By Swarthmore upSTANDer Danny Hirschel-Burns
Our STAND chapter at Swarthmore, like our college, is small. You can count our members on one hand. Therefore, we have to focus on small scale actions. Our recent experiences holding a call-in on Syrian sanctions, however, demonstrated that even our undersized chapter can hold events that engage other students and have a national impact.
Last month, we scheduled a call-in to senators urging them to support the Syrian Sanctions Act. We reserved a busy lounge on campus right around lunch on a Thursday and Friday. Since it is across from all the student mailboxes, almost every student passes through on their way to lunch. We ordered three pizzas, and promised a free slice of (the admittedly mediocre) pizza to anyone who called their Senator. There were generally two or three of us at the table at a time, and our basic strategy was to yell at our friends (or people we might have talked to at a party once) to come over to our table. We had a STAND fact sheet on the Syrian conflict and the bill itself. These two pieces of paper convinced a lot of people who didn’t know much about the conflict that supporting sanctions was the right thing to do. We had a list of phone numbers for every Senator (prepared by Swarthmore’s very own STAND National Advocacy Coordinator Maria Thomson), and a short script for students to read while on the phone, if they chose.
I was amazed at how successful we were. On the first day, we ran out of pizza way ahead of time, but students continued to call after the pizza ran out. Students were very up front with questions about the conflict, and so while we educated them on the conflict, their questions also made us think critically about our position on the sanctions. These were mutually beneficial discussions. I was most encouraged by the interest displayed by some students. We had a few motivated students stick around the table, calling multiple Senators, and even helping other students make calls. The event was a huge success. There were about 100 calls made over those two days, and that’s out of a student body of 1,400!
The success of our first call-in has persuaded Swarthmore STAND to hold call-ins in the future. I would also encourage other STAND chapters to organize a call-in. They don’t require all that much planning, they are not expensive, they effectively engage a large number of students, and connect students with national policy decisions. While ours went very well, there are a few areas in which we could have improved. To expand the breadth of people that called their senators beyond our friends, a big sign just outside the lounge detailing our mission would have been helpful. And since we had so many students excited about calling their Senators, it would have been a great place to recruit desperately needed members. Having every student that calls write down their name and e-mail would be a great way to keep track of students interested in STAND. While we didn’t think of everything, our event was still hugely successful. It only takes a bit of organization and planning to hold a successful call-in, and I encourage other STAND chapters to build on our achievement!