For Penn students working on Joe Biden's campaign, the fall has been filled with 70-hour weeks, tabling on Locust Walk, and running phone bank hubs. As the campaign reaches its final stretch, politically active students are grinding nonstop to help the former vice president emerge victorious in key battleground areas like Pennsylvania and Florida next week.
These Penn students, some of whom have taken a leave of absence to focus all their efforts on the campaign, have spent the last two months working as campus ambassadors or organizers for the Biden campaign. Others have found different ways to get involved with the voting process through organizations like Philadelphia’s Democratic Party.
College senior Bayley Tuch works as a chapter coordinator for Penn’s campus ambassadors, serving as an official liaison between the University and the Biden campaign as well as the Pennsylvania Democratic Party's Back to Blue PA initiative to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot.
As a paid fellow, Tuch spends 30 hours a week bolstering the campaign’s presence on campus by tabling in front of Panera Bread and Harnwell College House, organizing Zoom events, and making sure Penn students are prepared to vote.
"On campus, we also are handing out Biden signs, and so many people are like, 'Oh my gosh! I've been looking for one. I can't wait to put this up in my window,'" she said. "Every single time it makes me so happy."
Tuch's past couple of weeks have been filled with exciting encounters with high-profile politicians through her work with the Biden campaign. She introduced former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang at a small rally at Clark Park and attended President Barack Obama's “drive-in rally” outside Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia last week.
Her demanding work requires academic sacrifices, Tuch said. But she said balancing campaign work with classwork is a difficulty worth taking on in order to help turn Pennsylvania blue next week — an event that could determine the outcome of this election.
“At the end of the day, while [balancing the campaign with school] sucks, I’m like ‘leave it all on the table’ and not have regrets after the election’s over,” Tuch said.
Tuch said she decided to work for the Biden campaign to achieve her primary goal: Denying President Donald Trump re-election.
"Sure I want the Democrats to take back the Senate. I also want Democrats to take back the Pennsylvania State House, but first and foremost, I care that a Democrat is elected president to get Trump out of office," Tuch said.
Another student working for the Biden campaign, College junior Rachel Zaff, is taking the semester off to work as a field organizer for the campaign in Palm Beach County, Florida. Zaff spends 70 hours each week coordinating a team of around 50 volunteers to run virtual phone bank hubs and urge voters in South Florida to head to the polls and vote for Biden.
When Penn scratched its plans for a hybrid fall semester in August, Zaff decided to take a leave of absence and look for campaign jobs in lieu of completing her senior year virtually. Zaff originally applied to work for the Biden campaign in Pennsylvania but found that there were no openings. The campaign circulated her resume, which eventually landed with the Coordinated Campaign in Florida, a joint effort between the Florida Democrats and the Biden campaign.
“I knew on Election Day in 2016 when we heard afterward that Trump was elected that I would have to do something the next time around to make sure that he was a one-term president,” Zaff said. “This was really just an opportunity to take action and to try and influence the results of the next election in some way.”
She believes she has already made a difference in the weeks leading up to the election, pointing to the fact that registered Democrats have cast far more ballots than registered Republicans in Florida.
“We’re really doing all we can to flip Florida blue and so far we’ve been seeing good results,” Zaff said. “We’re hoping to just keep pushing that forward as we get closer to Election Day.”
Zaff, who is also a member of Penn Dems, said her time working for the campaign has been a great opportunity to apply what she has learned in her political science classes, particularly PSCI 237: The American Presidency.
“It’s been really interesting to see how a lot of the political theory that I learned about in my classes and theories of change apply to the real world and really seeing that application firsthand," she said.
Other students who are not working directly for the Biden campaign are also finding ways to help ensure the 1968 Wharton graduate does not serve a second term in office.
College sophomore Gianni Hill is the political coordinator for State Sen. Sharif Street, Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and 1999 Penn Law graduate.
Although Street does not work directly for the Biden campaign, Hill said the national campaign often requests assistance from the senator. Hill said he was involved with setting up local meetings, like Obama's visit to North Philadelphia to speak with Black leaders of the community before the drive-in rally last week.
“[Street] does the work that the campaign needs them to do and by extension, I do all the work that needs to get done to make his help for the campaign successful,” Hill said.
Hill, who spends about 60 to 70 hours a week working for the Senator, is also balancing a full course load at Penn. He normally works at Street's office in North Philadelphia from 9 a.m. to anytime ranging from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m., arranging meetings and managing the Senator's schedule in between Zoom classes.
Hill said his most exciting moment on the job was meeting Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) at the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee headquarters last month. He described the Democratic vice presidential nominee as gracious and generous with her time, greeting all the staff members and taking pictures with him and others in the office.
“It’s not every day that you see a motorcade pull up and Senator Harris hop out,” Hill said.
Hill, Tuch, and Zaff all stressed the importance of their fellow Penn students voting in the upcoming election, whether they cast their ballots early or on Nov. 3.
“This really is the election of our lifetimes and if we take action, if we turn out in huge numbers, we can make this impact and we can change the course of our country’s history," Zaff said.
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