Vassar Today

Student Politics: Outside Main Gate

By Lindsay Dawson ’05

This fall, when most Vassar students were packing up their ramen noodles and sweatshirts in preparation for the move into their new dorm rooms, Liz Sammons ’06 had to fit her life into a single suitcase, and she didn’t know where she was headed. Instead of returning to campus, or joining fellow juniors traveling abroad, Sammons volunteered a semester of her life to John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

Sammons’ political odyssey began during the 1988 presidential election, when she was four. At a Michael Dukakis rally, she sat on her father’s shoulders holding a sign, overcome with excitement. “I come from a family of political junkies,” Sammons said with a laugh. “My family would take us to a lot of protests and rallies when I was little.” At Vassar, trends in post-9/11 foreign and domestic policy added fuel to her political fire. In Sammons’ words, “The more I heard about the direction the world and the country were going in, the more I wanted to change it.”

When she heard of an opportunity to work for Grassroots Campaigns, Inc., which works with the Democratic National Committee, Sammons jumped at the chance. With only a few days’ notice, she drove to Boston during the Democratic Convention to interview for the position. Meeting the other interviewees only energized her further: “It reminded me of summer camp. We all sat in a circle, but instead of saying our favorite ice cream, we had to state which Bush policy annoyed us the most.” After the ice-breaking interlude, Sammons had ten minutes to devise a presentation that would convince college students to volunteer for Kerry. Soon after her mock speech, Democratic officials informed Sammons that the position was hers.

Sammons’ journey began in August, when she was shipped to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for two-week basic training in canvassing and educating young volunteers. At the time of our interview, she did not yet know where she would be sent afterward—and was in the awkward predicament of having to pack a suitcase that would accommodate three months worth of clothing for appearances in every swing state. Sammons bunked on the couches of family members, friends, and co-workers, and was responsible for scrounging up her own food between long hours of door-to-door canvassing. She was prepared to move every few weeks, or, alternatively, to stay in one assignment for the duration of the fall.

When Sammons returns to campus in the spring, she will be faced with the threat of delayed graduation, a possibility that does not seem to faze her: “I don’t like the idea of rushing through just to get through. I love Vassar too much.” Despite her esteem for the college, Sammons was eager to use her Vassar education outside the friendly confines of the campus. “I’m excited to get out of my element,” she said. “I’m really honored to have the opportunity to become directly involved in something that I care about this much, and I’m looking forward to putting my lessons from the Vassar classroom into action, which is somewhat hard to do within its walls.”

To read about Sammons’ experiences and see pictures of her life on the road, visit the online addition of this issue.