Washington, D.C. — Twenty-six Stanford students were in Washington D.C. for Obama’s win last night, but President Obama was in Chicago. As replacements, the students took cardboard cutouts of Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as Vice-President Joe Biden, to a gathering outside the White House, where a small crowd formed to celebrate the incumbent’s re-election.
“Someone carrying an Obama cardboard cutout thru the crowd outside the WH. A woman yells, “There he is! Obama!” People cheer for the cutout,” BuzzFeed Capitol Hill reporter Rebecca Berg reported in a tweet at around 12:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
“Hundreds of college students gathered outside the White House cheering Pres. Obama’s projected re-election,” tweeted CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller. “The students are chanting ‘four more years’ and carrying signs of support for Pres Obama, including life-size cutouts.”
The brief moment of fame the Stanford in Washington (SIW) students and their cutouts enjoyed was not the only way this year’s election has affected their experience in the nation’s capital. In fact, for most SIW students, the election was the satisfying culmination of a quarter of political mania.
James Honsa ’14, an intern at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, chose to participate in SIW during fall quarter of his junior year in part because of the opportunity to experience Washington, D.C. during an election.
“I was already excited to get a taste of D.C. culture and lifestyle, and I thought being here during election season would amplify the experience,” Honsa said.
In the days leading up to election night, students canvassed for both Obama and Romney, and also volunteered with Election Protection, a nonpartisan organization aimed at providing polling location information to voters. The organization notably helped prevent the disenfranchisement of communities whose voting locations had been damaged as Hurricane Sandy passed through the region.
“We got a lot of calls from New Jersey and states affected by the storm, and a lot of them asked about whether their polling places had power,” said Patricia Ho ’14, a phone bank volunteer. “Helping out with the phone bank would have been useful in any year, but in this particular election, given recent events, I felt like I was contributing more than I might have been normally.”
For some students, the election was even more a part of daily life. Danna Seligman <\#213>14 is an intern at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The elections — both presidential and congressional — were pivotal in shaping her work experience.
“My job has been to organize the collective online campaign to maintain a majority in the Senate for Democrats, and the ups and downs of the campaigns mandated what I was doing on a daily basis,” Seligman said.
Even students whose internships were not affected by the election were exposed to an almost constant dialogue about the elections.
Lauren Felice ’14, an intern for the Senate Finance Committee, argued that the elections affected everything within the SIW experience, from the events the students attended and volunteered at to daily dinner table conversations among program participants.
“I feel like there’s a heightened level of political activity and engagement on the issues,” Felice said. “We talk about these things more than we normally would.”
Students waited for the results with an election night party held in the SIW basement’s Distance Learning Center, chatting about the state-by-state outcomes, snacking on politically-themed treats — including donkey and elephant shaped sugar cookies — and watching the coverage on CNN as it aired live on the east coast.
Two students, Aditya Todi ’14 and Lindsay Funk ’13, live-blogged the election during the festivities. Both students were responsible for reporting election news for a specific state on PolicyMic, a bipartisan political news site co-founded by Jake Horowitz ’09.
At approximately 11:20 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, most news stations had projected Barack Obama’s re-election after he clinched Ohio and led in Florida. The news was met with mostly cheers, and the predominantly liberal group of students celebrated the victory with their late night trip to the White House.
According to Lauryn Williams ’14, who voted for Obama in this year’s election, the announcement of his victory was greeted with both excitement and relief.
“I think after the twists and turns this election has taken, and the fact that it has taken [up] the better part of two years, I’m just relieved to get to this point,” Williams said.
With the election over, students are now able to reflect on their experiences at the center of American politics.
“It didn’t hit me until I woke up this morning…that I was here at this really truly historic moment for politics and for our generation,” Seligman said. “For someone who is incredibly idealistic about politics, even seeing all of the craziness that goes on behind campaigns hasn’t shaken my determination to make a positive difference politics and elections in the future.”