Barack Obama addressed thousands of supporters during a 2012 campaign event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Writing Contest Finalist
We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s eighth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to answer this question in 800 words: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why? We received close to 700 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Jim Nichols (no relation to The Nation’s John Nichols), an undergraduate at Georgia State University; and Julia Di, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Darnestown, Maryland, and Bryn Grunwald, a recent graduate of the Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder, Colorado, who were co-winners in the high school category. The three winners receive cash awards of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here. —The Editor
When I worked on the Obama campaign, I was told that technology had rendered argument obsolete. I expected the usual campaign business, hordes of idealistic volunteers knocking on doors to advocate for the president, but I found reality less romantic: at headquarters, the number-crunchers discharged lists of likely supporters with pinpoint accuracy, which we followed with stringent orthodoxy. We were shepherds, not salesmen: we existed to get our people to the polls, not to waste energy on non-supporters. Indeed, this logic permeates campaigns, newsrooms and magazines on the left and the right—argument is not worth the exertion. And at the time, I agreed with it, but now my mind drifts back to Wisconsin, two days before the election.
I had come to Wisconsin to escape the spreadsheets and phone banks that had until then defined my work with the campaign. My new job was to guide Chicago’s surplus of volunteers to Wisconsin’s surplus of swing voters, thereby increasing turnout among “our people.” “The voters on your lists like us,” I explained to the bus with a confidence I didn’t quite feel. “Your job is not to argue. Your job is to get them to the polls.”
“But what if we meet a person who’s undecided?” asks a female voice.
“That probably won’t happen,” I say, “but if it does, tell them your story. We’re all on this bus for a reason, and that’s the most compelling case you can make.”
Six hours later, I shiver my way back to the bus. It had been a productive day. I had helped one woman set up a ride to the polls. Another had offered me coffee. Only two had slammed doors. Victory. But then, I see a middle-aged man approaching, trailed by two young girls. He pauses, his eyes moving to my clipboard. “Quick,” he grins. “Three reasons I should vote for the president.”