Seniors volunteer for congressional candidate Ro Khanna

October 26, 2016 — by Esha Lakhotia and Katherine Zhou

Seniors experience campaigning for the first time.

This year, seniors Isaac Tang, and Dhruva Setlur have participated in a local election. This rare experience gave the seniors a taste of the real world, and what their futures would be like.

Every Saturday this fall, seniors Dhruva Setlur and Isaac Tang have been going canvassing, a door-to-door election campaigning technique, for California congressional candidate Ro Khanna in his race in the Santa Clara district against longtime incumbent Mike Honda. Also volunteering for Khanna are fellow seniors Alex Yagobi, Andrew Owens, Rachel Hsin and June Kim.

For over three hours each Saturday, Setlur and Tang knock on doors from Fremont to Saratoga, hoping to persuade people to vote for Khanna. Every day presents a different conversation: One of Setlur’s favorite encounters was with an 84-year-old man who fled from German-occupied Russia to Argentina to Poland and finally settled down in America.

Though the conversation was not only about politics, Setlur made a genuine connection with the potential voter. He left the man’s home having successfully persuaded him to vote for Khanna, and also learned many life lessons from the his life story, including the importance resilience and optimism.

“What I learned from the man was that just because you move around a lot and never seem to settle down or are in a bad spot in life, that doesn’t mean things will never work out; just grit your teeth, and things will fall into place,” Setlur said.

To Setlur, these talks are the heart of canvassing and convey the importance of his volunteering position at Khanna’s office. This year, 39-year-old Democrat Khanna is running against 75-year-old Democrat Honda, who has represented the 17th District of California since 2000. Khanna previously lost a close race to Honda in 2014.

Setlur, who got involved in the campaign in January, started out as a regular volunteer and slowly worked his way up to fellowship director in May. He now oversees over 70 volunteers who do door-to-door knocking and introduce community members to Khanna’s campaign on a personal level. According to Setlur, he makes sure “they have water, food, rides, and checks in to see if they are doing well.”

Tang, who started volunteering for Khanna early in the summer, also values the individual interactions with voters as his favorite part of campaign work — regardless of the individual's’ political views. On a particularly interesting campaign walk one day, he had a 60-minute conversation with a Libertarian resident who opposes Khanna’s views.

“I didn’t manage to convince him to vote for Khanna, but I got to see why he supports privatization of schools. I think it was really insightful about how other people think,” Tang said. “Maybe next time, if someone has similar political issues, then I can provide other arguments.”

From door-to-door interactions with voters, Tang and Setlur have learned the importance of keeping an open mind. According to Tang, he feels as if he has “broken out of the Saratoga bubble” through his work on supporting the campaign.

“I’ve reinforced my political stances, because I’ve seen lots of people who have had these struggles, they have to much student loans or they have inequality in the workplace,” Tang said. “I feel like this is why I’m on this campaign: to help these people.”

Though Setlur and Tang look forward to the results of the congressional campaign on Nov. 8, both plan to use the skills they have learned beyond Khanna’s campaign.

“I’ve definitely learned to take things in stride,” Setlur said.  “As for what I want to do in the future, I do have an interest in politics, but it’s too early for me to say what I’ll do with it.”

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