly conflicting between a steely desire for progress and a poignant nostalgia to preserve.
The relationship between the city and its inhabitants is equally stark. Strolling through downtown Philadelphia, one gets the sense of witnessing differing Americas at once. While the walking rich executive overlaps with the homeless man sleeping down the railway station, they’re seemingly invisible to each other. A divide manifests itself. This situation is not merely the product of successes’ stature but the failure to acknowledge.
Yet these unique characteristics, in a way, disappear in the context of Pennsylvania as the next nominating state. Instead, attention is lavished on numbers. Polls – a snapshot of voter sentiment – have suggested that Obama’s campaign confronts challenges in winning over certain demographics, specifically women and blue-collar workers. What these numbers don’t capture is the industrious, heartfelt effort a political campaign invests, especially when in concert to solve this divide.
Located in downtown Philadelphia, Obama’s campaign headquarters is easily accessible. But its strategic placement isn’t its only strength. The large number of volunteers traveling in from around the country is arguably another reason for the candidate’s increasing poll numbers. “No other university in the country [at that time] had more interns than UC Davis at the Obama for America Office in Philadelphia,” Ryan Loney, the UC Davis Students for Barack Obama co-coordinator, proudly remarked.
Most critically, however, there is a fundamental, multi-process system. A clear organizational order is in place. Roles are outlined. Phases are systematic. Outreach, whether through phone persuasion, voter registration drives or on-the-street retail campaigning, is conducted. Databases containing voters’ details are collected and updated, thereby enabling the maintenance of frequent, constant contact. The expectations are clarified, performed, accomplished and exceeded.
Moreover, this system doesn’t merely encourage active voter participation. It strives to develop leadership. A new generation of leaders, groomed to foster involvement in their respective communities, are sought. Internships provide opportunities to promote a more active engagement in the political process. It helps volunteers grow as people and leaders.
For the interns, the enthusiastic reception towards these programs is palpable. “I was surprised at how many people actually flew out to Philadelphia to springtern,” Josie Alioto, a UC Davis senior, noted. And that despite the grueling early morning to midnight schedule, where, as Josie further added, many “gave up [their] spring breaks to work 14 hour days.”
Collectively, this process is empowering.
“On March 24, we hit the streets with thousands of volunteers to register voters in Pennsylvania. At the end of the day, we registered about 11,000 voters across the state,” Ryan noted, a testament to the volunteers’ success in facilitating the democratic process.
Philadelphia is a city that lives within itself and with its people. It celebrates a rich tradition while striving to compound a unique heritage. It represents America in its past, its present and its promise. For all the electoral fervor that is brewing, the significance of the place, and problems, shouldn’t be lost.
Springterns don’t get paid, but ZACH HAN always welcomes donations. You can do that by reachinghim at firstname.lastname@example.org.