Students, Citizens, Partisans: Election Volunteerism at NYU Law
In case you didn’t notice, 2012 was an election year. You may or may not have guessed, but law students tend to be a passionate, political (and vocal) bunch. The conversation at NYU Law this fall has been largely dominated by the election, the campaigns, and the serious legal and policy-oriented issues the campaigns raised. From tax classes devoting days to “Taxmageddon” to student organizations bringing in speakers on both sides of the Red/Blue divide to the never-ending stream of social media shares of articles, blog posts, and snarky commentary, the 2012 election was tooth-achingly hard to avoid. Beyond the conversation, though, NYU Law students went above and beyond to get involved in the campaigns themselves – and in a serious, material way. Here are some of the election-related events and volunteer activities law students led and participated in.
Voting Rights Debate: In the lead-up to November, with all of the legal and media attention that had been focused on various state laws and executive actions surrounding voting access, the American Constitution Society and Federalist Society held a joint event featuring a debate between conservative and progressive legal thinkers on voting rights, access to voting, and the proper role of state and federal legislation in the regulation and execution of the vote. It was certainly a spirited debate, and heavily attended – and perhaps most importantly (in my mind), catered.
Debate Watch Parties: The Law and Government Society and the Law Democrats held joint watch parties for all three presidential debates and the vice presidential debate, hosted in the Law School. For the first presidential debate, well over 100 students showed up, forcing the student organizers to commandeer additional classrooms for overflow and go on emergency bodega runs to restock the promised free refreshments – a common theme, you’ll notice, in many of NYU’s political activities. We were consistently oversubscribed, overcrowded, and overenthusiastic.
Phone Banks: I know, I know, you got too many campaign phone calls and they always seemed to call during dinner. I apologize. But through the months of September and October, emails inviting students to phone bank seemed to be ubiquitous additions to our inboxes. Phone banks ran multiple times a week in seminar rooms and study rooms on campus. As an incredibly over-committed 2L, I very much appreciated the opportunity to drop in, make a few phone calls, touch a few voters, and get back to my day. Also (again), there was almost always free food and drink.
Fundraisers: Some of the more partisan-minded (and partisan-connected) members of the Law School community actually organized and ran fundraisers for major Senate and House races across the country. These ranged from pretty standard “show up at a bar and donate what you can and get pumped for Candidate X” fundraisers to $500/ticket “Come see a sitting senator speak at a fancy private residence and get excited for Candidate Y” events. If anything, these fundraisers impressed upon me how deeply a commitment to the democratic process runs in the NYU Law student body – we’re organizers and partisans both, and contribute both as boots on the ground and fundraisers on the floor, which is quite the statement for a student body dominated by young professionals to be able to make.
Get Out the Vote Efforts: Teams of law students recruited by both campaigns took to buses and cars (only days after a hurricane, I might add) and shipped out to battleground states all over the country, including the big names – Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the works. My Facebook newsfeed exploded with pictures of friends and colleagues bundled up and decked in blue/red, volunteering on the ground. Some were in Columbus on the night of November 6 to watch Ohio get decided – you couldn’t be closer to the center of the action than that.
Voter Protection Teams: The day of the election, NYU Law students were manning phones for the Obama campaign, the Romney campaign, and nonpartisan election protection organizations, both in New York and in battleground states, to assist poll watchers and voters with issues at the voting booth. Some teams logged up to 14 consecutive hours of phone banking; others stood as poll watchers from open to close in New York and Pennsylvania.
The Law School went out of its way to make sure every single student who wanted to volunteer time to the election or to a campaign had the capacity to do so. Emails came out on a semi-regular basis encouraging the recording of classes on Monday and Tuesday of Election Week to make sure volunteers didn’t miss class. The Student Bar Association president sent repeated emails encouraging students to volunteer, and making it clear the Law School’s administration was encouraging them, as well. And, anecdotally, one of my professors on November 6 apologized for the fact that he was keeping his phone on and open to a Politico app – two hours is a LONG time to spend away from the news on Election Day, after all.
NYU went all in on 2012. But don’t fret – at the time of this writing, there are only 988 days left until the Ames Straw Poll for the 2016 cycle. So you prospectives reading this can look forward to a 3L year back on the primary battlefield, in a school that gives you, far and away, more opportunities to pitch in than you could possibly hope to take advantage of.