Camp Wellstone comes to University

by Courtney Blanchard

As political candidates use MySpace, text messages and YouTube to lure young voters, many say nothing makes a lasting impression like old-fashioned face-to-face contact.

A handful of volunteers came to the University Saturday to teach students how to make those connections and use them to bring voters to the polls and rouse students to rally.

“Campus Camp Wellstone,” named in honor of the late DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone, was sponsored by Wellstone Action, a national center for “training and leadership development for the progressive movement,” according to its website. This weekend marks the first time the nationwide program has come to the University.

“We hope students walk away knowing they have the power to create change,” said trainer Adriana Barboza, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate.

She said the training events are aimed at students “with the goal of teaching our generation how to participate in politics.”

The grassroots movement is becoming a stronger force on the political scene, Barboza said. Although organizers don’t ask about students’ political affiliations when they register for the free event, the program does focus on “progressive issues,” she said.

While typical conservative issues were not raised at Camp Wellstone, student Republican groups are also reaching out with grassroots-style campaigning on many college campuses.

University College Republicans President Bethany Dorobiala wasn’t at the training, but said in a previous interview that the group is canvassing campus to register voters and get absentee ballots to students.

Grassroots campaigning is nonpartisan, said Camp Wellstone trainer Melvin Carter. He said it’s not surprising that Paul Wellstone’s legacy is carried on through organizations like Wellstone Action.

“He was really passionate about empowering people,” Carter said.

Carter worked to enlighten the students in the room with strategies to inspire fellow students, but also issued a warning about the realities of campaigning.

“We’re not, at the University of Minnesota, going to create world peace, but we can bring ourselves closer,” he said.

After listening to presentations on developing messages, organizing campaigns and performing skits modeled after flash movies, students hit the streets for “vote mob,” or voter mobilization.

The program armed students with clipboards and voter registration cards to register students on campus for roughly an hour.

The six-student force registered eight people and 40 students pledged to vote, Barboza said.

Amelia Shindelar, a recent University graduate working in the University’s human rights program, said she attended Camp Wellstone to become a more effective campaigner.

Shindelar said she plans to travel to sub-Saharan Africa with the Peace Corps in January.