Smith Students Pitch in for Primaries

Katherine Hazen '18News Editor

Several Smith students volunteered their time and energy to help their favorite candidates in the recent Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary

Rowan Turner ’18 and Fable Avison ’18, a member of unofficial student group Smith Students for Bernie, carpooled to New Hampshire earlier this month to canvass for Bernie Sanders in an event organized by Massachusetts Students for Bernie.

Canvassing, as Nina Henry ’19, head of the unofficial student organization Smithies for Hillary [Clinton], explained, involves “going door-to-door, speaking with registered Democrats and speaking to them about the issues that matter most to them, why we support Hillary and why we hope they do, too.”

“We were canvassing Bernie supporters or undecided voters. However, as it was the last weekend before the [New Hampshire] primary, we were not there to push voters but to make sure our people got to the polls,” Avison said.   

Avison described the atmosphere of the headquarters as inviting but busy.

“When we got there, we were a little unsure of where to go and what to do just because the office was so packed with people. It was really inspiring to see so many people from such varied backgrounds coming to support the campaign,” Avison said. “This is a total grassroots movement.”

Avison said the headquarters looked as one might picture them.

“You know one Bernie’s campaign headquarters when you see it. Guitars were around, they had kale salad and Thai noodles,” she said.

As far as her total efforts for Sanders are concerned, Avison has canvassed, phone banked and made several small monetary contributions to his campaign – which is driven almost entirely by small donations – in addition to making “an effort to educate people on him when I can without being pushy.”

Nina Henry canvassed for Clinton with Leah Henry ’17 in Vermont this fall.

“Some people, including Bernie supporters and moderate Republicans, were very friendly and helpful. Others honked at us and yelled out their car windows or tried to talk us out of supporting Secretary Clinton,” Nina said.

Despite any political animosity, Nina still finds the experience fulfilling.

“People are tremendously excited for this election, and it’s so rewarding and enlightening to be speaking to voters one-on-one. And when we come in from the cold, there’s always hot coffee and food,” she said.

The atmosphere in Clinton’s office is a bit different than that of Sanders’s.

“The campaign offices are always almost entirely female and span all generations and degrees of political experience,” Nina said.  “I’ve never met a more friendly, enthusiastic group of people.”

Fellow Clinton supporter Zana Shaw ’18 spoke to which candidate has a greater hold on Smith campus.

“That’s a tough call. I think if you walk around campus, you’ll find Bernie is better represented on t-shirts and decal[s], but I’ve noticed more than a few heads nodding when I praise Hillary in conversation,” Shaw said.

Nina seemed to agree with that assessment.

“I’ve met Smith students who prefer Bernie and Smith students who prefer Hillary … One thing that really distresses me is the sentiment I’ve heard from many Smith students that they will not vote if Sanders isn’t the nominee. It’s crucial that young people, especially young women, keep a Democrat in the White House.”

While working on Sanders’s campaign, Avison said she noticed a mentality that differs from the one Nina described of Smith students who support Sanders.

“There was a really firm ‘no trashing Hillary’ mentality at the campaign. Bernie wouldn’t trash her, so we shouldn’t spread negativity either,” she said.  “I thought that was really rad.”

With recent disparaging comments from Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem ’56 for young women who support Sanders, age, race and various divisive factors are coming into light as to why some choose one of the Democratic nominees over the other.

“I think [Albright and Steinem] touched on the interesting phenomena that is the generational gap between female voters,” Shaw said.  “For us young women, it’s quite easy to buy into the sound-bite caricature of Hillary that makes her look like a corporate puppet. Older women, however, can’t forget the Hillary who helped develop [Children’s Health Insurance Program] when her attempts to pass universal healthcare failed.”

The two candidates are now very close in the polls. South Carolina voters will bring the Democratic Party closer to an official candidate on Feb. 27.