Spring Summer 08

The Core


Off to the Races

Practice Makes Perfect

Portraits of the Artists


Editor's Note

Vox Populi

Irrefutable Fun

Broadened Horizons

The Searchers

Fair Trade

Diamond Anniversary

Project Help

From Maroon to Marine

Dinosaur Discoverer

Go Ask Alumni

Off to the Races

Four politically energized undergrads have a super Tuesday. By Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93. Photographs by Dan Dry.

The most striking thing about the phone room at Barack Obama’s volunteer headquarters is that it hardly has any phones. There are about30 desks and folding tables where callers sit in office chairs and talk on landlines. But the vast majority of the volunteers are sitting or sprawling on the dirty beige carpet, using up their own cell phone minutes.

Second-year Chris Benedik is one of the sprawlers. He has shaggy, light-brown hair and a day or two of stubble, and wears a blue Obama T-shirt that he had to purchase. A history major, he’s cutting classes on art history and the Ottoman Empire to make get-out-the-vote calls to strangers in New Jersey.

It’s February 5, Super Tuesday, and Benedik has already been working the phones since 4 a.m. He started at the Obama campaign’s national office on Michigan Avenue, answering calls to the voter hotline. “The first two hours were pretty slow,” says Benedik. Then the polls opened in Connecticut, and for the rest of the shift, “I’d get off the phone and within five seconds I’d be back on it.” Some callers had last-minute questions about Obama’s positions; others wanted to report problems with machines. But the vast majority just needed to know where to vote. So Benedik, who had brought along his own laptop, looked it up online.

By 11 a.m., Benedik had reported to the volunteer headquarters on West Adams Street, this time to place calls rather than answer them. “Hi, my name’s Chris, and I’m a volunteer with Barack Obama’s campaign,” he tells someone’s voice mail. “I’m just calling to encourage you to go out and vote, and I certainly hope that you vote for Senator Obama.” The polls are open until 8 p.m., Benedik continues, reminding the voter that “in New Jersey you have to vote for the candidate of your choice and their slate of delegates.” He even supplies the exact address of the polling place. Benedik hangs up and consults his printout of names and numbers.

Ten seconds later: “Hi, my name’s Chris, and I’m a volunteer with Barack Obama’s campaign…” Benedik first became politically aware at age ten, during Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearing. Since then, Benedik says, “the entirety of my political life, I have watched two groups fight and yell at each other over everything.” Obama is something different, he hopes: a progressive Democrat who doesn’t alienate the right wing. “That, rather than any specific policy, is what’s actually needed.” Last June, Benedik, a native of Austin, Texas, “crashed on a friend’s couch” to attend Camp Obama, a weeklong organizing training camp in Chicago. Then he spent the summer as an unpaid field intern in Iowa, working 12- or 14-hour days seven days a week and staying in “supporter housing”—the spare bedroom of an empty-nester couple whose kids were at college.

On the Iowa campaign, Benedik did the usual: answered phones, talked to drop-ins, went canvassing door-to-door. Occasionally he did research on obscure questions the office didn’t have stock answers for—Obama’s position on wetlands preserve expansion, for example. Benedik’s inside source: “Google,” he says. “Or Thomas, which is the Library of Congress’s search engine.” He also made thousands upon thousands of phone calls during “call time,” 4–8 p.m. every day. The trick was not to go straight in with the sales pitch, Benedik learned. “You get them engaged, so it becomes a conversation, rather than an advertisement.”

Benedik finally gets someone from New Jersey to pick up the phone, but all she wants to know is how he got her number. “I’m sorry if we’re interrupting something, or if you’ve been called a lot,” he says. Of necessity he’s developed a fairly thick skin, though rude responses did hurt his feelings “the first hundred or so times,” he says. And if Obama doesn’t get the nomination? Benedik is silent for a long time, then heaves a pained sigh. “That’s not something I think about very much,” he says.

The Super Duper Tuesday Results Party at Hallowed Grounds, the coffee shop on the second floor of the Reynolds Club, is being cosponsored by the University of Chicago Democrats (UC Dems) and the College Republicans. But that doesn’t mean the 100 or so partygoers are evenly split between the parties. Hillary Clinton’s projected win in New York elicits an enthusiastic cheer, as does Obama’s in Delaware, while John McCain’s victories pass in silence.

Stefan Wiekowski, a clean-cut young man who serves as vice president of the College Republicans, is used to it. Being a Republican at Chicago, “I definitely feel outnumbered,” he says. When other students discover his political leanings, “The usual response I get is surprise, maybe a sarcastic, ‘I can’t believe you’re a Republican.’ But people are pretty open and curious about why.” Every so often, Wiekowski is able to win over other students on “really small points of issues”— such as his view that the federal minimum wage should be abolished, given that the cost of living varies from state to state.

Wiekowski, a fourth-year economics and music major from Weymouth, Massachusetts, is the product of a mixed marriage; his mother is the Democrat, while he takes after his Republican father. He only recently chose a side, joining the College Republicans as a second-year. “I didn’t realize at the time how weird it was,” he says, “how kind of wrong in a way.” Following in his father’s footsteps, Wiekowski is dating a woman who’s apolitical but leans Democrat. A few of his friends have held out for “strictly Republican girls,” he says. “I used to think that way. But there aren’t many Republicans here, period.”

Wiekowski hasn’t gotten involved in the presidential campaigns, mainly because he’s not overwhelmed by any of the Republican candidates.

He likes Ron Paul, but doesn’t like his chances. He trusts John McCain, but is worried about his aggressive stance toward the Middle East. And he approves of Mitt Romney’s business experience, but disapproves of his former pro-choice position. Instead, Wiekowski plans to express his political views in another way: by joining the military after college. He’s waiting to hear if his application to the Marines is accepted. If that doesn’t work, he’ll try the Army or Navy. “I see it almost as a duty. The freedom that people enjoy here is only due to a soldier’s willingness to waive his right to freedom.” If he were sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, “I would not be upset,” Wiekowski says. “Of course, I would rather not die. But I’ll go where I’m needed.”

Hollie Gilman, president of the UC Dems, is the hostess-with-the-mostest of the Super Duper Tuesday party. She wears jeans tucked into black boots and a blue T-shirt with the words “I’m a smart” next to a picture of a donkey. When she isn’t at the front of the room, she’s working it, hugging people and chatting as if she’s the one running for office.

Nonetheless, Gilman also feels “a little bit” like she’s in the minority at Chicago, she says. While Obama is very popular among undergrads, Gilman is an impassioned volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The other Clinton supporters in the room are content to cheer when her victories are announced on the big-screen TV, but Gilman literally bounces up and down with excitement. “I see so many U of C kids believing in Obama,” she says. “It’s great to believe and to hope. But I’d rather believe in policies.” Despite Obama’s connection to Chicago—he was formerly a senior lecturer at the Law School and his wife Michelle is a vice president at the Medical Center—Clinton is “much more like a U of C dork than anyone else,” Gilman says. “When you talk to her, she wants facts. She wants details. At the after parties she was dancing like this,” says Gilman, swinging her arms awkwardly in a very believable impression.

A New York native, Gilman first became politically active during the John Kerry–John Edwards campaign. “I loved it. I went to the Democratic National Convention, I did fund-raising, I did voter registration,” she says. After George Bush won the election, she was so upset she took a year off from politics. “I was devastated.”

But Gilman, a fourth-year majoring in political science, soon recovered her enthusiasm. She spent the summer after her first year interning in Clinton’s immigration office. The next summer, she won a $1,000 Richter Internship Support Grant to work for Clinton on Capitol Hill. Last winter break, Gilman won another $1,000 grant from the University to volunteer with Clinton’s campaign in Iowa.

“The people on the campaign were so intense. They were just like me!” she says. “They understood why I would spend my entire winter break sleeping on a couch and working 16 hours a day, whereas my friends and family at home were like, ‘What are you doing?’ But it was awesome.” Gilman does “little jobs here and there” for the Clinton campaign, she says, and runs the Students for Hillary group on campus. But she tries to keep that separate from her work with the UC Dems. The club has not endorsed a candidate, and Gilman doesn’t want to use her role as president to pressure other students to support Clinton. Gilman is proud of UC Dems’ “massive voter registration drive,” another event co-sponsored with the College Republicans. They managed to register 300 people—an impressive feat, given that the deadline was the second day of the winter quarter. Gilman also happily answers e-mails from students who don’t know where to send absentee ballots. “I just Google it for them,” she says. “I have no problem with that. That’s what we’re supposed to be—an organization that’s civically minded.”

Gilman began her Super Tuesday making getout- the-vote calls to California. Then she helped organize a watch party downtown for Friends of Hillary. Then she voted at Ray Elementary School on 57th Street: “When I went into the voting booth,” she says, “I had tears in my eyes.”

In the issue of the Maroon published on Super Tuesday, Joseph Dozier, director of campus operations for the College Republicans, says he’ll probably wear his “Friends don’t let friends vote Democrat” T-shirt to the returns party. Instead, Dozier has opted for a more formal yet quirkily regional ensemble: a black suit, black cowboy hat and boots, and a lapel pin and chunky belt buckle shaped like his home state of Texas. Dozier’s nickname, not surprisingly, is “Tex.”

Like fellow College Republican Wiekowski, Dozier has mostly stayed out of the presidential nomination race. His one small contribution was to help Mike Huckabee get on the ballot in Illinois. Though not a supporter, Dozier was contacted at the last minute by the candidate’s campaign office. Staffers had just discovered Huckabee was short on signatures, and “I was there to heed the call,” says Dozier. He ended up going door-to-door in Aurora and Wheaton, traveling by train since he doesn’t have a car. “Door-to-door is nothing new for me,” says Dozier, who volunteered for the campaign of independent candidate Kinky Friedman for governor of Texas in 2004. Friedman, a musician and author, promised the “dewussification” of Texas if elected. His campaign slogans included “How hard could it be?”, “Why the hell not?”, “My governor is a Jewish cowboy,” and “He ain’t Kinky, he’s my governor.” While Dozier did not agree with all of Friedman’s positions, “I liked him as a reform candidate,” he says. Of five candidates in the election, Friedman placed fourth.

Dozier, a second-year majoring in political science and classics, also has a jokester side. Last October, he took a video camera to an antiwar demonstration and, pretending to be a member of the Students for a Democratic Society, interviewed protesters from such fringe groups as the 9/11 Truth Movement.

Throughout the video (posted on the College Republicans’ YouTube site), Dozier prefaces his own views with, “My crazy neocon friends say…” As the hard rock song “You’re Such a Comfortable Liar” rumbles in the background, Dozier’s victims incoherently defend their positions. “I wasn’t trying to bait them at all,” Dozier says innocently. “I asked them legitimate questions to see the responses.”

Along with second-year James Conway, Dozier co-hosts a weekly political talk show, Boiling Point, on WHPK, the University’s radio station. Conway invited Dozier to do the show to “provide some different perspectives,” says Dozier. “In my eyes, rationality.” So far, most of the guests have been from Dozier’s end of the political spectrum. “Left-leaning figures have posed great difficulty in booking,” he says. Recent guests have included John Stossel, host of ABC’s 20/20 and liberal-turned-libertarian consumer reporter. During his appearance Stossel defended “what we arrogantly call ‘sweatshops’.”

While Dozier does not define himself as a libertarian, he is strongly in favor of limited government, which leads him to some unusual views for a Republican. “I’m against gay marriage,” he says. “I’m also against heterosexual marriage. If you truly want to protect the sanctity of marriage, why make a legal matter out of it?”

Dozier plans to vote absentee in Texas, he says—for Hillary Clinton. “The best hope for the Republican party is if we get a maverick like McCain going up against an established character like Clinton,” he says. “People are tired of the Clinton and Bush dynasties.”

Dozier is happy that he “suffers less persecution” at Chicago than his Republican friends at other universities, but he is troubled by the apolitical stance of many undergraduates. “More people showed up to protest the Uncommon Application being banned than divestment from Sudan,” he says.

To help change that, Dozier has worked hard to mend fences between the College Republicans and the UC Dems, which in past years have had more rivalry. The first event of the year for both clubs was a jointly sponsored ice cream social. They also co-sponsored a candlelight vigil on Veterans Day. “Hollie [Gilman] and I have a really good relationship,” Dozier says. Despite the fact they were voting for Clinton for different reasons, “We have the same goal in the end—an active, politically conscious student body and the free flow of ideas.”

Four politically energized undergrads have a super Tuesday.

UC Dems outnumbered College Republicans at the Hallowed Grounds part.

Super Tuesday was often an exercise in waiting.

“It’s great to believe and to hope. But I’d rather believe in policies.” –Hollie Gilman

“If you truly want to protect the sanctity of marriage, why make a legal matter out of it?” –Joseph Dozier