When Meredith Segal '08 sat down to dinner in August with presidential hopeful Barack Obama and 13 Capitol Hill big shots, she fit right in. While many of the other guests at the D.C. dinner had names preceded by "senator" or "representative," Segal shared one title with them all: National Co-Chair of "Obama for America." The guests had been invited to share a meal with Obama to discuss his efforts in becoming the next president.
At 21, Segal is by far the youngest co-chair, but her lesser age is by no means reflected in the impressive work she has done for the campaign. She has helped mobilize tens of thousands of Obama enthusiasts from her own generation, and quite appropriately to her age, she has depended on Facebook as a crucial tool.
After discovering Obama during the summer of 2006 through the keynote address he delivered at the 2004 Democratic Convention, Segal did more research on the Illinois senator and became convinced that he should run for president. So in July 2006, Segal started a petition, in the form of a Facebook group, to encourage Obama to become a contender in the next election. Other students quickly joined the cause.
"I got a lot of e-mails from people in the group who wanted to get more involved," Segal says.
Responding to this outcry, Segal set up conference calls with other members of the Facebook group. These calls served as a platform for generating ideas about the group's role in the campaign. During the fall of 2006, the group transformed from a Facebook group to the political action committee, Students for Barack Obama.
By the time the Senator announced his candidacy in February 2007, Segal's Facebook group had accumulated more than 50,000 members, and Students for Barack Obama soon became the official student wing of the Obama campaign, with Segal serving as its executive director.
"One of the really cool discoveries I've made through this campaign is that young people really do care about issues," said Segal, refuting the perception that young Americans are apathetic.
"Our generation is far more engaged with community service and civic efforts, but a lot of that hasn't been translated into political action," she said.
According to Segal, Students for Barack Obama has brought out "so much passion in so many students." For instance, more than 3,500 students attended a rally for Obama that the organization held in February at George Mason University in Virginia. With just over a week's notice that Obama would make an appearance, Segal and other volunteers worked out the logistics for the event, which included accommodating more than 100 representatives from the media and arranging buses to transport people to and from the rally.
At the event, Segal introduced Obama before his speech, and Obama lauded Segal's efforts.
"This is a remarkable, remarkable achievement, and a remarkable event that speaks to what's possible when young people put their mind to something," Obama said at the rally, before calling Segal to join him at the podium.
Segal recognizes the important role of young people in this campaign.
"As long as this campaign is ongoing, Students for Barack Obama will be a key component?[Obama] told me that himself," Segal said.
"The fact that they suggested that I serve as a co-chair really demonstrates how central students are and how young people really are at the heart of this campaign," she added.
In the same way, the campaign is certainly in Segal's heart; she typically spends more than 40 hours each week working with Students for Barack Obama. The organization has a chapter at more than 550 college campuses nationwide, as well as high school representatives at the state level. She holds daily conference calls with students from across the country to strategize ways to raise support for the candidate.
"This campaign really is a grassroots campaign," Segal says.
Her involvement with Obama's bid for election has given Segal a good taste of the fast-paced nature of such work. She elaborates on the challenging deadlines with which she sometimes has to operate.
"At 11 p.m., you get an e-mail that there's a brand new project...and yeah, it has to be finished by 9 a.m.," she said.
During the summer, Segal worked full-time at the campaign's national volunteer headquarters in Chicago. She helped run Camp Obama, a multi-day intense campaign training program for Obama supporters. She also made time to play ping-pong with Obama's two young daughters.
As it happens, Segal says she sees herself working with children, not politics, in the future.
"Ultimately, down the road, I'd like to go into research and teaching, especially with special needs kids," she said.
In fact, Segal teaches in a local school for six hours each week as part of her teaching minor at Bowdoin. She is also involved with mentoring programs at Bowdoin, serving as a co-leader of Bear Buddies.
On top of it all, Segal, a neuroscience major, is enrolled in four classes and has plans to complete an honors project this year. She jokes that she thought about dropping a class, but she did not have time to turn in her add/drop form.
Segal, who hails from Cumberland, Maine, says that she is inspired by her family?her grandfather was heavily involved in the civil rights movement, and her father took part in the anti-Vietnam war effort.
Regardless of what happens with Obama's campaign, Segal said she has been extraordinarily impressed by "the sheer number of people who are willing to give their time and energy for nothing in return except the hope that they can do something to make their country better."