Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, encourages students to vote at the Harvard College Democrats introductory meeting yesterday.
After receiving a record 600 sign-ups already this year, the Harvard College Democrats are revving up for an active election season, which kicked off last night with an appearance by former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack at the club’s introductory meeting.
Yesterday evening, a crowd of about 250 students, mostly freshman, packed into the Tsai Auditorium in CGIS to learn more about the Dems and to hear Vilsack, a fall 2008 Institute of Politics Fellow, articulate the problems America faces and how college students can make a difference.
While the organization was expecting high interest during an election year, President Jarret A. Zafran ’09 said he was nevertheless surprised that “a good third, maybe even half of the freshman class” wants to become involved in the campaign.
“I think it just goes to show that people are really enthused about this election, they’re excited about Obama’s candidacy, and they’re ready to finally see some real change,” he said.
In his speech, Vilsack called Nov. 4 “the most important election of my lifetime.” Citing a disastrous economic situation, a poor standing on the international stage, and the energy crisis as examples of the failed policies of the Bush administration, Vilsack emphasized the need to focus on issues in this campaign.
His jab at McCain’s choice of “an obscure governor” won over the crowd. “She may live near Russia, but I’m telling you she doesn’t know a damn thing about Russia,” he said to laughter and applause.
Vilsack also emphasized the important role students can play in getting out the vote.
“You ought to take it as your personal responsibility to make sure that every Democrat that you know, that every thinking Independent and Republican that you know, gets an e-mail from you,” he said. “You will be the difference.”
In an interview after his speech, Vilsack said he believes young people will be important in this election.
He added that the opportunity to spend the fall at Harvard allows him to appear more frequently on national media outlets and to campaign throughout eastern and mid-Atlantic states on the weekends.
“I can’t overemphasize the importance of states like Maine and New Hampshire, the New England states that are important in this election,” he said.
In fact, the Harvard College Democrats are planning to canvas key states every weekend beginning this Sunday.
Meanwhile, they have made it their goal to ensure that every Harvard student is registered to vote in their home state.
“Our mission in the next couple weeks is to convince the average Harvard students that the problem sets can wait, that this is the only presidential election in their four years here, and that our future will be directly and significantly impacted by who ends up in the White House,” Zafran said.
The attendees understood the need for youth engagement. “If we’re going to make a difference, then every single person needs to get involved,” Abigail B. Lind ’12 said.
But it was Vilsack who issued the most urgent call for action. “You can make history,” he said. “And shame on you if you don’t.”
—Staff writer Alexandra Perloff-Giles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.