Students for Barack Obama hosted White House staffer Kal Penn at the Memorial Union last Friday to discuss ways students can be involved in the upcoming election and to the importance of youth involvement.
Penn, associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement and an actor best known for his role in the “Harold and Kumar” film series, related his first experiences in politics to the crowd and called on listeners to help out President Barack Obama as he seeks re-election this November.
“There is a lot of progress we’ve made that I would hate to see get rolled back and it is going to be a really close election, particularly here in Wisconsin, and the president can’t win it without you guys,” Penn said.
Penn said when he started volunteering for the president’s campaign in 2007, he had never done anything political before.
He said at the time he felt there were a lot of issues neither party was doing much to help with and he decided to volunteer for Obama because he might be able to change things.
“I should do the disclaimer that there was a writers strike in Hollywood at the time also so there was no stoner movie for me to do that year,” Penn said.
Penn said he moved to Iowa that year to join the campaign like every other volunteer. After having a chance to go to 26 states on behalf of the president, he was then offered the opportunity to serve in the White House once Obama entered office.
Penn said people like him on college campuses all over the country want to encourage young people to lend their hand in volunteering because of the long list of Obama’s youth accomplishments that hasn’t received much attention but benefits everyone.
As an example, Penn talked about the American Opportunity Tax Credit introduced by Obama, which is aimed at making college more affordable. He said it was promised by Obama in his 2008 campaign and then delivered on after he was inaugurated.
“He has fought really hard for young people behind the scenes and I feel really fortunate that I had the chance to see him do that outside the gaze of TV cameras and things like that,” Penn said.
Before Penn addressed the crowd, Young Progressives Chair Peter Anich spoke at the event and said voter registration and getting students involved are two things extremely important to the president and the fall campaign.
“The president won because of the student vote,” Anich said in regard to the 2008 election. “It made such a difference to have our voice for once.”
UW sophomore and Dorm Team Leader for Obama’s campaign on campus Zach Wood attended the event and said never before has there been an election that will impact students so greatly.
Wood said he wants to empower young people to exercise their power to vote.
UW College Republicans Chair Jeff Snow said the Students for Barack Obama probably chose to ask Penn to come to campus and talk because Obama himself is not resonating with young people anymore and needed to put a fresh face to represent a bad record.
“Youth, especially on our side, realize that their future is what is at stake in this election and that is why our side is so motivated,” Snow said.