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ISSUE 121 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2008

Fundraising parties grow

By Matthew Simenstad
Contributing Writer


Friday, March 14, 2008

One of the most intriguing developments to come out of this year's campaign season has been the emergence of young voters as a key source of fundraising power for the Democratic candidates, specifically Barack Obama. Among the most active participants driving Senator Obama's campaign are ambitious college students who possess few financial resources but have a wealth of energy and determination to incite change in American politics. Inspired by Obama's message, they have responded strongly to his call for grassroots movements as an important campaign tool for securing the Democratic Party nomination. St. Olaf students like Pete Williams '08 have helped fuel the phenomenon known as "Obamamania" with events like the "Barack Obama High Roller Social," a party organized to raise money for the Senator's campaign by selling wine, cheese and fondue. Williams, who hosted the party at his off-campus apartment, said it was "a spoof on the stereotype of snobby, wine-sipping liberals. It was a group of poor college students giving money to something they believe in." Williams was thrilled with the party's suc cess, not just because they raised over $250, but because of the impressive turnout as well. "It was only supposed to go from 5-8, but people kept coming and it extended to midnight," he said, estimating that there were "at least 50 people, if not more in attendance at different times." In addition to numerical measures of success, Williams was also encouraged by unquantifiable signs that Senator Obama's message is having a positive effect on the political mindset of American youth. He mentioned how the party served as a forum where people "exchanged views and ideas. The whole atmosphere fostered good political dialogue, even though that wasn't necessarily our expressed goal." This heightened political awareness and mobilization of the young masses is perhaps the most positive byproduct of the Obama campaign. From the outset, Senator Obama has stressed getting in touch with that section of the American population and seems to be successfully utilizing them as a vital source of power. Williams thinks that Obama's appeal comes from "the hopeful unity he professes. I don't think you see it in Hillary Clinton. We are moving into a new era of revitalized democracy, with more openness and inclusiveness." In addition to the "High Roller Social," St. Olaf students showed their support for Obama on Sunday March 2 by participating in one of 2,000 nationwide "Yes We Can" parties put on by Moveon.org, a progressive grassroots organization that has endorsed Senator Obama. Students made phone calls to voters in Texas to encourage them to vote for Obama in the caucus and primary election. Christian Balzer '08, who was in charge of organizing the "Yes We Can" movement, said the event came in response to the announcement that 10 very wealthy Clinton supporters would be founding the "American Leadership Project." "They announced that they would each donate $1,000,000 to her campaign," Balzer said. "Obama supporters across the country who are inspired by his strong grassroots movement feel that politicians should not have to rely on huge donations by a small number of supporters and special interest groups to finance their campaign." Although Clinton won the Texas primary, Balzer feels that Obama's momentum is still intact. Moveon.org announced that over 400,000 calls were made by participants of the "Yes We Can" parties. "Obama supporters across the country are continuing to make phone calls to states with upcoming contests, such as Mississippi," Balzer said. Like Williams, Balzer also feels that Obama's message resonates with young voters because "they feel like he stands for a new kind of politics -- less divisive and more progressive." This inclusiveness has already yielded considerable dividends; with over one million Americans donating to his campaign Obama's fundraising has set records. In the month of February he raised over $55 million -- $20 million more than Clinton. But it is the spirit of the Obama campaign, as evidenced by the grassroots movements that are taking place here on the Hill and around the country, that has proven to be the most successful and, some would say, refreshing storyline to emerge thus far. "Both Hillary and Barack have great ideas," Balzer said. "But Obama inspires, mobilizes and unites more people than any other candidate. This is the kind of president our country needs right now." Williams agrees that this is perhaps the most powerful aspect of Obama's message. "He's getting people involved," he said. "People feel empowered; they feel that they can help. There are larger democratic forces at work." He added, "Even if he doesn't win, this movement has been good for America."





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