Students bus for Democrats

The 11-day, 2,800-mile bus tour will end at the Democratic National Convention.

Mehgan Lee

During the last few months, political science junior Chris Montana has been planning a bus trip.

“I’ve pretty much given up my social life for this,” Montana said.

The 6-foot-2-inch Montana planned to cram aboard a coach bus in St. Paul this morning along with 39 other Minnesota college students, 14 from the University.

The students are taking part in an 11-day, 2,800-mile campaign tour that will culminate at the Democratic National Convention in Boston next week.

The students will campaign in key battleground states on the way to the convention, said Sara Kloek, a senior at the University’s Morris campus.

“Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania will be some of the top targeted races (in the presidential election),” she said. “Luckily, they all happen to be on the way to Boston.”

The students will hold rallies and voter registration drives in those states, Kloek said. They will also make phone calls and go door-to-door, encouraging residents to vote for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., she said.

Kloek was one of the youngest delegates nominated to this year’s convention. She said she hatched the idea for the tour last April, when telling a friend about a political convention she attended in 2002.

“I had a clear memory of someone asking all the people under 25 to stand up at the convention,” Kloek said.

Less than 10 people stood up, she said.

“The main purpose of the trip is to get young people energized and engaged in the political process,” Kloek said. “Hopefully we can motivate young people through our actions.”

Kloek chose to fire up students for the national convention because “it’s the Super Bowl” of Democratic Party politics, she said.

But the cost of going to the convention might prevent some students from attending, said Montana, chair of The College Democrats of Minnesota and another of the tour’s organizers.

“For students who already can’t afford anything with tuition, to throw down a plane ticket is just not possible,” Montana said.

The bus tour will make the convention more affordable, he said.

Organizers encouraged participants to ask friends and family to make donations for the tour’s expenses, Montana said.

“Some students raised a lot more than others,” he said. “But we wanted to make sure that everyone could go.”

Students who could not get donations are still going on the tour at no cost, Montana said.

Planning for the trip was extensive because the students wanted to ensure that every dollar they spent on the tour went toward a union organization, he said.

The bus, bus driver and hotels the students will utilize are all union, Montana said. Unions also made the T-shirts the students will be wearing, he said.

“Everything is union from top to bottom,” Montana said. “Unions are important to us because they serve as a check and balance between the really rich and the really poor.”

Jake Grassel, chairman of the Minnesota College Republicans, said his group will conduct a similar bus tour to the Republican National Convention in New York in early September. The group has led similar tours since 1999, he said.

Grassel said he expects 25 Minnesota college students to attend. He attributed the low numbers to the timing of the convention, which coincides with the first week of fall semester classes.

“Most of our people have decided to stay back on campus and recruit voters there,” he said. “We’re working to win Minnesota instead of going to cheer.”