In this historic election year, SFS students have been making their voices heard in voter registration efforts and political campaigns across the country. From working for candidates up and down the ballot to leveraging social media and peer-to-peer outreach to get out the vote, students have been using their time in-between classes to get involved in their democracy.
As interns, volunteers, activists, organizers and social media influencers, SFS students share their experiences of engaging in an election that will define their futures.
Eric Bazail-Eimil (SFS’23), Finance Intern, Jeanne Shaheen for Senate
Sophomore Eric Bazail-Eimil (SFS’23) has been taking advantage of Georgetown’s virtual learning environment to work as a finance intern on New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s re-election campaign. Since September, Bazail-Eimil has assisted with research and donor contribution efforts, as well as staffing virtual fundraising events hosted by the Senator, from his hometown in Florida.
Despite working on a campaign far from his own state, Bazail-Eimil is energized by the challenge presented by a New Hampshire race. He says, “New Hampshire is a tough state to win in. Elections are often won by hair-thin margins and knowing that keeps me motivated every single day.”
He is also excited by his candidate, and admires her environment and healthcare policies as well as her national security work as the sole woman on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. His enthusiasm for her platform makes the hours he works on top of his Georgetown classes feel worth it, he explains.
“It takes some time management skills for sure! I try to log as many call time hours as possible during the weekends and in between classes,” he says. “It’s easy to keep going when there’s a phenomenal candidate to fight for.”
For Bazail-Eimil, being able to vote in races at multiple levels of government is an important right. He stresses, “Voting, especially in local races, is one of the least burdensome ways to get involved in the process and effect change.”
Jacob Bernard (SFS’23), Communications Intern, Amy Kennedy for Congress
Jacob Bernard (SFS’23) has taken on a campaign position closer to home. As a communications intern for Amy Kennedy — a candidate running for Congress in New Jersey’s 2nd District, where he lives — he helps with virtual campaigning through emails and calls. He also got to serve as an election day challenger for his candidate’s primary, monitoring ballot counting to ensure a fair election, which he says has been his favorite responsibility so far.
Bernard wants to create change in his own community and believes that Kennedy will improve the lives of the people in his district. He says, “I believe that when we do not vote, we take the system for granted and we let the most marginalized communities down. The Kennedy campaign is powered by hundreds of volunteers. When we get involved, we enhance our voices, as well as those who feel forgotten.”
Early on in the pandemic, Bernard directly supported residents by conducting check-in calls on voters to inform them about testing centers, unemployment applications and access to small business loans. “It was not about politics, it was about helping people get the resources they needed,” he recalls.
Bernard believes that the right to vote is one of the most important privileges he and his fellow citizens have. He explains, “I always reflect and think about those who came before me, like John Lewis, who risked their lives so I could have the opportunity to vote. I believe that voting is our highest civic duty.”
Sarah Bryant (SFS’22), Volunteer, GUVotes
When Sarah Bryant (SFS’22) tried to cast an absentee ballot during the 2018 Midterm Elections in her home state of Tennessee, she encountered so many difficulties that she decided to do something about it.
Through her work with student-led initiative GUVotes, the International Politics major has helped to simplify the voting process for her fellow Hoyas, encouraged students to vote and worked to add voter registration to MyAccess, the university’s online instruction program.
Bryant feels that expanding access to voting is a moral duty. “Our nation’s history of voter suppression and the hard-fought battles to win the right to vote motivate me to lift up student voices and ensure that everyone can participate in the civic process,” she says.
Therefore, when the pandemic hit, Bryant and her fellow students at GUVotes were undeterred. They stepped up their online outreach efforts, running social media campaigns, hosting virtual events and collaborating with other student organizations.
When engaging with her peers, Bryant always reminds them that voting is one of the easiest ways to effect change. “Voting is the most direct tool we have to choose who represents us and make our voices heard,” she says. “Civic engagement doesn’t end at the ballot box, but voting is an essential part of the democratic process.”
Will Cassou (SFS’21), Field Organizer, Iowa Democratic Party’s Coordinated Campaign
Senior Will Cassou (SFS’21) decided to take a semester off of his studies to work as a full-time field organizer for the Iowa Democratic Party’s Coordinated Campaign. “I’m so excited to work for this coordinated campaign because there are competitive races up and down the ballot in Iowa,” he says.
Directing voter outreach in Story County, Cassou manages phone banks and other virtual events, working seven days a week in an effort to drive up voter turnout. In spite of the stakes and schedule, Cassou says he stays motivated, “We have the potential to flip Iowa back to blue. If Democrats win, I’ll know that this campaign, my volunteers and I helped make that happen.”
Cassou has been working mostly online in his role. “It’s disappointing that there are many volunteers I won’t meet outside of our zoom meetings,” he says, “but it’s been so rewarding to build such strong relationships with Iowans who are so motivated and energized to make change in their communities and nationwide.”
With a deep belief in the importance of making his own voice heard and elevating those of Iowa voters, Cassou emphasizes the long-term importance of voting this year. “Elections are the times when we get to dictate the direction of our country’s future. Sitting them out means we’re letting others make those choices for us with little to no input from us.”
Sari Cureton (SFS’21), Georgetown University representative, NCAA SAAC voter registration challenge
Senior Sari Cureton (SFS’21) represented her fellow Hoya student-athletes for the Big East Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s voter registration challenge. Cureton explains that when committee members met to discuss their plans for the year, increasing civic engagement among student athletes quickly became a top priority.
“Over the summer all of the representatives throughout the conference got together to discuss what initiatives would be impactful. We decided that voting would be the one that would be most important for this fall,” Cureton remembers
Cureton and her Georgetown Women’s Basketball teammates took to social media to reach their peers, many of whom are studying and training from home as the pandemic prevents travel and in-person gatherings. One of the Big East SAAC’s most successful digital campaigns involved challenges encouraging teams to register every single athlete on their squad.
Cureton says her involvement in the campaign was about empowering her student athletes like her. She explains, “Our vote is our voice, and we wanted to empower as many people as possible to use their voice.”
For first-year student Lauren D’Amico (SFS’24), one silver lining to studying virtually from home has been the flexibility it gives her to volunteer with the Biden-Harris campaign. As a member of the call crew, Lauren uses her free time to call potential Democractic voters in battleground states, informing them about voting processes and answering questions about the campaign’s policy on important issues.
D’Amico has had the chance to speak to voters all over the country in-between her class and study schedule. “Because my job is on a volunteer-basis and remote, I am able to take shifts at virtually any time,” she explains. “When I have a break in between classes or finish my work for the day, I am able to spend time calling voters for the campaign.”
And she is also keenly aware of the need for additional voter education in a year when the pandemic may mean that voters are using alternative ballot processes for the first time. D’Amico says, “I want to help people be able to exercise their right to vote and know how to do so in a COVID-era.”
While balancing her first semester of college with her voluntary work has been a challenge, D’Amico is convinced of the importance of getting politically involved. She says, “It is incredibly important to get involved with the democratic process, especially for young voters. We have both a right and a duty to have a say in our government and our future.”
As a student-athlete, Maya Fernandez-Powell (SFS’22) is used to carefully balancing her studies with extracurricular commitments. This semester, in addition to her class and training schedule, the Georgetown Women’s Soccer player found time to help lead a voter registration drive among her fellow Hoyas.
“As someone who is passionate about voter registration and getting as many people to vote, I wanted to play my part in ensuring Hoya student-athletes are ready to vote,” she remembers.
Fernandez-Powell created a partnership between Georgetown’s NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and GUVotes, a student-led initiative that works to strengthen voting culture on campus. Georgetown SAAC ran social media campaigns and voter registration drives that saw many teams achieve 100% voter registration among their athletes.
While managing her busy schedule can be hard, Fernandez-Powell is committed to democratic participation. “Georgetown has taught me how important it is to be an engaged participant in civic life,” she says. “While my voting engagement work is another element to balance with my studies, I have always felt that it is my responsibility as a Hoya and a citizen.”
She adds, “Democracy is not a spectator sport. It relies on engaged citizens to play their part in order to keep to our democratic process alive and strong.”
Alec Libermann (SFS’24), Intern, National Republican Senatorial Committee
Before beginning his studies at Georgetown this fall, first-year Alec Libermann (SFS’24) interned with the National Republican Senatorial Committee. While he doesn’t consider himself a particularly partisan person, he wanted to gain political experience and to understand different approaches to policy.
“I wanted to experience the political world first-hand to see both where the other side was coming from,” he explains. “Even though it may seem cliché to say this, I genuinely believe it’s always beneficial to hear out both sides, even if you don’t agree with one of them — or both of them.”
In his role, Libermann conducted background research about campaign finance and social media posts related to current events. He also attended and reported back on virtual events hosted by Republican Senate campaigns all over the country.
Reflecting on the dialogue around the upcoming election, he says, “I genuinely believe it’s always beneficial to hear out both sides. It’s my belief that, in this way, discourse can actually be productive instead of polarizing.”
And, like his peers, Libermann reiterated the importance of voting. He stresses, “Americans, no matter what ideological beliefs we may hold, should exercise our freedoms by voicing our opinions and going to the polls.”
Rocío Ortega Ramirez (LAS’21), Volunteer, She Se Puede
Though she is juggling her part-time graduate studies with a full-time job, Rocío Ortega Ramirez (LAS’21) felt she had to get involved in the electoral process this year. In her free time, she has been volunteering with She Se Puede, an organization dedicated to empowering Latinas in their communities, workplaces and in the voting booth.
In the lead-up to the election, She Se Puede has been focusing on increasing voter turnout in Latinx communities across the country. On behalf of the organization, Ortega has been encouraging people to get out to vote through Spanish language phone banking, amplifying social media campaigns and having informal conversations with family and friends.
Ortega’s support for She Se Puede is deeply personal. “As a Latina, I knew I needed to get involved because I’ve seen my community suffer due to policies that violate our human rights,” she explains.
She continues, “I also needed a community (even if it’s virtual) to exchange ideas and feel supported. She Se Puede creates an online platform for hundreds of Latinas around the U.S. to meet, learn from each other and grow together.”
The Latin American Studies student hopes that her work will turn her community’s voting power into real change. “The Latina community specifically is growing more every day, yet we are not represented in leadership positions. We still fall behind on the wage gap — we make $0.55 for every $1 a white man makes — this needs to change and it starts by voting.”
Sophia Sokolowski (MSFS’21), Convener for the National Arts Committee and Director of Development for Artists for Biden, Biden-Harris Campaign
Graduate student Sophia Sokolowski (MSFS’21) currently serves as Convener for the National Arts Committee and Director of Development for Artists on the Biden-Harris campaign. She also works on foreign policy for the presidential and vice presidential candidates.
Sokolowski’s work with former Vice President Biden dates back to the Obama administration, when she served as a White House intern on Biden’s Cancer Moonshot task force. “The people who work for VP Biden and Dr. Biden are a family — they are loyal, trustworthy, committed and genuine. I love being part of what we refer to as ‘Bidenland,’” she says.
Before the pandemic, Sokolowski travelled the country for the Democratic primaries, staffing a number of campaign trail events, often with her Master of Science in Foreign Service classmate, Thomas Hanley (MSFS’21). She even had the opportunity to serve as a precinct captain during the Nevada caucuses. “I got to experience the chaos and excitement of a caucus firsthand,” she recalls.
Since then, Sokolowski and her colleagues have been campaigning primarily online, to maintain safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. But virtual campaigning has its benefits, she says. “It’s inspired supporters from all over to create their own groups,” she explains. “It’s incredible to see how everyone has come together to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the White House.”
Engaging with voters and hearing about their hopes this election has underscored the importance of voting for Sokolowski. “We are incredibly fortunate to live in a society where we have the power to voice our preferences,” she says. “We should not take this right for granted.”
Amelie Zilber (SFS’24), Social Media Activist
First-year student Amelie Zilber (SFS’24) has been using her social media platform to encourage her millions of followers to vote in this election. The model and activist has more than 1.6 million followers on Instagram, and close to 5 million on TikTok, and describes her content as “beauty and fashion with a socially conscious twist.”
In the lead-up to the election, Zilber has been collaborating with RockTheVote, HeadCount, BallotReady, VOTE.org and fellow social media personalities to get young people to the polls.
“As a first-time voter and member of Gen Z, I understand what kind of dialogue is necessary to inspire young people in the voting process. This election is our chance to build a country inclusive to everyone,” she says.
Zilber has also been working with the Biden-Harris campaign, participating in its #TeamJoeTalks digital media campaign. She also recently interviewed senior Biden advisor Symone Sanders on her social media channels.
“There doesn’t seem to be a more pivotal year than 2020 to address and hold accountable the political forces holding power in this country,” Zilber says. “I have the privilege of being able to create meaningful change by engaging in the political process.”
She adds, “We all have the opportunity to use our individual votes to champion the voices of the underrepresented. Voting is of extreme importance because they need to be heard.”