Open Letter to Two Undeclared College Superdelegates

The following was sent as an open letter to two undeclared superdelegates (Lauren Wolfe and Awais Khaleel, who are the President and Vice President of College Democrats).

Awais & Lauren :

Four years ago, a friend of mine in Texas was working a minimum wage job so that he could one day go to college. His phone rang one evening, and the voice on the other line offered him a $90,000 job driving a truck for a defense contractor in Iraq. He called me and asked what I thought he should do. No matter what he decided, I remember thinking, "What a sad day when the world's richest, most powerful country can only offer 2 choices to someone who wants to go to college: minimum wage, or $90,000 in a war zone."

After reading Jason Rae's note earlier this week, I feel obligated to share with you my experiences as a surrogate at colleges and community centers from Virginia to Indiana, Ohio to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin to North Carolina.

State after state, I have been meeting young people who, for the first time in their lives, are not simply voting, but volunteering for a campaign. After being told for years that their voices don't count for much, they have risen up and joined us in securing a better world for all Americans. Many of these folks cannot afford a college education. Many lack health care. Some are caring for ailing parents. Others are first-generation Americans. Overwhelmingly, they've answered the challenge that Senator Obama has given them: to take responsibility and become involved. I ask you not to ignore them any longer.

Young voters are mobilized for Barack in some of the most unlikely places. I'm reminded of a very moving event at the largely conservative Miami University of Ohio several weeks back; Ranked as the 4th least diverse school in the nation by the Princeton Review, our surrogate rally drew 500 students -- a large number of whom showed up with handmade "Obama '08" signs. The College Democrats on campus were blown away, having never seen more than small double-digit attendance at any of their general meetings. These several hundred students, a great many of whom were conservative Republicans, came to learn more about Barack Obama and left that night as supporters. I ask you not to deny them the opportunity to support the Democratic Party.

It was indeed important to remain neutral as the candidates themselves reached out to young Americans. As representatives of a college group, I respect your decision to have waited until your constituents made their voices heard in a clear fashion. But that time has come and gone. You are no doubt aware that this election season started with an increase in youth voter turnout of 135% above 2004 levels in Iowa. Senator Obama won the 'youth vote' by a 4-1 margin in that state, followed by 3-1 in New Hampshire, and 2-1 in Nevada.

He is the only candidate -- Democrat or Republican -- to have an active National Arts Policy Committee to preserve and encourage the ties between the arts and culture, education, civil/national preservation, and national & international security. He is the only candidate -- Democrat or Republican - to have made a commitment to true reform and refused federal lobbyist money in his presidential campaign. He also refused to stand idly by, and spoke out publicly while Senators McCain and Clinton voted to authorize a war that continues to send scores of young Americans overseas.

Perhaps three weeks ago was not the right time to pledge. But neither is three weeks from now. Your failure to pledge now risks returning those passionate, first-time voters to a political landscape of the same old games that caused them to maintain such distance from the Democratic Party before. If you are being pressured by others to wait until later in May or June to pledge, please be aware that you risk hurting the majority of folks who have made their clear choice in Senator Obama. I work with them every day. These young voters were mobilized because of a belief in their ability to change the game-playing Washington establishment politics that has failed them for so long. You may be reluctant to endorse because you are DNC officers, but you have a mandate from scores of young voters to pledge now. As the future of the Democratic Party, they look up to you. Please don't let the system fail them again. This should not be about party politics and should not be about insider loyalties. This is about the constituents you represent, and their inclusion and involvement for years to come.

Your failure to pledge now also risks denying young, first-time voters the very things for which they have supported the Democratic Party now: universal health care, access to education, freedom from war, a sustainable environment, fair, unionized jobs, and serious, long-term economic solutions. Please don't risk pledging too late and hurting their credibility.

You need to pledge your support for Senator Obama today. You need to do this for the scores of young voters who turned out in unprecedented, historic numbers. You need to do this for a college freshman I spoke with in North Carolina last Monday, who tirelessly splits his time between school, volunteer work, and helping care for his ailing father. You need to do this for the brave young men and women who are in the military, and for the young woman in Minnesota who, with tears streaming down her face, explained that she can't pay off her student loans on a teaching salary.

You need to do this for people like my friend who was making minimum wage four years ago. He ultimately turned down that job offer in Iraq. He has still not been able to afford a college education. You need to show him that the richest, most powerful country in the world hasn't forgotten him.


Kal Penn

Surrogate/National Arts Policy Committee Member
Barack Obama for President

Kal Penn (Kalpen Modi) is an actor based in Los Angeles. He currently appears on the television series, House, is an Adjunct Professor of Cinema, Sociology, and Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in International Security at Stanford University. He is a surrogate for the Obama Campaign and a member of the Campaign's National Arts Policy Committee