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Interns get hands-on political experience by canvassing, empowering student voting

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Interns get hands-on political experience by canvassing, empowering student voting

Emily Hogan (left), Dalton George (center) and Willow Larson (right) work on democratic campaigns in Watauga County.

Emily Hogan (left), Dalton George (center) and Willow Larson (right) work on democratic campaigns in Watauga County.

Mickey Hutchings

Emily Hogan (left), Dalton George (center) and Willow Larson (right) work on democratic campaigns in Watauga County.

Mickey Hutchings

Mickey Hutchings

Emily Hogan (left), Dalton George (center) and Willow Larson (right) work on democratic campaigns in Watauga County.

Laura Boaggio

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Emily Hogan

Emily Hogan, freshman political science major, interns with North Carolina congressional candidate DD Adams and worked for congressional candidate David Wilson last fall.

Hogan has been involved with the Democratic Party since high school when she started the Polk County Association of Teenage Democrats and served as president her junior and senior year. She was hesitant to begin the association because her county is primarily conservative, but after realizing her desire to effect change instead of reacting to results, she decided to start the chapter, Hogan said.

“That’s why I decided I’d be in the forefront of my own future, so that’s when I really hit the ground running,” Hogan said.

Hogan said she is passionate about local politics, so she got involved with municipal elections, including the sheriff’s race, in Polk County.

She became involved with DD Adams’ campaign after meeting the candidate at Welcome Weekend at App State, Hogan said.

“I really wanted to get involved with her campaign because she’s an amazing woman to me,” Hogan said.

One of Adams’ field organizers noticed Hogan’s excitement and reached out to her, leading to an internship with the political campaign. For her job, Hogan contacts local residents about the upcoming election through phone calls and canvassing.

Canvassing is when a person goes door-to-door and asks residents if they are registered to vote or if they have all the materials they need to vote. Hogan is also a canvassing intern for the Watauga County Democratic Party.

Hogan said canvassing receives an unfair stigma in society.

“Normally when I knock on people’s doors they love it,” Hogan said. “They’re so happy to hear us.”

For her internship with David Wilson, Hogan worked in youth involvement and encouraging different non-political organizations to take a stance.

“If the organizations do that and give an endorsement, it can be really impactful,” Hogan said.

Hogan said that working in an environment with young, passionate people like her campaign team has empowered her.

“It’s really amazing to see people interested in the same things that I am,” Hogan said.

Hogan said she is empowered and excited when she sees students on campus working for any political campaign, whether it be aligned with her party or not.

“In the end, they are trying to do right for the future of this area,” Hogan said.

Lee Franklin

Lee Franklin, junior political science major, has worked for the Watauga County Democratic Party since 2016. In early 2017, Franklin became an unpaid intern before being officially hired in fall 2017.

Franklin has done fieldwork for the group since his start.

“The official, political term for fieldwork is just referring to anything on the ground, so like canvassing, knocking on doors or voter registration,” Franklin said.

However, Franklin said the Democratic Party separates fieldwork and canvassing, so that fieldwork refers to groundwork on campus and canvassing refers to groundwork off campus.

Franklin said when he first started as an intern, the Watauga County Democratic Party trained surrounding county Democratic groups in how to better their strategies. He has done a lot of work in voter registration and educating others on how to do fieldwork.

Because Franklin does on-campus canvassing, he said he has realized the high amount of effort that goes into recruiting voters on campus everyday.

“It’s just taught me so much that goes into a political campaign in terms of resources and there’s so much that goes into it in terms of your own personal energy,” Franklin said.

Franklin said voting in Boone is important because having a voting site on campus has not always been a guarantee at App State.

He said last year the Board of Elections voted not to give students a voting site in Plemmons Student Union. The Watauga County Voting Rights task force sued the board on account of voter oppression. The day before the union was supposed to open for voters, the court of appeals voted that it was voter oppression, and the union was made a voting site again.

“This is the first year in a long time that the board of elections just voted to give it to us,” Franklin said.

Franklin said there are many already existing personal ties between political members in office, and the influence of students getting involved in politics plays an interesting role.

“It just transforms the dynamic of the county,” Franklin said.

Dalton George

Dalton George, sophomore economics major, has worked for the Watauga County Democratic Party since September 2017. George was involved with politics during high school, so when he received a recruitment email for the party, he got involved.

George is the canvassing director and said he handles communication with community members off-campus, although it does still involve students. Much of his work involves knocking on doors and registering people to vote.

“At the start of the year, we only canvas student apartments and we ask them to tell us what are some issues that they’d like to see local politicians focus on,” George said.

George said he gained a lot from the conversations he had while canvassing. He said he’s never had a bad experience when canvassing and that people react well when the group is trying to figure out their political issues. When the group canvasses, they introduce themselves as a Democratic group, and Republican residents will often respond by addressing their personal party affiliation.

“I say, ‘That’s fine, we want to hear what’s important to you too,’” George said.

George many people seem to think of political parties as “them vs. us.”

“I’ve talked to Republicans, Democrats, unaffiliated, and I guess it’s just kind of refreshing to talk to these people that you might disagree with and understand that there’s still a dialogue that can be had,” George said.

George said voting in Boone is important because students are going to be living here for the next few years, if not longer. Students’ tax dollars go towards the town, and they should influence the decisions that are made in Boone.

“Now we’re in college, we’re on our own, it’s time that we formulate our own opinions,” George said.

Willow Larson

Willow Larson, sophomore elementary education major, works for Democratic North Carolina House candidate Ray Russell. She started working for his campaign in October 2017 and will continue until election day.

Larson first got involved with the College Democrats on campus and was doing voter registration when she tried to register Russell, thinking that he was an unregistered voter. Russell later came to the College Democrats for insight into a college student’s perspective. Larson emailed him and began her involvement with the campaign.

Larson explains App State’s systems for the Russell campaign, which includes campus and housing policies as well as insight into student’s concerns.

Larson said Russell has taught her and shown her that she can have strong opinions, but it’s important to read the room and word her opinions respectfully.

One example Larson gave was when she interacts with older, more conservative residents of Ashe County.

“It’s really hard to have a conversation about HB2 when you have people who have literally never interacted with someone who is transgender,” Larson said.

She said she has worked on understanding the reasoning behind a person’s ideals, especially when they have not had much exposure to certain parts of life.

Larson said this skill is vital to Russell and his campaign, because if elected, Russell will have to represent everyone.

Larson said that it is important to vote in Boone because a vast majority of students spend most of their time year-round in the town.

“A lot of times people forget that the second we get off campus, that’s a completely different system,” Larson said.

Larson said issues such as flooding or AppalCart routes can affect residents daily, and voting can change that.

Thomas McBrayer

Thomas McBrayer, senior political science major, works for Virginia Foxx for Congress campaign, McBrayer said in an email.

McBrayer has worked for campaigns throughout his life, such as volunteering for a mayoral campaign in his hometown and volunteering for superior court campaigns. His career with Foxx began when he met the congresswoman at the grand opening of the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy. Foxx told McBrayer to let her know when he began school at App State because she could use his help.

McBrayer began working on her campaign his freshman year and now serves as her regional field director, working to organize grassroot organizations for her campaign. McBrayer works to recruit new and past volunteers for the campaign in several counties, as well as at Wake Forest University and App State.

“Organizing phone banks, getting poll workers and getting out yard signs are some of the things I oversee,” McBrayer said in an email.

McBrayer said one of the aspects of the job he most enjoys is getting to meet people across the 5th District. Hearing stories and building personal connections with people has motivated him to have a life dedicated to public service.

“I never would’ve imagined that I would be spending time in Matney, North Carolina, at a pie auction, but with this job you never know where you will end up,” McBrayer said.

Along with interacting with the public, McBrayer said the professional connections he made will be beneficial to his career.

McBrayer said his job strays from the normal nine-to-five because he never knows what his schedule for the day will look like.

“There are days when I’ve come to the office at 9 a.m. and did not leave until 11 p.m. or later,” McBrayer said.

The work, however, is worth the effort, McBrayer said.

McBrayer said he advocates for students to vote and have their voices heard out of respect to those who have fought for their rights to vote, and believes it is their civic duty to participate in elections.

Story by Laura Boaggio, A&E Reporter

Photo by Mickey Hutchings, Photo Editor

Featured Photo Caption: Emily Hogan (left), Dalton George (center) and Willow Larson (right) work on democratic campaigns in Watauga County.

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Interns get hands-on political experience by canvassing, empowering student voting