Wearing his USC sweatshirt in the pre-dawn drizzle, Micah Scheindlin was working on three hours sleep and a cereal bar. The USC College senior was among hundreds of students volunteering for the rally on campus Friday attended by the 44th president of the United States.
As crowds grew along Jefferson Boulevard, eventually winding up and down 34th Street, up Vermont Avenue to Exposition Boulevard, Scheindlin tried to shepherd the masses toward the metal detectors and into the event.
“This is exhausting and exhilarating,” said Scheindlin, a USC College Democrats official. “The president will be here very soon.”
Several hours later, Scheindlin stood on a platform set up at Doheny Memorial Library, right behind each speaker as he or she stepped behind the podium one by one.
Scheindlin, an American studies and ethnicity major, said the hard work was worth the effort. He said it felt surreal when Obama finally appeared and even more so when the president approached him and shook his hand.
“Yeah, I got no sleep; yeah, I put miles on my shoes, but here’s the president of the United States right in front of me,” he said. “We’re never going to get to the point where we’re too exhausted. We’re never going to stop.”
A few days earlier, on Wednesday night, Scheindlin visited Kerman Maddox’s “Campaign Elections and Politics” class, where a representative for Organizing for America (OFA) discussed the upcoming visit with undergraduates.
“We have an historical event taking place Friday here on campus,” Maddox, a College lecturer, told his class. “There are many colleges in Southern California, so why is the president of the United States coming to USC?”
“USC is the most influential college in Southern California,” ventured one student.
Student Daniel Lopez had a more involved response.
“USC is located in a neighborhood that is very minority driven,” Lopez said. “There’re large Latino and African American communities, which are Obama’s base. Also, USC is centrally located in Los Angeles, so he can draw people from Pasadena, people from the Westside and from the South Bay.”
Lars Thorn from the OFA spoke to his class about participating in the political process. Maddox assigned his class to write about their observations of the rally.
“If I were a college student, I would give my left arm for this kind of opportunity,” said Maddox, referring to the chance to be involved in an on-campus rally attended by the president. “This is something these students will remember for the rest of their lives. It’s a story they’ll tell their kids.”
Many of Maddox’s students did end up volunteering during the event. Jonathan Cousimano, a political science junior in the College, was selected to drive in the president’s motorcade. Drivers got to meet the president and shake his hand, but that’s not why Cousimano volunteered.
“This is my future; my children’s future,” Cousimano said of the Nov. 2 election’s prevailing party. “A lot of young people simply don’t care. I’ve heard them say, ‘It’s only the mid-term elections.’ But I like having a voice.”
In Christian Grose’s “Presidents and the Presidency” class, the assistant professor in the College was delivering a PowerPoint presentation about when presidents make public appeals. He was discussing the fact that President Obama had been traveling more lately, campaigning for candidates before the mid-term elections.
A student on his laptop blurted: “Obama’s coming to USC!”
“There was a buzz throughout the room for a few minutes,” Grose said. “Everyone was really excited.”
Grose promptly assigned each student to write a one-page analysis of Obama’s speech, focusing on public policies.
Anthony Kammas, assistant professor of political science in the College, is having his students post their perceptions of the rally on the USC Political Science Undergraduate Association’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=156244887736553. The best responses will be published in the association’s upcoming journal.
“My students spend all this time reading about politics and the big ideas.” Kammas said. “And now here’s the big person on campus. It doesn’t matter if they agree with his policies, they’re engaging in person with their political leader.”
Senior Andrenna Hidalgo, a member of USC College Republicans, was excited about the rally, but for a different reason than most Democrats.
“The fact that he came here to California shows how close the governor and senate races are,” Hidalgo said. “He’s sending a signal that that the races are highly contested and he’s trying to bring back his momentum. He wouldn’t have been here if Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina weren’t such a threat.”