On Wednesday night in the Winston Room, Chris Finch, a government major, presented his first documentary, “My Generation,” about his inspirational experience during the 2008 Obama campaign, where he encouraged young people to vote and learned the importance of speaking up.
Extensive networking during his spring 2008 semester in Washington D.C., landed Chris a job in Denver during the summer. During his D.C. semester and time in Denver, Chris became increasingly passionate about politics and the Obama campaign. During the summer, Chris began applying for various positions in the campaign. However, in August, as school was approaching and a job had yet to be secured, Chris faced a difficult decision. In the end, he took the plunge. Chris recalled, “I kept calling people and calling people until I got a job.”
After a job in Florida fell through, Chris continued until he found a job based in Appleton, Wisconsin as a Youth Vote Coordinator for the Obama Campaign. Chris explained that Appleton is the 5th largest city in Wisconsin, a swing state, and that his job focused on the campaigns of three Democrats. At 21, Chris was the youngest campaigner, the oldest being 31. Based at Lawrence University, a small college of liberal arts and science as well as a music conservatory, Chris worked with his peers. Noting the irony of working at Lawrence University in Appleton, Chris promised that St. Lawrence “one-ups” Lawrence in almost everything.
While Chris was able to work with students his age and made many new friends at Lawrence, the job was exhausting. Waking up at 7:00 A.M. and making phone calls by 8:00 every morning, Chris registered students to vote, organized events with senators and congressmen, met with the Lawrence Democrats and Lawrence for Obama organizations and was “constantly recruiting people to vote.” Chris added, “I didn’t leave until eleven o’clock at night, sometimes not until twelve when we had a busy day.”
In addition to the lack of sleep, “there was a lot of stress, a lot of coffee, and no exercise.” To his relief, when he got to Wisconsin, Chris said that “half the work was already done” because Obama had attracted so much attention from young voters. Chris found it inspiring to work with so many people for a “common cause.”
Additionally, Chris enjoyed many memorable moments, including a particularly unforgettable election night. His campaign efforts led to the overwhelming success of three democratic candidates, President Obama, Congressman Steve Kagen, and State Representative Penny Bernard Schaber, in a traditionally conservative district. The election of these three democrats was particularly noteworthy because one was black, one was Jewish, and one was a woman; the first democratic woman to represent that district in 95 years.
Because he developed such a great relationship with the students, Chris recalled that on election night he turned down an invitation to a staff party and went to the student union instead. On campus, Chris and his co-campaigner, Emily, earned the respective nicknames “Chris Obama” and “Emily Obama.” Chris remembered, “When we walked in, everybody started cheering for us and then everyone sang the national anthem.”
Chris’ interest in politics is deeply rooted as he “grew up on the campaign trail.” His father, a long time politician, is currently mayor of Chris’ Connecticut hometown, Bridgeport. The documentation of his experience, however, was inspired by his brother, a film-maker. “I combined my two greatest passions,” Chris explained. With a small Panasonic camera, Chris started filming in late August of 2008, during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, where he was amazed by the parades and crowds of people. Chris said, “I had to get it on tape. It was the most people I’ve ever seen.” Taking his brother’s advice to “document everything,” Chris captured inspiring moments from the DNC, including a short clip of an interview with NBC reporter Chris Matthews, as well as his experiences in Appleton and interviews with students and teachers at Lawrence.
SLU professor Dr. Joe Kling was impressed that Chris “delayed his life for an entire semester” and dedicated his time to politics. But Chris doesn’t consider it a delay, saying “It was the most amazing experience of my life.” Chris’s experience was not only educational, but also eye opening. In fact, during his campaigning, Chris met students from Occidental College of California, where a campaign semester is offered. The college offers funding for students’ food and housing during the semester, where they actively participate in political campaigns in a learning experience. Chris said, “I think this is something St. Lawrence should consider.”
After watching the film on Wednesday night, Britne Tyler ’11 said, “It was really good and really nice to see someone our age do something for the Democratic National Convention. It was inspiring and I thought the film looked really professional.” Britne explained that she was in a filmmaking class and said she got some good ideas from the documentary.
The filmmaking process was not easy. Chris compiled a 35 minute documentary out of about 8 hours of footage. “It is my first movie and I made a lot of mistakes, lots of footage was lost while editing. But it’s important and I’d rather show it than not show it.” Keeping his young audience in mind, Chris combined interviews with Chris Matthews, two professors and president Obama with “music that inspires” and a fast pace to keep people’s attention.
Chris also noted that the period of Obama’s campaign was exceptional because “Obama as a candidate inspired a great turnout and young voter involvement, which is something that hasn’t been seen since the 60’s.” Chris feels that young voter involvement is so valuable because college provides the ideal environment to establish oneself as a voter. “Being able to talk to others is one of the best aspects of the college environment. But it’s important to do so without making prejudgments and being open-minded to others.” Enthused by campaigners as young as high school students, Chris encourages all young people to get involved and with faith in Obama, Chris hopes, “With Obama as president, young people’s voice can be considered.”
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