Junior government and politics major Christopher Walkup has always had a passion for politics. In January, he was able to turn that passion into action when he spent the entire month working for the Bernie Sanders campaign in Iowa.
It wasn’t Walkup’s first experience with the campaign. He also helped create Terps for Bernie — a student-run organization that helps spread Sanders’s views and policies to students on campus.
“It’s always been kind of a fantasy to work directly with the campaign,” Walkup said.
Through Terps for Bernie, Walkup helped with phone banking and other grassroots efforts supporting Sanders, but he never worked directly with the senator’s campaign.
In Iowa, that’s exactly what he did.
Sanders volunteers received an email from the campaign late last year asking them to apply for an organizing fellowship with the Iowa campaign. It was a paid position, and whoever earned the job and was able to stay throughout the month of January would have a chance to help the campaign in the lead-up to the all-important Iowa caucuses Feb. 1.
Walkup applied for the position, and around Christmas, he received the good news: he’d be spending a month in Iowa working
for Sanders — a candidate he’s been passionate about since he announced his candidacy last April.
“I felt on top of the world,” Walkup said. “I felt like I was finally going to be doing something that was going to help people and change my country for the better. It was invigorating.”
After a 16-hour car ride with his dad, Walkup arrived in Iowa — where he worked as a deputy field organizer based out of Des Moines and Dallas County.
“At first I was just learning the ropes, learning the scripts and different ways that we do things with the campaign,” Walkup said. “After a quick learning process, I was on the phone and knocking on doors just about every day for nine hours.”
As the caucuses got closer, Walkup was put in charge of seven precincts to help the “get out the caucus” effort.
“I would coordinate with different volunteers who wanted to have some kind of impact on the caucuses, gather them together and send them out to different precincts so that they could knock on specific doors that we needed knocked to get people to go out to the caucuses,” Walkup said.
He worked with hundreds of other volunteers and even had the chance to meet Sanders a couple of times. The experience was one that Walkup will never forget, and was also one that was very unique for him and forced him to do things that he might not have normally done.
“I’m not the most social person, so it was interesting for me to have to get into the relatively vulnerable place of knocking on somebody’s door,” Walkup said.
It wasn’t easy for Walkup. He worked seven days a week and often had to venture out in freezing-cold weather to knock on doors and talk to other volunteers. Sometimes people who answered doors were less than polite. He had some run-ins with Donald Trump supporters, who would laugh him off as a communist (among other things). On one occasion, people even threatened to call the police. Despite the intense hours and adverse conditions, Walkup says it was worth it in the end.
“It was exhausting but exhilarating at the same time,” Walkup said. “Just being able to look back at that result — the closest loss in Iowa Caucus history — and say that I had some part in making it that close, making it that competitive, is just really, really amazing.”
After his experience in Iowa, Walkup is further convinced that young people like him are a crucial part of the political process in this country. He believes that college students in particular — who generally have more free time than adults — have an obligation to participate in the political process and get involved.
“Going out to Iowa has reaffirmed my notion that as a person of a lot of privilege [and] a lot of free time, I do have some kind of duty to stay involved, stay active and try to help as many people as I can,” Walkup said.
When Walkup applied for the job, Sanders was trailing Clinton by double-digits in Iowa. And while the senator has performed better than many expected, he still faces a tough road against Clinton — who strengthened her frontrunner status with a huge victory in South Carolina on Saturday.
Despite the long odds, Walkup never hesitated to work for a candidate he greatly admires. And regardless of what happens on Super Tuesday and throughout the remainder of the campaign, Walkup will remain committed to the cause that he worked so hard to support in Iowa.
“Even if there wasn’t a chance, I had to give it my all,” Walkup said. “I think a lot of the Bernie Sanders movement isn’t necessarily about winning — it’s about raising the consciousness of the Democratic Party and our nation as a whole. In that sense, I think Sanders has already won.”