Students Learn Campaign Skills at IOP

Learning how to write a moving campaign speech to appeal to an audience of coal miners is not a typical Saturday afternoon task for a college student.

This weekend, though, about 250 students learned skills just like that as they attended the 1996 Presidential Campaign Organizing Conference at the Kennedy School.

The IOP-sponsored conference drew participants from 13 colleges across New England. About half of those were Harvard undergraduates.

"People of all parties came together and saw that there are candidates out there who are talking about the future of America," said conference chair Andrei H. Cerny '97.

The conference consisted of a campaign volunteer open house and dinner Friday evening and a series of seminars and workshops Saturday.

Discussion topics ranged from fundraising and polling to campaign strategy.

Many speakers at Saturday's seminars emphasized that the involvement of college students is very important in any political campaign.

"You have so many opportunities in this election cycle there is no reason why you can't take what we're giving you and put it to the test out there," said David Mercer, deputy national finance director for the Democratic National Committee, in a seminar on press relations.

And Eric Liu, a Harvard Law School student who in 1993 and 1994 wrote speeches for president Bill Clinton, said in a seminar on speech-writing that now is the best time for college students to get involved in campaigning.

Organizers said the workshops were designed so that people who have extensive hands-on experience in the campaigns could tell students about their specific experiences working for a presidential candidate.

"The participants were learning everything from the nitty-gritty aspects of campaigns to the general ideology behind presidential campaigns," said Vanessa W. Liu '96, a IOP Student Advisory Committee member who helped organize the conference.

"Most of the speakers started out working in campaigns when they were as old as the participants are now," Vanessa Liu said.

On Friday, the open house in the ARCO Forum drew about 250 visitors in addition to the 250 conference participants, Cerny said. Attendees signed up to volunteer for different candidates, and many students also registered to vote in the upcoming elections.

The open house consisted of booths for nine Republican candidates, President Clinton's reelection campaign, and a group trying to convince retired Gen. Colin I. Powell to run.

Most of the booths distributed traditional advertising materials such as pamphlets and buttons. Computers which had been set up at the forum allowed students to explore the World Wide Web sites of six of the candidates.