Volunteering for Votes: Students get involved with Ro Khanna campaign


Chetana Ramaiyer


Last February, five high school and college students gathered around a table outside of Coffee Society. These students were part of the Ro Khanna campaign. This was their only meeting spot to work, other than in their regional field director, Garret Wesselís car, of course.

As the general election comes to an end with only 20 days left, more and more students are canvassing for Ro Khanna as one of the Democratic candidates representing California’s 17th Congressional District. Canvassing is a systematic way of directly contacting individuals in the community to advocate for political campaigns. Working for this campaign is much different than other volunteering opportunities. Junior Hasini Shyamsundar enjoys the dedication and hard work that this unique volunteer experience entails.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-1-53-10-pm“The difference between this and a lot of other volunteering opportunities is here you build the structure yourself,” Shyamsundar said. “Here, the more work you put in, the more you get out of it.”

Shyamsundar got involved with the campaign after listening to Tarun Galagali from the 2014 Ro Khanna campaign speak. She went to a training session in Feb. 2016 and soon became passionate about the campaign. Shyamsundar invited some friends to join as well. Junior Anisha Kollareddy joined after Shyamsundar told her about the campaign because Kollareddy wanted something to be passionate about.

“I would say that [you should join] if you’re interested in learning a bunch of skills like leadership, communication, persuasive skills or if you just want to be part of a different culture,” Kollareddy said. “It [is] my culture; my escape from work.”

At first, the campaign was unofficial. They would get into Wessel’s car, which was filled with pamphlets to hand out to the voters, and drive to their different areas to canvas—their main form of campaigning, according to senior at Saratoga High School, Dhruva Setlur, the fellowship director of the campaign.

“Our biggest thing here is knocking on doors. Everyone does it. Even Ro knocks on doors,” Setlur said. “We wouldn’t be able to knock on so many doors without students.”

Although she has been chased by dogs and yelled at by people while canvassing, knocking on doors is actually Kollareddy’s favorite part of being on the campaign.

“There are so many different interesting people out there and you learn so much about your community that you never knew before,” Kollareddy said.

A few months after the initial meetings in February, the campaign got an office at the Oaks Center in Cupertino. On the orange walls of the office is a map of all the areas they have canvassed, a countdown of the days left, pictures of the team leaders and a huge poster with Ro Khannaís motto, “Onward,” on it.

ìWe have had an extraordinary amount of students Ö from [MVHS], Cupertino, from Fremont, Sunnyvale, [and] Homestead,” Khanna said. “They’ve been helping knock on doors, help get the message out.”

By knocking on doors and making phone calls, these students aren’t just earning volunteer hours, they’re attempting to make change in their community.

“I feel like Iíve actually made an impact because in the primary elections, it came down to a couple hundred votes, and that couldíve been another couple shifts that I did,” Kollareddy said. “It’s empowering to know what you can do.”