GW sophomore Tobin Van Ostern came to the rescue of an Iowa voter who was snowed in 15 minutes before its state caucus.
Van Ostern, who received the man’s call while manning the phones with the Barack Obama presidential campaign in Iowa, found a driver to swing by and pick the voter up.
“That’s how intense we were,” Van Ostern said. “We wanted to get every last person we could.”
This attitude by Obama supporters contributed to the Democratic presidential candidate’s victory in the Iowa caucus.
Van Ostern is the deputy director of the national movement Students For Barack Obama, which started as a Facebook group and has since become a recognized wing of the Obama campaign. GW was one of 20 founding chapters, but now the organization has more than 700 chapters nationwide.
Though he is a full-fledged Obama supporter now, it was only last summer that Van Ostern was an undecided Democrat.
“I ended up reading Barack’s book and watched some of his speeches, and he really spoke to me,” Van Ostern said. “I personally felt like there was a lot about him that I really liked and respected. That’s way back when, before anyone thought he had a shot at all, so I was really inspired and wanted to do whatever I could so that he could run for the (Democratic) nomination and win.”
GW’s chapter of of the group is working toward this goal for Obama, and Van Ostern said they are doing so under the guidance of dedicated student leaders. Van Ostern is much more involved with the national organization than GW’s chapter, but said the GW group campaigned heavily prior to the January caucuses, calling voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and canvassing in South Carolina on a trip to the state.
Meanwhile, Van Ostern was in Iowa for the three weeks leading up to the Jan. 3 caucus.
“While I like being able to work and manage things nationally, it’s very gratifying to be there (in Iowa), even just to call someone up knowing that person is actually going to go out and vote,” Van Ostern said. “It’s extremely rewarding, even though hours are crazy and work is hard.”
Menial campaign work, which includes going door-to-door and calling voters, has its rewarding moments, Van Ostern said. In collecting donations, he encountered a cash-strapped single mother that donated to Obama’s campaign.
“She said she’d taken it out of her child’s college fund,” Van Ostern said. “She said that she thought the best thing she could do for her child’s future was to make sure that Barack won. That was remarkable. It blew me away. But that’s what people see in Barack. It inspires you to work harder.”
GW sophomore Kari Primiano, who volunteered for Obama’s campaign in her home state of New Hampshire before the primary, said she similarly understands what it means to sacrifice in the name of a presidential candidate. Primiano willingly surrendered her home as a headquarters for Obama campaign volunteers and advisers.
“There were at least 20 people in and out of our house every day,” Primiano said. “My mom is one of the biggest, most active volunteers (for Barack Obama that) I know, so she handled it very well. She made dinner every night for people, so it was a lot of work, but she loved it.”
Though Primiano has been a long-time supporter of Obama, it was the activism of her mother that inspired her to get involved with the campaign.
“As I saw her becoming more and more active in the campaign, it kind of inspired me to become more active in the campaign as well,” Primiano said. “Plus, a lot of things were based out of our house, so I basically told my mom I’d help out when I came home.”
Like Van Ostern, she said campaign work can be tiring, but in the end it is rewarding, even in the case of the New Hampshire presidential primary where U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) was victorious.
“Phone calling and canvassing is a pain in the butt to do,” Primiano said. “Nobody likes doing it. You get really rude people who just hang up the phone or tell you off, but in the end it’s actually very rewarding because you get to talk one-on-one with these voters. It was just really, really good to see the support that (Obama) had.”
Junior Anthony Reyes also volunteered in New Hampshire for Obama’s campaign. A New York City native, Reyes took the bus to New Hampshire and spent a week recruiting voters prior to the primary.
“The best part was meeting all the voters, talking about (Obama), sharing my personal views and seeing the common purpose we all have and the common concerns that everyone has,” Reyes said. “I’m a kid from N.Y.C. and I’ve found things in common with an older person who’s retired in New Hampshire. We have the same concerns about our country.”
Upon returning to New York, Reyes did not skip a beat with his volunteer work – he signed up to help with voter registration.
For students such as Reyes, Primiano and Van Ostern, supporting Obama’s campaign for the presidency is all about their faith in his principles.
“I’m not looking for a specific position that I can put on my résumé,” Reyes said. “A lot of people in this country are volunteering for this campaign because it’s not a regular political campaign. It’s a movement … it’s really just pure, genuine concern for the community.”