On Wednesday evening, Sean Smith, the Pennsylvania communications director for the Barack Obama campaign hosted a conference call with actor Kal Penn, and Chris Hughes who is the co-founder of Facebook.com. Kal Penn is most commonly known for his role as Kumar in the 2004 movie “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” as well as roles in “Epic Movie” and “Van Wilder.” However despite his apathetic roles, Penn is also a worker on the campaign trail for Barack Obama.
He noted that he was inspired by Obama’s speeches and his track record. Penn believes that a defining quality in the campaign is the number of volunteers who have come out to support campaigns.
Penn stated that the “millions upon millions of young voters” could definitely sway the election. He also mentioned that in 2004, less than 20 percent of college students in Pennsylvania voted, but the trends from the primary elections have already showed a huge increase in this number.
Pointing out that it is a definite trend in Pennsylvania, Penn mentioned that the state is one of the closest battleground states. He also made the point that the number of college students in PA alone is close to double the amount of votes that cost John Kerry the 2004 election.
Chris Hughes is currently the coordinator of online organizing for the Obama campaign, as well as the social networking portion of the Obama website, my.barackobama.com.
Hughes’ main point throughout the call was that voting and registering to vote shouldn’t be difficult. On this premise, he helped develop the website voteforchange.com, which is an extremely user friendly website designed to help students register to vote and be sure that they are registered correctly and in the right locations.
“Aiming to be where the students are” is a large part of Hughes’ job as online organizer. The fact that he is currently working on a new application for Facebook that will bring the voteforchange.com information directly to Facebook is further proof of this. He feels that embedding this program into the site that is already part of most students’ daily repertoire will make them more likely to use it.
After both “top secret celebrity commentators,” as Sean Smith referred to them, introduced themselves and talked about their own place in the campaign, the line opened for questions from student journalists from around the Pennsylvania area.
Anna Brinkman, one of the students on the call inquired about students concerned about finding employment after graduation.
Penn talked about Obama’s plan to invest $150 billion into creating five million new green jobs to America. He also plans to invest in creating new technology to reduce carbon emissions to sell to other countries. This would both help stimulate the economy and create new jobs.
In response to a student questioning what about Obama ideologically will get young voters, Hughes mentioned the $4000 tax credit that Obama plans to give to families of college students. This would, in theory, cover for 100 percent of community college, and close to two thirds of state school costs. He also noted that John McCain has no plan to help struggling families of college students.
Penn pointed out that Obama asked the Democratic Party to stop accepting lobbyists’ money, already implementing a small change within the party.
One final student, Mara Wishinguide inquired as to what were the challenges to reaching college students, as opposed to other voters. To Penn, the biggest challenge is that students are unsure where to vote, or they wait too long to fill out absentee ballots. Hughes feels that the biggest issue is first time voters who are unsure of how it’s done.
Smith interjected for the first time all night, bringing up incidents that had occurred at La Salle, Kutztown and Villanova, among other schools in Pennsylvania. At these schools, bipartisan voter registration drives were kicked off campus.
While the Democratic Party sponsored this call, voteforchange.com can be used to register either democratic or republican.
Jenn Rothstein is a second-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at JR649299@wcupa.edu