Talking to Jared Calvert it’s hard to remember that he is just 17. This senior at Oak Park River Forest High School has the political smarts and savvy of an experienced political operative. He seems more like 27.
He’s not just a volunteer who knocks on doors. Rather he is an organizer who recruits people to do the mundane work that must be done in a campaign. He knows the strategy and tactics of politics. He has worked behind the closed doors where the press and the public are not allowed.
Calvert, who moved to Oak Park two years ago, has experienced this presidential campaign at a higher level than almost any other local.
Not only is Calvert the president of the OPRF chapter of students for Obama, but this past summer he was a full-time intern at the Chicago national headquarters of Obama’s presidential campaign where he worked along side hundreds of paid staffers and operatives. He has continued that internship this fall on a part-time basis.
Last week, Calvert sat down with the Wednesday Journal to discuss his experiences, but the tight-lipped Obama campaign insisted that he not discuss any aspect of his internship.
Four years ago when Calvert lived in New Jersey, he knocked on doors for John Kerry in the suburbs of Philadelphia at the tender age of 13.
“I’ve always liked politics,” says Calvert. “It’s always been passion of mine. It’s something I believe in.”
He remembers watching the Florida recount in 2000 as a 9-year-old.
In January 2007, he was ready to choose a presidential candidate. He evaluated the Democratic field.
“I looked at both Hillary and Obama,” recalled Calvert. “I did choose Obama and I think it was his message that really got to me. I think that, like a lot of younger people, I think the hope and change message really had an effect. When he talked about politics as unity it really got to me.”
In the summer of 2007 Calvert really got busy. He started making monthly trips to Dubuque, Iowa with volunteers from the Democratic Party of Oak Park to knock on doors for Obama as the Obama campaign was doing grassroots organizing in preparation for the all important first in the nation Iowa precinct caucuses.
He spent his Christmas vacation at his grandparents’ house in Davenport and spent 10 days working day and night in the final, frenzied run up to caucuses. He knocked on doors in the frigid Iowa cold trying to find, persuade or cajole anyone he could into the Obama camp. When he wasn’t going door to door he was working the phones trying drum up support for Obama.
He even worked on his grandmother, a longtime Republican, and persuaded her to caucus for Obama. He attended and watched a precinct caucus in person on Jan. 3 and experienced the elation of seeing his hard work pay off as Obama won that Davenport precinct caucus.
Even more fired up he came back in Oak Park and helped organize the students for Obama chapter at OPRF while also doing volunteer work at the Obama volunteer headquarters and with the Democratic Party of Oak Park.
He jumped at the chance to be an intern which has given him a rare behind the scenes look at how a presidential campaign really operates.
This fall he has continued to spend about 20 hours a week doing work at the national headquarters while also organizing for his students for Obama chapter and-oh, yeah-trying to keep up with his schoolwork.
Calvert knows that his efforts have made a difference. He can point to that Davenport caucus and know that he played a big part in Obama’s victory there.
Staying on message he echoes Obama’s slogan that the campaign is as much about the people working on it as it is about Obama.
“You have to be the change you want to see and if you want to see change you have to get involved and you have to work for it yourself,” says Calvert.
He knows that face to face canvassing, a central feature of the Obama strategy, and of many campaigns, pays off.
“I think volunteering really does have an effect,” says Calvert. “Our way of getting to voters is so about personal contact between two people and I think the volunteer efforts are extremely important within our strategy.”
As for his future he definitely wants to be involved in politics, but he is not sure whether he wants to be the candidate out front or the operative calling the shots from behind the scenes.
“I don’t know,” said Calvert. “I think that’s for the future to decide, but I think it’ll be something in politics.”