Student first volunteered with Oakley campaign as part of a class assignment, but says experience made ‘lasting impression’
When Brook Haven Community College student Christina Gurvin first saw the syllabus for her Government 2301 class, she considered dropping.
It wasn’t the amount of reading, the number of tests or the attendance policy that scared her. It was the out-of-class work.
In order to make an A, she had to complete 15 volunteer hours for a mayoral campaign in the Dallas County elections held Saturday, May 12.
“I’m a full time student, and I wait tables. It was racing through my mind that I don’t have time. I wasn’t interested,” Gurvin said.
She took the challenge anyway. When Gurvin first arrived at the campaogn office of openly gay mayoral candidate Ed Oakley, she was assigned to label water bottles with campaign stickers.
“I turned to a friend and said, “‘What does this have anything to do with campaigning?’ Looking puzzled, she kept labeling the water, and I kept counting down the seconds,” Gurvin said.
But that all changed.
On her second day with the campaign, Gurvin helped out at a party thrown for everyone who endorsed Oakley for mayor.
“The event was so full of life, and people were laughing, drinking, eating and talking politics,” she said. “I managed to meet people of every occupation. I met bar owners and club owners. I met people that wanted me to work for their corporate office. It was amazing. After this experience, I felt that this assignment was no longer obligated, but it could be fun.”
Gurvin eventually completed 45 hours of work for the campaign, triple what was assigned to her.
“At first I was hesitant, but it ended up being a good thing. I got to see how the political process worked. It’s not just, “‘Here let me plop a commercial on T.V. and call myself mayor.’ There’s a lot more to it than that,” she said.
According to Gurvin, seeing the election process first hand has “made a lasting impression on my outlooks on government.”
“I was motivated to participate,” she said. “I wanted to have a say in who got elected, especially after all of my hard work and time. I believe that as time goes on, I will become more aware and participate more, because my vote counts.”
Helen Heart, the volunteer coordinator for Oakley’s campaign, says that it’s not just the volunteers who take something away from working with the campaign.
“It helped them out with their political science, but it helped us out just as much,” Heart said.
“We introduced them to a lot of things that they had no knowledge about like how a campaign runs and how to make a good appeal to the voter. At the same time, they were quite helpful. I would say it is probably possible to run a successful campaign without them, but it sure is a lot easier and more fun with them.”
Jose Plata, a consultant for Joseph Hernandez’s campaign for city council, couldn’t agree more.
“Volunteers are a pretty amazing role,” Plata said. “They where an key piece to our campaign, and Joseph knew it from the start.”
Since Hernandez’s campaign is not as well funded as Oakley’s, the importance of Hernandez’s more-than-100 volunteers was much greater than Oakley’s 10 volunteers.
“When you’re running a grassroots campaign, you can’t afford to pay people to help,” Plata said. “It takes friends and members of community to devote their time, energy and sometimes money to help get the message across.”
According to a report by the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, the LGBT community is normally one of the best at lending out a helping hand to political campaigns.
The typical volunteer across the nation puts in 18 hours of donated time per month. The LGBT volunteer averages 29. Furthermore, of those 29 hours, about seven and a half are given to a political advocacy group.
But Plata says there is always room for more people to help.
“We need a huge volunteer force to get a presence at the polls,” he said.
“Joseph puts them at the voting sites and they run the phone banks. Without them, our campaign can’t get off the ground.”
Gurvin would say, don’t hesitate sign up to help out today.
“I would definitely tell people to try it,” she said. “I think you can’t really knock it until you try it.
“I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t have an interest. But it ended up being one of the best experiences of this year. And for the first time, I feel like I actually care about what’s going on in the government.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 18, 2007