While the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will certainly make this election unlike any other, the Bowdoin Democrats (Bowdoin Dems) are still offering interested students multiple opportunities each week to participate in Democratic organizing. Between thrice-weekly phone banks, twice-weekly group walks to the polls in Brunswick and in-person canvassing, Bowdoin Dems’ eight-person officer team has created ways for students, both remote and on-campus, to get involved as Election Day quickly approaches.
“It’s been really cool to talk to Mainers about the candidates and hear their thoughts and make sure we help people make a plan to vote,” said Ryan Kovarovics ’23,who has been organizing the phone banks, in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I think my vision, my goal, is just to get rid of Susan Collins and Donald Trump, and this is the way that I know how to do that and the way I can do that from Virginia.”
Kovarovics explained that, in his role as one of two Bowdoin Dems campaign directors, he has been working with the Maine Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign, and he converses regularly with a particular Brunswick field organizer. Bowdoin Dems works with the Coordinated Campaign for its weekly phone banks, which allows them to make calls about former Vice President Joe Biden, Sara Gideon and Chellie Pingree. Kovarovics said that these calls have generally been focused on the Bowdoin Dems’ “turf” of Brunswick, Freeport and Harpswell, but that the group plans on expanding its work to other areas in the coming weeks.
“[On Wednesday] we actually ran out of our lists for the Brunswick/Harpswell area, so we were calling into our lists for somewhere else in Cumberland County,” said Kovarovics. “The current plan is, next week, we’ll be making calls in the Second District of Maine, so for Jared Golden for Congress, and we’re also trying to set up a phone bank for Montana to make calls for Steve Bullock, who is in a crazy Senate race out there.”
Eleanor Mildenstein ’21, co-president of Bowdoin Dems, sees these calls as an important way for Bowdoin students to use the resources they have to help inform other voters.
“We want to get Bowdoin students to turn out to vote and to be educated on the candidate and hopefully be voting for progressive candidates,” she said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Then I think also doing our best to turn out people who are much less likely to vote, because we have the pretty robust Bowdoin Votes program, but there are a lot of people across the country, especially in major swing states, that don’t have all those resources right at their fingertips like we do.”
Mildenstein recently organized a Bowdoin Dems phone bank through the Human Rights Campaign USA, which focused on calling voters who prioritize LGBTQ+ issues who may have more trouble voting this year due to COVID-19.
In addition to phone banking, Kovarovics mentioned that the Coordinated Campaign started in-person canvassing this past weekend, which Bowdoin students who are living in the Brunswick area in off-campus housing are able to participate in. He noted that canvassing tended to produce a higher contact rate than phone banking, but he also understood that, under the circumstances, some students would not feel comfortable with in-person organizing.
“I was texting someone yesterday, and they were like, ‘I’m just not comfortable knocking on doors during a pandemic,’ and I was like, ‘that makes a lot of sense—I totally get that,’ ” said Kovarovics. “We’re not doing canvassing in Virginia. In certain parts of Maine, they are. I think you’ll see students doing it—I don’t think it’s going to be as big as previous years.”
Mildenstein also mentioned Zoom fatigue as a barrier to participation in remote programming, including phone banking, and noted that she thought student participation would likely be higher during a non-remote semester.
But she and Kovarovics also observed that some of the lower turnout could be attributed to the fact that many Bowdoin students are working on campaigns all across the country, meaning they phone bank regularly through jobs and internships and may be less likely to participate in a phone bank through Bowdoin. And, Kovarovics said that a small but committed group has still signed on to phone bank each week through Bowdoin Dems, and that new people continued to regularly show up as well.
The Bowdoin Dems are holding their thrice-weekly phone banks in the remaining days leading up to November 2 on Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. EDT, Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT and Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m. EDT. They are also holding group walks to the polls on Thursday at 5 p.m. EDT and Friday at 11 a.m. EDT.